Saturday, July 24, 2010

If you don't read, quit trying to write

I have my annual rants, one of which is reading. Not about literacy, not about teaching kids to write, not about donating books to schools and at-risk populations. It's about writers taking the time to read. Aimee Weinstein wrote this post which brought this rant back to the forefront of my mind.

She sweetly explains how reading is fruitful for writers. I tend to take the message further, in a more dramatic tone. I feel that if a writer isn't a voracious reader, he doesn't deserve to write. My mantra is:

You don't have the right to write, if you don't have the need to read.

Reading other works teaches you how to write your own. No, you aren't copying others' material, but you are learning what works and what doesn't. You develop an ability to recognize style, voice, character development and plot twisting. No, you won't all this get this from how-to books.

Look at doctors and teachers. Look at painters and craftsmen. They school up on the trade. They practice the trade. They study the talented in their profession and know the masters. They try to analyze what makes someone great. They attempt to note the tricks of the trade, the habits that do not work and those that do.
What makes writers any different?

Many writers do not read. The arrogance of thinking one can write best-sellers and not dissect current best-sellers, just slays me. And these self-proclaimed writers will be unproductive, doing busy work, not progressing, not understanding why their work is not attractive to other readers. All they see is their world of their words. Not studying the words of those who've managed to distribute their stories around the world denies them the knowledge needed to be succcessful. They deceive themselves thinking they'll continue to check out how-to write books at the library or buy them online and come out sounding like Pulitzer Prize winners. Nope - won't happen.

To enable your talent, you need to study, practice and read. To shortchange any of the three is to handicap the work product. Why do you think sports figures are so appealling to young athletes? It's all about studying the moves to get your own right.


Keri said...

So true. Fortunately, I do not have this problem. In fact, I should read a little less and write a little more :)

Anne R. Allen said...

Amen. I recently saw the statistic that 80% of Americans want to write a book, but only 57% have read even ONE book in the last year. A good novel costs a whole lot less than a writers' conference, and may very well teach you more.

D.G. Hudson said...

Bravo, Hope. Reading is a pleasure and a learning tool. I consider it one of the best ways to self-educate.

I read an article on Amazon one-star reviews that linked from lit agent N. Bransford's post, and was astounded at the lack of appreciation for what are considered the classics & best books of the last century. It appears that those who consider themselves reviewers need to consider educating themselves first -- most comments seemed to show they hadn't read the book, but probably skimmed it. I certainly hope this isn't where the internet savvy get their ideas for reading material.

Your rant was excellent.

Karen Lange said...

Amen! Don't know how writers get along without reading:)
Happy weekend,

Terri Tiffany said...

Checked out three books this weekend from the library:) Reading is my pleasure.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Great point! I imagine I spend more money at the book stores, amazon, publishers and the library used book store than I do anywhere else in my life (other than gorceries). In the past few months, I've started buying my published blog friends' books...

Ann said...

You're totally right. It's the best way to learn our craft.
I also enjoy reading books about writing - and then going off and reading regular books and looking out for the the new points I just read about.
That way, apart from enjoying a great read, I'm also more aware of how it was crafted.

Kristi's Book Nook said...

This is a great point. I agree that reading is crucial no matter the talent.

BECKY said...

Loved this, Hope! I received the same great advice in 2003, when I was brand new to writing. It came in an e-mail from an editor of a newspaper I respect. That e-mail is framed and hangs above my desk, which I read every day!

Janny said...

"They deceive themselves thinking they'll continue to check out books at the library or buy them online and come out sounding like Pulitzer Prize winners. Nope - won't happen."

Did I miss something? Was a word left out? I can't make the sense of that sentiment. Seems to me that going to the library and buying books online is precisely what you're saying that we SHOULD do...and of course READ them. :-)

No doubt something got lost in translation...which also doesn't leave out the possibility of a brain spasm on the part of the reader.


Lisa said...

Janny, Yes, your eye missed key words in this sentence:

"They deceive themselves thinking they'll continue to check out how-to write books at the library..."

Note the "how-to-write books". Hope is saying that if you ONLY read these types of books (and not actual novels), they can't really help educate you on style, story, voice, etc.. as much as if you read the novels themselves.

You have to experience (by reading) what works and what doesn't work to find your own voice, style, story, etc. I hope that clarifies it for you.

And Hope, I agree with you. It makes no sense not to read!! I know one wanna-be writer who swears he's never read a single book. I don't really believe him as you have to read books in order to get through any schooling (even children's books or young adult books!) but what I don't understand is that he refuses to read any books (on any topic, fiction or not) in order to educate himself, or be inspired. He seems to almost brag about that "fact."

Makes no sense. If he refuses to read someone else's fiction then how can he expect anyone to read HIS work? It's puzzling. Also, how can he know what people enjoy reading f he doesn't enjoy reading himself?? So, I say:

Read on!! Then write and write some more! :D