Learning to Write by Reading


Learning to Write by Reading

Believe it: Reading will help you become a better writer. In fact, most professional writers are avid readers who read not only for enjoyment and information but also to refine their craft.

Reading to Understand How Texts Work

Readers will have specific expectations of a text as soon as they recognize it as a par- ticular genre or type of writing. For example, readers of a story about a past event


in the writer’s life will likely recognize it as a form of autobiography, which leads them to expect a story that changes, challenges, or complicates the writer’s sense of self or connection with others. If the event seems trivial or the story lacks inter- est, then readers’ expectations will be disappointed, and the text will not succeed. Similarly, if the text takes a position on a controversial issue, readers will recognize it as an opinion piece and expect it to not only assert and support that position, but also to refute possible objections. If the argument lacks credible support or ignores thoughtful objections or alternative points of view, readers are likely to decide that the essay is not convincing.

Although individual texts within the same genre vary a great deal — no two pro- posals, even those arguing for the same solution, will be identical — they nonetheless follow a general pattern that provides a certain amount of predictability without which communication would be difficult, if not impossible. But these language patterns, also called conventions, should not be thought of as rigid formulas. Conventions are broad frameworks within which writers are free to be creative. Most writers, in fact, find that working within a framework allows them to be more creative, not less so.

You would learn very little in this world if you were not allowed to imitate. And to repeat your imitations until some solid grounding . . . was achieved and the slight but wonderful difference — that made you and no one else — could assert itself. — MARY OLIVER

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