Recently, I met some aspiring writers who declared that reading is a waste of their time. I heard them read out their writing, full of repetitions, super-cliched adjectives, non-existent pacing, all tell and no show, two adverbs in each line. I heard them say they wrote everyday.
For me, I write everyday too, but I also behave at a bookstore just like an ant-eater at a termite hill. I can’t stop, because I was first a reader, then a writer. I was one of those weirdos at school and college whose nose was never very far from a book.
When I began to write, I realized that my wide-ranging reading helped me in many ways in my writing. I have a long way to go as a writer, but I’m better off, I’ve often felt, for being an avid reader.
So I wanted to jump in with my comments, but I’ve found that doling out unwanted advice and argument is a waste of breath. But, this is what I would have said about why every writer ought to read:
1. You write what you read. If you read like a writer should, the way Francine Prose recommends, you take giant leaps towards bettering your craft and your writing. If you read a lot without much thought, craft still percolates into you.
2. For writers who are trying to find their voice– try writing exercises involving the imitation your favorite author. It could be a great way to find your own unique rhythm and pace of work. But only those who read a lot have favorite authors.
3. Reading across genres may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it can be a great way of cross-fertilization of ideas and emotions. The creative brain short-circuits given a wide range of inputs, and some of the best writing emerges out of those intuitive flashes.
4. If you read much, you will know the kind of books you would like to read. When you begin writing just that sort of book, it is much more passionate and heart-felt. There is no replacement for genuine passion and honesty in writing.
And the sarcastic part of me wanted to ask them: WHY on earth are you writing if you don’t like reading? What makes you think other people would love reading what you write??
I’m finishing “Oscar and Lucinda” by Peter Carey. Oscar and Lucinda have left the book and taken up residence in my head. My ambition is to be able to similarly populate my readers’ imaginations with my characters!
Do you think every writer ought to read? If yes, do you have reasons to add to the above list?