Friday, July 11, 2014

Question of the Day.

I read a lot of writer's blogs and follow a fair amount of writerly types on social media. A recurring theme seems to permeate any sort of advice writers give to new, aspiring, or even older, insecure, writers.

You have to read in order to write....or, at least, write well.

But, do you really? I ask this, not in a rhetorical sense, but as a legitimate question.

I mean, don't get me wrong.....I enjoy reading and think kids should get into it as soon as possible. In fact, if family legend (my mother) is to be believed, I taught myself to read before entering Kindergarten on a steady diet of comic books, Mr. Roger's Neighborhood, and Sesame Street. I still remember those old issues of Sad Sack and Richie Rich strewn all over my bed. Even with that achievement under my belt, I don't think I like reading near as much as some people who blog or use social media. And there's nothing wrong with these people, either. I'm a very strong advocate of reading, especially critical reading. The type that makes one think or forces someone to question something they might not have, had they gotten the information from another medium.

I just feel a little......inadequate....I guess is the word I'm looking for...when some feel the need to discuss how many books they've read or have on the burner.  Like when someone says they've read twenty books in a month.


Not that I'm doubting them, but I have to wonder where they get the time and what sort of books they're reading. I'm hard pressed to find a handful of books that can catch my interest and draw me in, much less twenty in one month. Maybe I'm more finicky as a reader? Maybe I need to expand my "reading horizons"? I don't know.

Grabbing my Kindle Fire, I can scroll through the carousel and see, probably, around ten books I've downloaded. Of those ten, I'm in the middle of (and have been for a while now) Save the Cat and The Vault of Walt (about Walt Disney), and have just started Gaiman's American Gods.

While I wouldn't, necessarily, consider myself a "slow reader", I feel like I'm chugging uphill in trying to finish these books.

Going back to my question, though, does reading trump actual writing when trying to become a better writer? I would think that reading other people's work, while I can certainly see some benefits in it, doesn't really do much towards helping you hone your own writing style. Maybe I shouldn't even say "trump"....maybe it's something that goes hand in hand with writing and honing your own abilities as well as finding your own style?

I don't know.

I also don't want this to come off as some sort of "anti-reading" type of's not. As I said, I'm extremely pro reading....I just question as to whether it's imperative to be a good writer.

What do you think?


L. Diane Wolfe said...

I think it's a combination of the two. And it's a lot of reading in the beginning that leads to better writing. I don't read as much as I used to, but when I did it was voracious. But I don't have the time to read a dozen books a month now.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Reading and writing go together. But I don't read a ton of books. I am a slow reader, so one or two a month is good for me. If I need to be reading more now to be a good writer, then I'm just screwed.

Annalisa Crawford said...

I have a slightly different viewpoint: why would you want to write, if you don't enjoy reading?

Equally: why would you paint if you don't like looking at art, or play piano if you don't listen to music?

I don't think the speed or number of books is important, but enjoying reading is.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I usually read a book per week at least. I put aside at least an hour a day to read. I feel like I learn as a writer by noticing what works, reading a 'voice' that intrigues me of finding interesting word usage.
I'm a fast reader as are my daughter and my one son. My other son reads slow but enjoys it as much as the rest of us.

Andrew Leon said...

Here's what I think of reading:
1. Every study out there shows that everything that we learn in school, reading is the only that matters on a significant level. And I don't mean the skill of reading. All of the studies connected to this show that people who read (fiction) as a form of entertainment are, overall, more successful than those that do not read.
2. During a survey of "successful" authors on the top 10 things any aspiring author should do to become a successful author, there were only two things on -every- list: write and read.

Actually, I was talking about this very thing in the July issue of Indie Writers Monthly and, while I can see the hypothetical possibility of being a writer without being a reader, I don't know of a single example where that has been true. That tells me something.
It's like, you can't be a lawyer without reading about other court cases.

Elizabeth Seckman said...

Go easy on yourself, Mark. There is only so much time in a day. I'm a slowish reader. I don't knock off a book a week, or even sometimes a month. There just isn't enough time to do it all.

