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Should writers be readers too?

Like most folks, writers lead busy lives. Most of us have other commitments (work, family etc.) which eat into our potential writing time. Sooner or later, we decide to cut back on some of our non-essential activities, like watching TV, feeding the children, going to the movies etc. in order to can spend more hours slaving away over the hot keyboard, working on our latest, shiny WiP.

Okay, maybe we don’t cut back on all those things (I for one will never give up watching the telly), but before we started writing, we all filled our days with something. If we want to satisfy our writerly passion, it’s only logical that something has to go.

Perhaps one of the easiest ways to free up some time is to give up reading. After all, a single book can take up many hours, which would be better spent pursuing out dream of seeing our own work in print. Or would it?

Stephen King certainly doesn’t think so.

‘If you don’t have time to read, you don’t
have the time (or the tools) to write’

I think he makes a valid, if somewhat blunt, argument. We can learn an awful lot from folks who made it further along the publishing chain – especially those folks who are newly published by the big houses (assuming they aren’t related to the owner). Doesn’t it make sense to study successful newcomers? By trying to figure out what they did right, we can perhaps apply something extra to our own work, perhaps improving our own chances of acceptance.

I don’t think we should limit our reading to our chosen genre either, though it makes sense to read those books too.

Speaking for myself, I find I approach reading differently since I caught the writing bug. It’s still fun, of course, but now I find myself stopping to take notes as I go: ‘Great plot twist? Check to see how he/she planted the seeds for it earlier in the book’; ‘I really like this character. Why?’; ‘I skipped over this part. What put me off?’ etc.

I’m not convinced writers have to read in order to be successful, but I’m pretty sure by studying what works/doesn’t work in books written by newly-published authors (especially those in the big six), we can do our own writing no end of good.

How about you?

Do you think writers need to read?

Poll #1852372 Do you think writers need to read?

Stephen King says: ‘If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write’ What do you think?

Absotively! I agree 100%
I’m sure writers could succeed without reading other books, but they’re making things harder for themselves
Read, shmead. It can’t hurt, but if you don’t have time, focus on writing
Something else, which I’ll mention in the comments

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( 52 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 7th, 2012 02:40 pm (UTC)
Personally I'm kinda fed up of the WRITERS MUST READ NAO exhortations all over the damn place. I've been writing like billyoh trying to get this draft out and the more intensely I write, the less I read because (a) it will contaminate my writing style (b) I will start comparing, which is a mug's game and (c) it takes away my emotional energy and focus.

I read plenty before I started, but the belief that one must read all the damn time is bullshit, IMO.
Jul. 7th, 2012 03:28 pm (UTC)
If you'll pardom my speaking to you,
yes, it's another of those "Neverfail Novena" things;
If you write every day, and read every day,
and avoid clichés like the plague,
and remember that passive construction is frowned upon,
You'll be a writer!
(no subject) - ideealisme - Jul. 7th, 2012 04:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - heleninwales - Jul. 7th, 2012 03:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Jul. 7th, 2012 04:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ideealisme - Jul. 7th, 2012 04:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Jul. 7th, 2012 03:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ideealisme - Jul. 7th, 2012 04:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Jul. 7th, 2012 04:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ideealisme - Jul. 7th, 2012 05:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 7th, 2012 02:48 pm (UTC)
The thing is-- writers usually want to read. It is not a chore. We all started as readers-- that is how we discovered we wanted to write.

But in the white-hot best of writing, when it is all going well, nobody wants to stop. There are times when we write more than we read, because when it goes well, writing is so fun!

That said-- I do read all the damn time. But I have pretty much given up tv.
Jul. 7th, 2012 04:02 pm (UTC)
'There are times when we write more than we read, because when it goes well, writing is so fun!

Very true :)
(no subject) - mary_j_59 - Jul. 8th, 2012 01:48 am (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 7th, 2012 03:04 pm (UTC)
You've probably noticed the most interesting conversations you've had
were with people who listened at least as much as they talked.

Although, yes, one must be selective as to what one reads,
and should not suppose that simply reading War and Peace,
even in a good translation,
will magically have one writing timeless masterpieces...
Jul. 7th, 2012 04:07 pm (UTC)
'You've probably noticed the most interesting conversations you've had were with people who listened at least as much as they talked.'

Ha! My old gran would disagree, though these days she has to do so via Ouija board (or straightforward haunting).
(no subject) - msstacy13 - Jul. 7th, 2012 04:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Jul. 7th, 2012 04:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - msstacy13 - Jul. 7th, 2012 04:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 7th, 2012 03:18 pm (UTC)
I read all the time, but I'm far more selective now about it. I'm with eglantine_br - it was reading that made me want to try to write. I just prioritise now. If it's a choice between reading or writing, I'll plump for the latter now.

