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Does reading make you a better writer?

  1. Sep 20, 2011 #1
    When I was in 8th grade I found that I had a bit of a talent for writing, and it seemed to come out of nowhere. I'm not the most outspoken guy, but I have no trouble with writing. I find it to be an easier communication medium than speech (although I will not deny that speech is the most important and most powerful means of communication).

    The thing is, I don't know where my writing ability came from, and that's kind of upsetting to me for some reason. I want to attribute it to something like reading, but I'm not an avid reader. In fact, I can't remember the last book I've read for English class (http://www.sparknotes.com" [Broken]). I should mention that I have also failed almost every grammar test I've ever taken, and it's not like I want to be an English major or anything.

    So I want to ask if you all think reading makes you a better writer. The fact that I don't read books for English class doesn't mean I don't read. Maybe I've learned to write by reading things online? Is there just a certain point in one's life (English being their first language) that one becomes fairly decent at writing?

    It's kind of unnerving to have no idea how you learned to write because I have no idea of how I can improve in the future.

    Anyway, let me know what you think. Where do people learn most about how to write?
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
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  3. Sep 20, 2011 #2


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    That depends on what you mean by "writing". Writing a coherent story doesn't require you to read alot, but it can help with grammar and sentence structure and such. It can also expand your knowledge of writing by exposing you do different styles of writing and storytelling. I'd say reading isn't necessary, but it's not a bad thing either.
  4. Sep 20, 2011 #3
    Hey AVReidy,

    I can only speak from my own experiences, but I always find myself asking how would ... say this. I had a very influential high school physics teacher and I think a lot of what I try to say and write is modeled after what I believe he would say.

    Additionally, whenever I write I pretend I'm giving a speech of sorts. Kind of a "would I say this out loud this way" process. That's just me, and I'm no brilliant writer. I find writing lab manuscripts to be difficult because it feels a little impersonal.

    Nevertheless, you and I are in the same boat on those grammar tests, ha ha. Be happy you have this ability and keep nurturing it. I neglected writing a little too much in high school and so college is a bit of a pain now.

    Last edited: Sep 20, 2011
  5. Sep 21, 2011 #4
    To answer your primary question--Yes, reading does make you a better writer. However, there are many other ways in which you can improve your writing skills. The first of these is by writing, submitting that writing for criticism, learning from that criticism, and repeating that cycle for as long as you live.

    I no longer write for money, but I did for about twenty years from the early 1970's to the early 1990's. During that time, I averaged between twenty to thirty thousand dollars a year. This is not a lot in most professions, but it put me in the top one-percent of professional writers. I seem to recall that IRS figures gave the average annual income of professional writers (those who got paid in money rather than copies of the publication) at some $1,300 per year. I wrote strictly non-fiction.

    It's easy to make money writing. All you have to do is write something that some total stranger would be willing to plunk down hard cash to read.
  6. Sep 21, 2011 #5
    Which is?
  7. Sep 21, 2011 #6

    Chi Meson

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    My wife is a professional writer and has been for the past ten years. She only makes a few thousand a year but that's not bad for writing a column a week (there's a lesson here: don't count on making money as a writer). Also, I managed to get a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing (don't ask) before starting as a Physics teacher. All this is to lend some credentials to what I am about to say.

    The answer to your question, is "yes." There is nothing that can teach you the subtle technique that turns good writing into great writing other than experiencing all the great writing already out there.

    After reading a lot, then you need to write a lot, then read more, then write more.
  8. Sep 21, 2011 #7
    Sometimes having the ability to do something is a matter of never having learned to do it wrong. The simple statement of a thought is the default state, and that is the most readable writing. The attempt to create writing that calls attention to itself for some special quality is usually what leads writers astray, because it produces writing that takes more effort to read. That would explain why your ability seems to have come into existence without effort. You never tried to fix what wasn't broken.
  9. Sep 21, 2011 #8
    I've never thought about it like that before, very smart!

    Thank you all for the good answers. Although, I'm not sure why some of you brought up the salaries of professional writers. I'll say again, I'm not really interested in writing professionally at this point (unless you count writing software). It is interesting to know what professional writers usually make, though. I think writers who actually put good ideas into words deserve a lot more than that, just as great teachers do.

    Part of the reason I'm asking about this is because I feel like my writing skills are no longer improving. This could be because I don't have the strongest vocabulary and it seems like I've just stopped digesting new words.
  10. Sep 21, 2011 #9
    Look around you. See what sells.
  11. Sep 21, 2011 #10
    You increase your vocabulary by reading outside of your comfort zone. I suggest particularly reading any of the so-called "Great Books" that strike your fancy. They are called that for a reason.

    Students at St. Johns College (Annapolis and Santa Fe) have virtually their entire curriculum based on reading, discussing, analyzing, and writing reports on a catalog of great books. That's pretty much all that they do.

    Nothing beats reading great writing for both increasing your vocabulary and refining your writing skills.
  12. Sep 21, 2011 #11
    I can see what's for sale. It's hard to determine what's actually selling.
  13. Sep 21, 2011 #12


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    You seem to be in good hands here in this thread. I would like to suggest you watch this:

    This new google tool will allow you to enter phrases and words and gives some amazing stats and links to books that use those phrases, lots of potential creative fuel for school papers and independent learning. I have found over the years that TED which stands for Technology, Engineering and Design is a treasure trove of some of the most creative minds this planet has to offer, up to and including Nobel prize winners. This resource if used wisely can help you in school, perhaps even inspire you to put you writing aspirations to good use in other fields. If you data mine the presentations stored in here I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

    Rhody... :cool:

    P.S. If you use google alerts, and put in the key phrase, "TED Video's" you will get monthly alerts of their latest presentations sent to you, then at your leisure you can click and watch what you want, works for me.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  14. Sep 22, 2011 #13
    I have always been an avid reader but a lousy writer. I just don't have the knack for it. But it is something you can develop.

    Some people have the writing gene, most people have the reading gene. Just reading makes you a sloppy reader; just writing will not improve your skills too. I found that the best thing you can do is to do both. You'll need your own pace where both can reinforce each other.

    A book on creative writing helps a lot too, btw.
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