“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” – Stephen King
Of course to be a great writer one has to write a lot (though perhaps not so much as Stephen King…) but that is self evident. The thing in which I am more interested is the place of reading insofar as becoming a great writer is concerned. this seems self-evident, writing is the other side of reading! Of course they would be closely linked, however I’d, if I may be so bold, go even further than Mr. King. I believe to to be a great writer one has to be a phenomenal reader.
But why? If the goal is to become a good writer then why wouldn’t one spend the majority of his time practicing the art itself? Well, at a simpler level, think of it this way. You learned to speak via listening to your parents, if you spent most of your time working with what you already had… well, you would not have gotten very far. When you were learning to write, if you spent the majority of your time writing and had very little input from people that had already learned to write, well your writing would probably not improve very much would it?
We learned to speak by listening to a huge amount of material and eventually trying ourselves… but even then we listened far more than we spoke. It is the same with writing, if one focuses on practicing writing in and of itself but rarely or never draws from those far more skilled, then growth will be heavily stunted.
Reading graces the reader with experience, exposure to new styles of writing, as well as new plot devices and vocabulary. Not to mention the sheer joy of reading a good novel, poem, or story. And better, the reader doesn’t have to put much effort into the exchange. Provided he has a well developed attention span and is willing to look up the odd word he doesn’t know, all that is left is to enjoy the fruit of a stranger’s labor. And, of course, passively absorb what makes their work so enjoyable (or distasteful) to you.
Good writers are not just ‘good’ readers. I’d say to be more than a middling writer one has to be a great reader. Being very, very well read is the first major step to being an excellent writer. There is no way around it.