By John Pascoe:
Shortly after man first learned that practice makes perfect, he learned that sometimes, practicing sucks. While man continues seeking a way to “get good” without toiling, there has been little success. The best way to learn remains to do, and writing is no different. However, unlike many other skills, there is one way to improve one’s writing without actually writing: read what others have written.
Reading of any sort allows us to see how the various elements of writing work together to create a cohesive whole. We can see not only how ideas are developed through the selective use of words, but also how these words are structured into sentences. When we read, examples of grammar and syntax are provided for us to analyze. Best of all, we don’t even have to concentrate on the commas. Our minds absorb these unspoken rules through reading, much as we learn a language. Through repeated listening, we learn to speak. Through repeated reading, we learn to write.
And unlike practicing other skills, reading can be an enjoyable experience no matter one’s interest. The choice of reading material is one of the most individualistic choices we can make. We can choose our reading material based on our skill level, our interests, even on such shallow aspects as the book’s cover. We can choose to read such challenging fare as James Joyce’s Ulysses, or select instead a simpler, more enjoyable Louis L’amour novel. Either one provides examples of how writing works, and in a form that is enjoyable to engage with.
While reading lets us see what works within writing and what doesn’t, it will not, on its own, teach you how to write. As Stephen King says, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” Two things, not one. Reading on its own will not let us write a perfect essay without a rough draft, but it will help us make fewer mistakes and generate ideas. And like the best of teachers, life, we can learn without even realizing we’re learning.
This column about writing and the writing process is created by the Amarillo College Writers’ Corner tutors. The name “Word for Word” pays tribute to Robert W. Wylie (1923-2011), who worked at Amarillo College from 1963 until 1992. He was chairman of the English Department from 1984 to 1992, served as Writer-in-Residence at AC for several years after his retirement and wrote a weekly column for the Amarillo Globe-News called “Word for Word” from 1992 through 2003.
The Writers’ Corner provides free tutors who review assignment requirements, provide constructive feedback, and guide students through all phases of the writing process.
The Writer’s Corner also offers
- One-on-one tutoring sessions with trained tutors
- Small workshops throughout the semester covering various aspects of academic writing
- In-class presentations on the role of the Writers’ Corner
- A waiting area for walk-ins and early arrivals
- Coffee for students with appointments