The Reading Writer

Wednesday, June 23, 2010
By Jill Earl

“If you do not have the need to read, you don't have the right to write.”

The quote above is from C. Hope Clark, editor of Funds For Writers, a newsletter and website dedicated to all things writing. A couple of years ago, she wrote a pair of articles addressing her strong view that writers must be readers, and gave readers permission to quote her. Reading it again brought back a conversation I had one day a few years before.

I was reading and waiting for a bus after work, when a man approached me to chat. He asked me if I liked to read. I said, “It’s my favorite thing to do, next to writing.”

“You’re a writer? Me too, I’m actually starting a book. What do you write?”

“Nonfiction for now. What do you like to read?”

Then he delivered the kicker. “Oh, I don’t read much.”

Did I just hear what I thought I heard? I asked him to repeat himself and he did. He didn’t read much. I tried to wrap my brain around his words.

Still struggling with what he said, I asked, “Uh, so what’s your book about?”

“Well, I’m not sure yet, but I’m sure I’ll come up with something.”

By this time, the arrival of my bus was a welcome escape, and I hurried aboard in frustration.

I’m with Hope. If you plan to make writing your career, you need to read. How else will find out about the world around you? Or learn about your chosen topics? Or develop your craft?

I suppose you can try, but I wonder what kind of work you'll produce? W ill it be writing you can be proud of, something that readers will enjoy?

It’s up to you. If you plan on being a writer, you have to read. You can't avoid it.

Now then, go find something to read.


Jenna Lang said...

Writers who don't read are like runners who don't train and speakers who don't prepare. Reading is essential to writers because we must constantly be "training" ourselves... what is good about this passage? Why does this scene work? What would have made this stronger? Now-- I often read for pleasure, and truthfully, it has improved my skill (and income) as a writer-- not because I am constantly, consciously evaluating everything I read. I'm not. But it is true that reading also develops my "ear" for language-- essential not just for writing dialogue, but also for creating writing that is easy to read but also delivers a lot of information. Certainly, just listening to people talk doesn't do the same. Very rarely does a casual speaker (even with many words) deliver plenty of information as effectively as a well written paragraph does.
I think that writers who don't read, well, they aren't very effective writers. Just like runners who don't train aren't very effective runners.

Widow_Lady302 said...

I agree with Jenna! How can you be an affective writer if you haven't read what came before? Those are the same sort of people who, when they find out you are a writer, tell you they have a "killer" novel idea that they are willing to let you have some profits if you write it for them. It is really hard to take them any kind of serious.

Anonymous said...

How can a writer who doesn't read, expect others to read what they write?
It is crucial to be a reader if you want to be an effective writer. I said crucial. If you are just considering becoming a writer, I encourage you to go back and start over, by first reading some well-considered books in your area of interest.

I have gained so much fodder from books and stories that others have written. I have been encouraged, chastised, enriched, motivated and more- simply by reading well-crafted words written by even fiction writers who believe in their skill.

Thank a librarian, and thank your local book stores, sellers and publishing houses for selling your books - to readers!

joyceharring said...

I totally agree. To quote a phrase, "Reading is Fundamental". It is in all you do.

I read books and magazines on the craft of writing, web-sites, newsletters and blogs on writing.
Those are for the always ready to learn something new part of me.

Then I read books by my favorite authors. This is for the I really love to get lost in the enjoyment part of me.

Robyn Chausse said...

I suppose if someone is only writing for himself he doesn't need to read much, but if one wants to be published it's time to crack a cover.
The market changes... I love Poe and Hawthorne but if I stop my reading at that point and think it is still in vogue I will probably have a difficult time finding a market. We need to keep up with the changes in style, new ideas, new topics...besides, isn't it nice to just sit back and be entertained for awhile, to escape into someone else's world? :)

Jill said...

Excellent points, all!

Jenna, loved your analogy!

Robyn, this guy fully expected to have his book published. Part of me wishes I'd kept tabs on him to see how things turned out for him. With the mentality he had, I have a pretty good idea what happened--nothing.

Thanks for all of your responses!

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