And I have found that as a writer, I very rarely read for pure pleasure anymore, I am studying, critiquing looking at how a writer did well or failed. I read an Anne Tyler book and was just amazed...she had me turning pages just to find out what was in a letter. No action, no intrigue- just a guy following a letter through a bus station. Took me two weeks to read that book.

I suppose in reading, it's the same as writing- don't compare yourself to others. It will only stress you out.

Mark Means said...

@Diane: I would tend to agree with that. Before I started writing I used to read a lot. I think now my pendulum has shifted to the other side.

@Alex: I don't think you need to worry about your writing ;) Now I don't feel so out of the loop in my reading amounts.

@Annalisa: Very good point and I do like to read. I was just questioning as to whether I was reading 'enough'. I guess, like most things, it's pretty subjective, though.

@Susan: Sounds like you have a nice balance there.

@Andrew: Very interesting...maybe I could be the first? Yeah, probably not :) Either way, I'll have to check out the Indie Writers Monthly.

@Elizabeth: I'm still at the "reading for fun" phase in my journey, but reading with a critical eye is a very logical next step.

Maurice Mitchell said...

I would imagine you'd learn more from others than you'd learn on your own Mark.

Mark Means said...

@Maurice: There's not doubt about that :)

klahanie said...


Dude, I'm a slow reader and a slow learner. However, when I finally figure it out, I often have absorbed more than what the fast person may have observed.

I hardly read books. I just seem to write my inane gibberish. Besides, how can I read books and read so many blogs at the same time. How some do it is beyond me. Clone machines?

I think that there is a possibility that reading other writing styles can be potentially a learning experience. It can also potentially be something that distracts from you uniqueness. I like to do my own thing. You might of notice that.

Happy, thoughtful writing, your way.

Gary :)

Suzanne Sapsed said...

I love reading, but if I read a book a week, then I must have had a very quiet life going on (like that happens much!) I don't think that makes me a bad writer. I will also dump a book if I can't get into it, or wish I had if I get to the end and think 'why did I read that' LOL!
But I would agree with Annalisa, why would someone write that doesn't like reading?
Suzanne @ Suzannes Tribe

Tara Tyler R said...

you-sah cracking me up =) i'm chugging up hill too!
i guess i'm not a slow reader, just a slow book finisher because i always have 4-5 books awaiting my attention. i love to read, but i have so much on my plate, stolen moments and bedtime seem to be the only times i can get to them. so i definitely dont read 20 books a month - i'd say those are avid readers! that's why i yearn for vacation, i usually finish a couple of the books i'm in the middle of sitting by the pool!
we all have our own rates.

and i believe a writer should read something, whether about the craft or for pleasure - a writer who doesnt read is like a skinny baker =)

Mark Means said...

@Gary: Haha, yes, you certainly do like to do your own thing...nothing wrong with that. It's part of your 'boyish charms' :)

@Suzanne: I'm the same way with reading...if a book doesn't catch (and hold) my attention, I'm dumping it. I also hope I haven't put the notion out there that I -don't- like to read. In fact, quite the contrary...I enjoy reading, but I guess I need more balance.

@Tara: Haha and you know what they say...never trust a skinny baker. It means he doesn't have the nerve to try his own creations ;)

Lisa said...

I think, like others here, that it's a mixture of both, but that if you're going to be serious about writing, more writing should be done than reading (unless it's research of course!) on any given day... Good question to throw out Mark.

Cynthia said...

I support the notion of reading what you want to read. Sometimes there's pressure out there, especially if you're a writer, to read certain kinds of books. But I think our minds open up when we are reading what appeals to us.

mshatch said...

I do believe that in order to be a good writer you must read and especially you should read what you write. It doesn't necessarily mean you have to read 20 books in a month (I read quite a bit but I seldom read more than 4-5 books a month) but I think you have to read in order to see what's working in the books themselves, what's making them good, how is the author making you turn the page. By reading books I love and want to emulate, I learn how to make my stories better and my characters be the sort of people readers want to follow.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...