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You’ve probably heard that reading makes you a better writer, but did you also know that reading literally improves your cognitive functioning? If you’re like me—and most busy writers out there—the idea of trying to squeeze another minute into your already packed life is laughable (even if it is for something as pleasurable as reading); however, the pros of finding time to dig into the written word have major benefits for you and your writing.
Reading Improves Your Cognitive Functioning
MRI and other studies show that brain function changes during and after a reading session, meaning the more you read, the better off your mind is. Specifically, reading improves memory and concentration…and it has the added benefit of lowering stress levels. This article published by Northwestern University further details some of those advantages. This other article by Psychology Today further supports that evidence while also pointing out the scary reality, which is that a lot of people don’t read.
So, if you’re not a reader (yet), then don’t worry…you’re not alone (not by a long shot). As noted, I’ve got a lot on my plate, so curling up on the couch with a cup of tea and a best-seller is an infrequently indulged luxury activity.
Instead, I get my kicks on Audible. I don’t know if my cognitive functioning is benefitting, but I do know I’m being exposed to stories and to educational media (I try to go back and forth between informative / professional development writing and pleasure reading). Most recently, I listened to Joanna Penn’s audiobook on marketing (How to Market a Book…something I recommend to all authors, especially those who are self-publishing) and before that, the latest release from Robert Bryndza’s DCI Erika Foster serial killer thriller series (Cold Blood). I listen while I drive, cook, walk the kids in the stroller, etc. It's my therapy and it makes me a stronger writer.
Reading Boosts Your Wordplay Prowess
You might already have a way with words, but hearing or seeing the way other authors choose to wield their weapons (words), bears influence on your writing (even if you’re not consciously thinking about the writer’s wording.
In fact, if you’re a new writer, it’s not a bad idea to read different writers and to try mimicking their style—not necessarily for a novel (you'll want that to be all you) but just in short stories you write for practice. The payoff of this kind of experiment is that you learn more about your unique writing style.
Nonfiction writers can do this as well. If you’re writing a book on a topic like finance, marketing, photography, cooking, parenting…whatever, reading the way other authors tackle the subject will give you an idea of the authorial voice that you respond to (and thus want to immitate in your writing).
Reading Improves Your Knowledge of Your Genre or Field
Lastly, reading gives you insight into what’s current in your field or genre. The last thing you want to do is to write something that someone’s already said (double-whammy if they also wrote it better).
The same goes for fiction writers. You can see what’s trending in your genre. How are writers approaching mystery today, for example? If you’re a mystery author, then you know that mystery has evolved a lot since the days of Edgar Allen Poe. It’s likely to continue evolving, so it’s in your best interest to keep up with the times.
So, because the fact that readers write better isn't new news, I’ll keep it short and sweet. If you want to be a stronger writer, find time to read. It makes you smarter, helps you refine your authorial voice, and improves your knowledge of your field or genre. Now, go have a safe and fun Halloween. Oh, and get some rest. NaNoWriMo starts tomorrow!
There’s really no downside to reading, so if you have some kind of leisure time, borrow from that and schedule some recreational reading time and watch your writing take off. Speaking of improving your writing, join my new Facebook group The Busy Writer Support Group, for ideas, to talk with other writers, to share what you’re working on, and to get free bonus editing tips and resources.