Edited at 2012-07-07 03:19 pm (UTC)
Jul. 7th, 2012 04:10 pm (UTC)
'I read all the time, but I'm far more selective now... '

I know what you mean, Anna. I read a lot more middle grade and YA than before.
Jul. 7th, 2012 04:06 pm (UTC)
Not reading, for me, is as impossible as not writing.
Jul. 7th, 2012 04:11 pm (UTC)
Me too, though goodness knows, there are plenty who want me stop :)
(Deleted comment)
Jul. 7th, 2012 05:31 pm (UTC)
Especially Spider solitaire and facebook :(
(no subject) - martyn44 - Jul. 7th, 2012 09:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Jul. 8th, 2012 11:57 am (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 7th, 2012 06:31 pm (UTC)
I'm honestly puzzled as to why someone would want to write if they didn't like to read.

The only reason I write is that I wish to emulate the writers I know and love, to create worlds equally rich and diverse, characters who feel like friends, plots that keep me turning pages long after I should be asleep. If I didn't read, why would I want to do that?
Jul. 8th, 2012 01:23 am (UTC)
Agreed 100%. I've talked to writers who have actually said that they don't like to read. Which to me is like an aspiring musician saying he doesn't like to listen to music.
(no subject) - mutive - Jul. 8th, 2012 02:33 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Jul. 8th, 2012 11:58 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - blood_of_winter - Jul. 8th, 2012 12:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Jul. 8th, 2012 12:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mutive - Jul. 8th, 2012 02:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 7th, 2012 09:06 pm (UTC)
Writing appears to be the only creative artform that can be practised without paying attention to what other creators in the medium are doing (according to some) Observation tends to suggest that the greatest creators are obsessive about others' work - even if only to dismiss it (or, more likely, steal the good bits)

Read. Just stop reading Facebook/Twitter/Livejournal EXCEPT in moderation.

Do as I say, not as I do.
Jul. 8th, 2012 12:01 pm (UTC)
I guess it all comes down to old 'Whatever works best for you' thing, but I certainly find it helpful to read other folks's work.

Thanks for the input, Martyn :)
Jul. 7th, 2012 10:27 pm (UTC)
Stephanie Meyer comes to mind. She's managed to be wildly successful and she's never bothered to read all the lore/history behind why certain legends came to be.

It's not how I write, or would want to, but it's certainly worked for her at this point. It will be interesting to see how she develops as a writer from here.
Jul. 8th, 2012 12:02 pm (UTC)
Even if you read the lore/history, there's usually plenty different (and conflicting) opinions. If I were Stephanie, I'd focus on the fun :)
(no subject) - eneit - Jul. 8th, 2012 02:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - paulwoodlin - Jul. 8th, 2012 02:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 7th, 2012 10:35 pm (UTC)
It is kinda useful to read out of genre. Instead of looking at the story in depth, things like the setting and the characters tend to stand out more. Also the plot. How was that sense of threat, or hatred achieved? What made that comment so funny and how much of a set up went into it? Because one isn't wildly focussing on one's own genre, it helps to see the big picture.
Jul. 8th, 2012 12:04 pm (UTC)
I agree :)
Jul. 8th, 2012 12:02 pm (UTC)
Personally I don't see why this is even up for debate. Yes, writers should read. I don't see why they wouldn't.
Jul. 8th, 2012 12:03 pm (UTC)
I know a decent number who don't (or at least, haven't lately).
(no subject) - dagonista - Jul. 8th, 2012 12:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Jul. 8th, 2012 12:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 8th, 2012 02:41 pm (UTC)
You don't have to read a lot to write or even be published, but reading is the first step to writing well. The books I reread have always been by very literate book lovers, at least according to their blogs and biographies.
Jul. 9th, 2012 10:32 am (UTC)
They can certainly teach us a lot :)
Jul. 11th, 2012 07:42 am (UTC)
Like you and, I suspect, most writers, I read with my writerly brain switched to the 'on' position. and honestly? While it's obviously immensely useful, and part of my writerly education, it can be quite annoying sometimes. I do wonder what it must be like to read a book without noticing and analysing. I'm sure I did once upon a time ...
Jul. 11th, 2012 11:51 am (UTC)
Lol, especially the good bits. I find myself thinking 'How can use this technique in my own work?' :)
Jul. 13th, 2012 03:43 pm (UTC)
ANd I'm sure I've mentioned this before: I LOVE S.K.
Jul. 13th, 2012 05:39 pm (UTC)
Lol :)
Jul. 14th, 2012 04:35 am (UTC)
Reading and writing...

It's either low confidence or just not being in school for a while, but I often feel that the key to remembering the structure of literature is to read.

I often kick myself a lot over my writing and my memory in grammar rules, thinking that they're terrible. So I end up believing that it's a consequence from not reading. When I read a book, I think, "Why can't I emulate the same thing?"

If I close the book, it's like I completely forgotten what I've seen.
Jul. 14th, 2012 09:08 am (UTC)
I find I read differently now. I often stop to make little notes eg: 'Great dialogue, pge 43' or 'Clever sensory description' etc.

( 52 comments — Leave a comment )

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