WRITERS HAVE TO BE READERS
“You have to read widely, constantly refining (and redefining) your own work as you do so. It’s hard for me to believe that people who read very little (or not at all in some cases) should presume to write and expect people to like what they have written, but I know it’s true. If I had a nickel for every person who ever told me he/she wanted to become a writer but “didn’t have time to read,” If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time to write. Simple as that. Reading is the creative centre of a writer’s life.” -Stephen King, On Writing
When I was a child I read every day. I read everything including billboards and other advertisements. I just needed to read. I was lucky enough to have a mother who believed in the wealth of literature and we belonged to a ‘sixpenny a book’ library.
I never stopped reading. If I started with AA Milne, ‘Milly Molly and Enid Blyton, as I grew older obviously my tastes changed and developed. Out of that love of reading, I developed a love of writing though I didn’t start writing professionally until I was in my forties.
I meet people regularly who want to be writers. They tell me that they don’t read because they don’t have time, or that it will negatively impact their own personal style of writing. They say they can only be original if they are not influenced by other people’s writing.
I have been teaching creative writing in one form or another for over thirty years. When I ask students who is going to read or buy their book they have few answers. The main issue with claiming that you are not going read because your personal writing style might become tainted or overly influenced by reading other writing styles is the fact that even if you never read another book, or form, or even an email for the rest of your life you would still be influenced by other people’s writing.
When you watch a TV show it is written by someone. When you listen to a song it is written by someone. When you see a move, it is written by someone. So these written things are already influencing you. There is no way to avoid being influenced by others.
The other response I get is that the plan is to write a picture story book as that is so much shorter and therefore easier. In my opinion these five hundred word stories are more difficult to write than a long adult novel. They have been described as ‘haiku for children’.
So the first question I ask any students regardless of age is what they read? The most popular genre presently tackled is Young Adult, possibly because this can be thinly disguised autobiography, and because so many YA books have been serialised on TV. Often the original books have never been read. These are not fantasy genre readers. They just liked the show and wanted to write more like it, completely unaware of the original work.
Besides, it really is impossible to avoid reading. If someone is only reading error riddled emails, and casually written Facebook posts, but not actually reading well edited novels and thoroughly researched non-fiction books, their writing will not be influenced for the better. No matter what one does, one is going to influenced by outside sources. But the quality of writing will be much better if influenced by the same medium that they are producing.
The more you read books the more you can understand the elements that go into them, and the better your craft can become. To be a good writer I believe that one has to read a lot of books. Fifty a year would be a good place to start.. I also think that the kind of books one reads should vary. Even though I primarily write fiction, I also read a lot of non-fiction
I have read entire books that I did not like, that have still helped me improve my skills as a writer. I belong to two bookclubs which means that every month I must read four books – an adult novel, a young adult novel, a middle grade novel, and a picture story book. As well, I read more, often the latest ‘big event’ in publishing so I will have some idea of what publishers were looking for a year ago (it takes at least a year to produce a completed novel) and help my own writing. Often the books I read I don’t like, or they are poorly edited, or simply overlong and boring. But I needed to read widely to develop my writer’s toolbox. Besides, reading is my passion.