For some strange reason, I hadn’t read a novel in at least a month – if not more. Probably more. This happens every once in a while and it can be for all manner of reasons, but when it does I usually don’t really seem to miss it until I start reading again.
Since I’ve recently started reading George R. R. Martin’s excellent “Game Of Thrones” (I’m up to page 161 at the time of writing this article), I’ve found myself feeling slightly more imaginative than usual.
Although I seem to write a lot less fiction than I did a few years ago, this whole thing reminded me of Stephen King’s famous advice to all would-be authors, namely: ‘Read a lot. Write a lot.’ I think that this quote is from King’s “On Writing” and this is a book which you should also read if you have the chance to do so.
Whilst Stephen King obviously knows a million times more about writing than I probably ever will, he almost certainly wasn’t the first person to ever suggest that reading widely is something that people should do in order to help them be more creative. In fact, it’s pretty much common knowledge – for the simple fact that it works. Anyway, I thought that I’d offer my personal thoughts on why it works.
I”m probably stating the obvious here, but what the hell…
If you’re totally new to writing, then there’s a lot to be said for leanrning the basics of writing by immersing yourself in lots of interesting and well-written books. But, if you’ve had a bit more experience with writing, then you probably know most of this stuff anyway.
However, regardless of whether you’re a beginner or an experienced writer, there’s a much more important reason to read widely. And it has nothing to do with the actual words on the pages of whatever you’re reading.
Put simply – reading gives your imagination some exercise.
Yes, exercise. Unlike other types of entertainment such as comics, films, videogames etc… prose fiction requires you to use your imagination for the whole time that you’re reading.
The writer might tell you what the characters look like, but it’s up to you to come up with mental images of what they actually look like. The writer might tell you a lot about where the story takes place, but they aren’t going to show you a picture of it – so, you’ll have to work out what it looks like on your own.
I’m probably not the first person to say any of this either. And, yes, I’m probably stating the obvious again.
Whilst I love good TV shows and love good videogames even more, they don’t really make you imagine anything for yourself.
Everything is already there for you, pre-made and waiting for you on the screen. You don’t have to “build” any of it with your own imagination. Yes, this means that it’s a lot easier to relax with a DVD boxset of something or a good game, but it also means that your imagination relaxes as well.
If you’re writing, creating art or doing anything with your imagination, then you don’t want your imagination to be relaxed. To borrow a phrase from Duke Nukem, you want it to be “ready for action“.
The fact is that, when it comes to writing fiction (or even, to a lesser extent, making art), you need to know how to build things with your imagination. You need to know how to imagine things vividly in a very visual way before you put them down on the page.
The best way to get good at this kind of vivid imagining is to practice a lot. And it just so happens that one of the best forms of practice is reading.
After all, if you “build” lots of other people’s worlds and characters in your imagination on a regular basis by reading their stories, it won’t be as much of an effort when it comes to actually building your own unique worlds and characters in your imagination. You’ll have had a lot of practice and your imagination will be ready and waiting to go.
Although you probably know all of this stuff already, I hope that this article was inspirational 🙂