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Craft | Reading

During particularly dry spells in my writing, or when I’m seriously procrastinating, I sometimes bum around the blogsphere. And I’ve come across an interesting complaint. Writers who don’t read.

It seems some people have confused writers who don’t read with people whom have never read a book in their life. I have yet to meet a single writer who did not at some point devour books at a voracious rate. But I have met plenty of established writers who don’t have the time nor the patience to read much fiction but still read plenty about the world.

And I have a theory as to why. I’m going to blow against tradition here so bear with me.

Yes, as I have said, reading is important. But, and this is important also, You cannot learn to write from reading. You can learn a lot about what makes a good book or story. But once you have an ear for the language, the only way to learn to write is to write. A lot. So much so that you get through the garbage phase.

Suggesting you can learn to write by reading is like saying you can learn to drive by being a passenger. Maybe I was just a really shitty driver but after sixteen years riding in cars I still needed some serious help figuring out how to make one do what I want.

I’m sure riding helps, and I’m sure reading helps. But at a certain point you have to get your arse into the drivers seat.

My theory about why many writers don’t like reading fiction is that they don’t like being a passenger.

I have to admit, I can see why. Once you develop your own voice, your own strength and style it can be really annoying to read something and constantly disagree with the direction the author has taken. I’ve given up on a series I otherwise enjoyed because I disagreed with an element so strongly it ruined the whole story. Call me a snob if you like, a better term would be impatient. But I know I’m not alone.

But maybe, just maybe, that is the idea behind the concept that to write you need to read. Because there is no greater motivator for getting your bum into the seat then taking a ride with a driver you disagree with.

Look at this article for example. It was inspired by ze internet because I had an issue with something someone said. Dissatisfaction is a powerful motivator if you put your mind to it.

Now, all that said. There is another aspect to writers who don't read that is worth mentioning. Most of them are totally overloaded. They are stressed and busy and don't have time to think. It's all very well to have a more relaxed pace of life that gives one the mental space to read. And I find that comes more naturally when things ease off. But when you have limited concentration and need to make a choice? Choose your own work and sod convention.

And then there are people like my mother. She's 68 and read tonnes and tonnes of books when she was younger, gathered a long internal library in her head, but she finished her novel and is in the editing stage and wants a clean view of what her internal sense of language dictates. She would love to read. But like so many writers, she has limited concentration to offer. She's an awesome, tenacious writer and defies the rules to get her world done.

Where do I fall? I think reading is important. I think you reach a point you can't progress without it. But I also have gone years that I only focused on my work and it didn't suffer for it. I read in phases. I catch up with all the amazing books I've missed then stop for several months. That's just my rhythm.

Find your rhythm and don't worry if you are skipping the books for now. So long as everything else is in place they will be there when you need them. And if you disagree? Good. Write about it.


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