Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Great Writers....Read?

You've probably heard this sage advice before. In fact, it's old enough and prevalent enough, that when you hear it, or see it, you roll your eyes and wonder, "How can anyone think that way?"

What am I talking about? The idea that some people propagate that reading is bad for your writing.

It doesn't make much sense, but many people that call themselves readers actually think this way. In fact, a family member told me recently about a Facebook post they'd come across - a friend looking for good book recommendations - where someone had commented along the lines of

"I'm a writer, therefore I don't read much."

Seems shocking to me, but I've seen it before. It's the equivalent of saying:

I'm a lifeguard, but I don't like to swim.
I'm a teacher, but I don't like kids.
I'm a police officer, but I don't like guns.

It's not that you still couldn't do these things with those attitudes. It's that you can't do them effectively.
It's not that you can't be a writer if you don't read. It's that you can't be an great writer if you don't read.

Why do some writers feel that reading is bad for their craft? Truthfully, I don't entirely understand their side of the argument, but I think it has something to do with some of the following points:

1. They think reading similar books will kill their original ideas
2. They think reading requires too much time, which they could spend writing
3. They think there isn't enough quality literature out there that could stand up to their own skills (I know that sounds snobbish, but someone actually told me that once!).

What I'm not trying to do is be critical of those that hold this opinion. However, I believe people, in general, don't read enough these days, and as writers, who thrive on readers actually reading our work, we need to work to change that.

So here is why great writers read:

1. To set an example
2. To support other authors - we are all in this together!
3. To learn from the best and the worst (yes, you can gain something by reading a book that is poorly written)
4. To engage our minds in healthy, creative escapism, essential to our growth and positive well being.
5. To learn more about our world, and beyond.
6. To strengthen and refine our ideas, and plotting, and characters .... this list could go on.
7. Because reading books is what convinced us we wanted to write them in the first place.

This is in no way an exhaustive list. I'd love to hear what you think: why should great writers read?


  1. I can get through a day without writing, but I cannot survive a day without reading. I think the best writers are the ones who love reading so much that they want to give something back in exchange for all the words they've taken.

    1. I like that notion - giving something back for all the words taken. I'm keeping that one, thanks Tapper!

  2. I went a while not reading much because I was busy. I've changed that the last few months and I have to say, my writing has improved. My creative writing teacher used to call it "learning by not doing," implying that you can still learn how to write when your not writing. I think she might put it this way,"If you can't find time to write, then find time to read."

    1. That's a good motto - and sometimes too easy to follow, to the detriment of my writing!

  3. I always justify having my nose in a book when Rick comments on me reading yet another book. "I'm working," I tell him. I definitely write better when I've been reading, and I feel more like writing when I read.

    1. I agree with you. I've started to think of blogging as 'working' now to, even though it seems too fun to call it work!


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