Read to write

12.01.2009

in Beyond the Basics, Tools & Techniques

Reading is a powerful tool for improving your ability to write in English, or any other language. But that should not be a surprise because most of our fluency – our ability to read, write, speak, and listen – comes from reading and listening to understandable English.

Stories of two writers

When I started working with Xurxo, one of my tutoring students, I was surprised by how well he wrote. When I asked him where he learned to write like that, he said, “By reading essays from the New York Times.”

Brian Clark is a well-known and very successful blogger. Last year he wrote:

“You may find it amusing to know that I … have never learned the formal rules of grammar. I learned how to write by reading obsessively (all the time) at an early age, but when it came time to learn the “rules,” I tuned out. If you show me a bad sentence, I can fix it, but if I need to know the technical reason why it was wrong in the first place, I go ask my wife.”

Xurxo and Brian are right. Most of our ability to write comes from reading.

I ask all my tutoring students to read regularly. And if they want to be able to do a certain kind of writing, I encourage them to read the kind of writing they want to do.

I encourage them to “read like a writer,” an idea that comes from Frank Smith’s book Reading FAQ. When you read like a writer, you identify with the writer (think with him/her) and pay attention to how he/she organizes and expresses his/her ideas.

Writers to read

Here are a few places you can find columns, or essays, by popular American writers who regularly write for major newspapers or magazines:

Warren Ediger
warren [at] successfulenglish [dot] com

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