Want to write? Start reading!

by Nina Bahadur

Who am I?

Since I was four years old, I have wanted to become a writer. I have considered various other life paths, from law and medicine to teaching and social work, but I always come back to writing. Journals, stories, poems, articles, starting up a creative writing magazine, and a few ill-fated NaNoWriMo novels occupied most of my free time in middle school and high school. I started sending poems out to literary magazines and competitions, receiving mountains of rejection slips in return. Finally, I had some luck. I was placed third in the 2008 Christopher Tower Poetry competition, and my poem “Heat” was published in their 2008 pamphlet. Nii Parkes, the director of flipped eye press, read my poem and was a drawn to it. He contacted me about publishing a small poetry collection with flipped eye. From winter 2008 until spring 2011, I worked on my manuscript with Nii Parkes and the wonderful Jacob Sam-La Rose. In April 2011, I was holding my début pamphlet, “Every Single One”, in my hands. This summer, I am an editorial intern for a publishing company in Manhattan.

What am I talking about?

This post is the first in a small series about writing. I hope that my posts will be useful not just to students who love writing, but those at every level of ability and interest. Learning to write well is a lifelong process – there is no such thing as a “perfect writer”, and absolutely everyone can improve. In my posts I will cover a variety of topics, from different types of writing to furthering your creativity. This post starts with the fundamental question: how can you write if you don’t read?

[Continue reading to learn about the importance of reading]

You’ve heard it before, a million times: “reading is key”. The benefits of reading are well-publicized. Reading can improve your vocabulary and increase your language fluency, which in turn makes reading analysis much easier. Literature exposes you to different writing styles and grammatical constructions, adding to your reading comprehension and writing “toolbox”. Finally, reading broadens your worldview and improves your memory.

All of these things make school – and life – a little easier. But that doesn’t mean that everyone wants to rush off and read “War and Peace” cover-to-cover, and the books we get assigned in school won’t always feel like great reads – they can be dense, abstract, written in Old English (Beowulf, anyone?) or just plain boring. Even though I am a self-proclaimed bookworm, I got incredibly frustrated reading assigned books that didn’t appeal to me. The more you like what you are reading, the easier it is to reap the benefits mentioned above.

The good news is that good-quality reading material can be found in a variety of different places, if you know where to look. Magazines, newspapers, and blogs are all great sources for fun and informative reads. Try your best to read things that appeal to your interests. Musical or artistic? Have a go at the Arts & Culture section of the New York Times or LA Times. You could also give the New Yorker or Rolling Stone a go. All of these publications can be found at a public library, and school libraries often subscribe to them too! If you’re a Teen Vogue junkie, try the articles in Marie Claire, Vanity Fair, and Harper’s Bazaar. If you’re obsessed with sports, there is such a thing as great sports writing. David Halberstam and Glen Stout edited an anthology called The Best American Sports Writing of the Century, which can be found online and in large bookstores. There is even good reading for the celebrity-watchers. Set down your copies of the People and Us Weekly, and try books written by famous people instead of gossip written about them. James Franco released a short story collection called Palo Alto Stories (2010), and singer-songwriter Josh Ritter’s Bright’s Passage has been talked about constantly since it was released in spring 2011.

Even if you’re a reluctant reader, taking a little bit of time to read material that’s not for school will do you a world of good. Even 20 minutes in the car or on the school bus would help a reader of any level get ahead with fluency and memory, which I have found crucial for understanding different types of writing – something I will discuss in my next post.

About the author: Nina is a junior at Princeton majoring in Anthropology, with a minor in Gender Studies. She tutors with Princeton Tutoring, sings with Tigressions a cappella, blogs for Equal Writes, and is the “culturally cap” chairwoman of the Cap & Gown Club. She is also an avid creative writer. Her first poetry collection, “Every Single One”, was  released by flipped eye publishing in Summer 2011. Her other interests include photography, cooking, and 20th century American fiction.


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