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If you ask any seasoned writer for advice, it’s practically a guarantee that clichéd exhortations to “read more” will be among their suggestions.
It’s difficult to blame writers seeking guidance to tune out this advice when they hear it, conditioned as they are to being told they’re not reading enough. But this advice should be taken seriously. Even those who are already avid readers and can’t possibly pack more reading time into their days will benefit from adjusting their relationship with reading.
Pro writers cite diverse reasons for becoming compulsive, eclectic readers. Here are a few of them:
1. Mastering the nuts and bolts
Writers don’t like to admit it, but it’s the truth: Grammar is hard. The rules of grammar are often counterintuitive, arbitrary, nebulously defined, and subject to change. Style guides provide contrasting explanations of certain rules, and many of them require annual updates. If it feels like it’s impossible to truly master syntax, punctuation, and word choice, that’s because it nearly is.
We can take solace in the fact that “proper English” is a human construct and not fully “getting it” is largely inconsequential. You, however, are a writer, so correct grammar is important for your purposes. The good news is that “correct grammar” isn’t as rigid as you may have been led to believe. Writers have been using grammar creatively for a long time now, from the stages of Elizabethan England to the cafés of postmodern New York, and you have unlimited material to draw stylistic and grammatical cues from. Take advantage of it! The more authors you read, the better able you’ll be to nail down a style that best reflects your vision. And, of course, if the fundamentals are still beyond your grasp, there’s no better way to master them by immersing yourself in them.
2. Getting inspired
In the second century CE, the Greek author Plutarch wrote one of his most famous works: Parallel Lives, an account of the lives of 48 Greek and Roman public figures. A 1579 English translation of Parallel Lives—one book!—would form the basis for four plays by William Shakespeare.
This isn’t meant to suggest that you should indiscriminately plunder ideas like Shakespeare did, but to illustrate the inspirational power of reading. If one book (albeit a pretty big one) gave the English language’s most beloved writer four plays, think of how many ideas you could get out of reading all the time. Inspiration can come from unexpected sources; why not seek it out?
3. Broadening your world
Here’s another (true) cliché: Literature is defined by its ability to expand our capacity for empathy. Understanding is at the core of empathy, and learning about experiences different from our own is how we develop understanding. You might read books by and about all different sorts of people, and that’s great! But people have written about everything under the sun, and no matter how much you know, there will always be more to learn, more worlds for you to explore. Everyone gets caught in “bubbles” of preferences and interests and experiences, but reaching outside those bubbles by reading a diverse selection of books can make us better people, which makes us better writers.
From the Russian avant-garde to 18th-century recipes to cricket technique to squirrel behavior to the lives of workers on the Transcontinental Railroad, there have been books written about everything, including many, many things you aren’t even aware of—yet. With reading subscription service Scribd, you get access to millions of books, audiobooks, documents, and more, to help you expand your reading horizons, all for around $10 a month. You can sign up for Scribd here, and get 30 days free to check it out.
Read more, get acquainted with the world around you, and write all about it!
Karyne is the Senior Original Content Manager at Scribd. Prior to that she was an assigning editor at NerdWallet, West Coast Tech Editor at Business Insider, and Assistant Managing Editor at CNET. Her varied interests include singing, playing video games, and reading good hard-boiled detective novels.