Do You Want to Write Well?

Do You Want to Write Well?

— Just Do This

By Azuka Onwuka

It can feel frustrating. Very frustrating.

Ideas run riot in your mind but you can’t couch them in irresistible words.

Even when you try, you feel it in your bones: Your writing cannot compare with the sweet and seductive essays of your favourite writers. You can’t move any mountain with your writing!

Maybe you are not born to write? Maybe there is something they know you don’t know?

You sigh. You feel sad. You despair. You ask: “Is there no hope for me?”

The first thing you should do

Many times, people ask me what they need to do to write well. Even though there are many things one needs to do to be able to write well, there is one among them that is fundamental. And that is: “If you want to write well, read novels, and more novels.” It is as simple as that.

Other types of books are good. Magazines, newspapers and journals are also good. But if you want to write in a compelling manner; if you want your readers to read your works from start to finish; if you want to hold your audience captive; if you want to entertain your audience rather than just educate them and bore them stiff, the solution is simple: read novels.

And what type of novels are we talking about? Any type of novel would do. Any novel that agrees with your spirit. Any novel that has an interesting story. Any novel that can hold you captive. Read as many as possible. Read them all the time. Soak yourself in the narrative. In a couple of years you will see the impact.

Why is reading of novels this magical?

First, of all the essay forms, the narrative is the most gripping. Of all the books available on earth, only stories can make someone miss one’s meal or appointment or sleep. Other forms of writing in essay form (descriptive, argumentative, informative, etc,) can excite the reader, but the reader can always pause to attend to other things. But a captivating story can keep the reader awake all night. Something magical happens to the reader while this is going on. Even the reader will not be aware that anything is happening within. That was why Jesus taught with parables. You may forget a piece of advice, but it is hard to forget a story. Anytime you remember the story, you remember the advice embedded in it. The story makes the advice even more attractive and appealing.

Secondly, stories are read for fun. Other forms of writing are usually meant to educate. Unlike other forms of writing, a novel does not announce that it wants to teach anything. Readers therefore don’t feel they are studying when they are reading a story. The message a novel passes is subtle but it is difficult to forget.

Furthermore, it is only in stories that a reader comes across dialogue or conversation. When people communicate in real life, they don’t use the statements seen in essays. But they use the dialogue they find in stories. “Why has the doctor not come in today?” is a question that can be used or adapted to real life situation. That teaches a reader that it is not correct to say: “The doctor have not come,” or “The doctor has came.” Nothing teaches the correctness of language like the novel. The best book on grammar and composition does not come close to the innate language-teaching capacity of a novel. It is superb because it does its job subtly. It does not announce that it wants to teach grammar and its rules. It just ingrains it in the reader effortlessly.

In addition, the novel feeds the reader with a surfeit of words and their usage. Most times, the reader does not need to check the meaning of such words in the dictionary. Imagine reading a passage describing an avalanche or a tsunami. In spite of having not come in contact with such a word before, the reader can visualize it and remember it forever. Like that, the reader amasses a lot of words as well as figures of speech. These words and expressions are engraved in the reader’s subconscious. The reader may not even know that they are there. It is only when the reader wants to write or speak that these words start crawling out to the reader’s surprise. Most times, the reader has so many options to use to describe a thing that confusion may even set in. The bottom line is that a person who reads novels voraciously never lacks words. Reading of novels gives one a rich vocabulary.

Because of the command of language that novel-reading confers on readers of novels, they are usually confident to speak. A heart filled with confidence – not arrogance – produces compelling writing. Such a mind is not shy to explore and display.

Also, it is through novels that one can visit different countries and cities, experience different cultures, learn different professions, experience different climates and weather, get into the minds of different types of people and have various experiences that one may never be able to experience in real life. With such knowledge of different spheres of life, a novel reader is always filled with ideas. Any time something crops up, a novel reader has a parallel experience from a novel to draw from. The mind of a reader of novels always imagines things, creates scenarios and brings different perspectives to issues, thereby adding some freshness to matters.

What my 20-year survey shows

My survey of 20 years has shown that a person who reads a newspaper everyday may be well-informed about happenings in the nation and the world, but cannot compete in competence of spoken and written language with a person who reads at least a novel a week. I have never seen anyone who reads novels voraciously that is not wonderful in speech and writing. And when a person reads novels and non-fiction, such a person becomes not just well-rounded but terrific.

So at whatever age, if you want to be an artistic writer, read a novel a week. It did wonders for the great writers of the world. It did wonders for a village boy like me whose parents never finished primary school. Any time I teach people how to write well, I recommend voracious reading of novels. Once there is such a foundation, other things become easier.

For those who want to write well but have a poor attitude towards novel-reading, why not give it a try?

If we must bring back the book in Nigeria and the world, and improve on the writing skills of our people, novel-reading holds the key. The more novels one reads, the better for the person.

And just as it is said that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, I say that a book a week keeps the mind in peak.



  1. kenging May 16, 2016 Reply
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