"Read a lot, write a lot," says Stephen King -- his chief advice to amateur writers in "On Writing." He adds that grammar, "the naming of parts," is helped immensely by reading. Reading all kinds of literature and nonfiction also gives you not only grammatical accuracy but also a much sharper sense of writers' styles.
Read for Grammatical Fitness
Warriner's English Grammar and Composition, still the standard grammar text for many educators, recommends that you become a "constant reader" to note how published authors write. The most valuable grammatical skill this gives you, aside from seeing the varied ways sentences are put together, is a sense of syntactical fitness. You'll find the trim, simple word choices of Emily Dickinson's poems quite different from the wildly varied diction of Edgar Allan Poe. William Shakespeare gives you excellent examples of the balanced inverted sentence, while Henry James revels in varied compound-complexities.
Tone and Mood Through Word Choices
Another grammatical sense reading gives you is how sentences affect a piece's tone and mood. You can discern a character's attitude and feelings through the author's choices of words, as a persona gradually emerges. John Steinbeck's simple words in "Grapes of Wrath," for example -- none more than three syllables -- nonetheless reveal extraordinary character mood shifts and a bleak, despairing tone. You'll also find fascinating different writing styles on display: Nathaniel Hawthorne in "The Scarlet Letter" takes two paragraphs to describe a river, while Ernest Hemingway says only "The river was there."
Writing by Reading First
Students get the best kind of help in writing when they read models to copy. The use of shared journal entries as templates for personal and reflective writing at any educational level is hugely successful. Newspaper, magazine and Internet articles used as models are extraordinarily helpful to students of English, journalists and researchers. Most lesson plans include a section on "previous knowledge" -- for those students without direct experience of certain kinds of nonfiction letters, essays or responses, numerous examples to read are essential to comprehending unfamiliar writings.
Reading to Enhance the Writer
Reading also enhances your sense of self and belonging, according to Harold Bloom -- psychological benefits that give young authors the sheer gumption to pick up a pen and start writing, grammatical mistakes and all, and express themselves in words. Some authors' earliest writings -- William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway are superb examples -- show intimate, brazen, audacious content and style; they stand as absolute proof of the writing and grammatical help you get from "read a lot, write a lot."
- On Writing; Stephen King (1st ed.)
- Warriner's English Grammar and Composition; John E. Warriner (5th course; Liberty ed.)
- Huffenglish.com: Teaching Grammar
- Hunger Mountain: I Craft, Therefore I Am: Creating Persona Through Syntax and Style
- Yale-New Haven Teacher's Institute: Writing Through Reading
- How to Read and Why; Harold Bloom (paperback ed.)
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