Jump to content

Do writers need to be readers?


Recommended Posts

'Ere's one for ya...

 

I like to write. I even have notions of being a writer. One of the things that might be a bit odd though, is that I don't read very often. I'm more keen to write my own stuff, than I am to read novels and the like. I tend to think that's a bit unusual, but there it is.

 

My great concern in writing therefore is that one day I'll come up with a fantastic idea and spend a year turning it into a novel, only to discover that said idea has been very famously used by very famous novel that I haven't read.

 

Is my fear justified?

 

Peplexed,

Surbiton

Link to post
Share on other sites

Dear Perplexed,

 

I like to think I write, and I read masses, always have done. So what if someone else has come up with a similar idea to you? It's never done some of the biggest blockbusters any harm to write the same plots over and over again. Besides, as BB says, it's the execution of it not the underlying similarity.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Many don't agree, but I believe the same applies with artists. One cannot 'adopt' talent: all this "with care and attention a slow-developing student can master this, that and the other" is pure 'happy-talk' put about by the semi-able.

 

An ex-artist who now writes, I don't think I read nearly enough, but seek to put that right. Reading (IMHO) is essential for a writer - especially a fiction author: not so much for any fear of plagiarism, but more for word power, style and assimilation of varied techniques. (And, of course, inspiration.)

 

But, as with all the arts, I seldom trust any purveyor who says he doesn't read/listen to/appreciate the work of his peers...

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 2 weeks later...

There is a quote which comes from Leslie Waigner, an editorial director at a mass market publishing house in US... "It's all in the execution."

 

Ideas are only ideas. What counts is the story.

 

For example, my novel (yes, yes, yes... just bear with me a moment) concerns a lady who disguises herself as a soldier and fights in the Napoleonic wars. Now, so far as I am aware, despite a lot of non-fiction on the subject, no one has novelised such a premise before.

 

Now, someone who is much better at writing fiction, is free to take this premise any time now and write a much better story. That's the way the cookie crumbles.

 

The upshot? Have some faith in your own story being only what you could write. Someone else could have already used your idea - but their book will be different. Your book will be yours.

 

FWIW

 

Kate

Link to post
Share on other sites

vis-a-vis the reading: I'm surprised you don't read avidly if you write, frankly. I don't think I've met a fiction author who is not an avid fiction reader.

 

I prefer writing to e.g. television, but I hate the way my writing, through necessity, burns into my reading time these days.

 

Kate

Link to post
Share on other sites

Kate: I agree, reading's essential (though I'm not a fiction writer - well, I have half a novel, but that's not what's being published at present...) I also agree that one should have faith in ones ability to create something unique and valid, regardless of whether one thinks the subject area may have been covered before: how anyone could go into writing with a 'fear of plagiarism' is beyond me.

 

Where I disagree with you as that I don't think you can really afford to 'hate' your writing eating into reading time: the process of writing (at least, this kind of writing) has to feel essential. I don't know if this is your first novel, but it shouldn't feel like a chore at this stage, IMO...

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 2 weeks later...

I agree with Arjohn about the two being intertwined. However, I think people often overstate and misunderstand natural talent. That talent is never going to come out without the right self-nurturing. While there might have been the odd decent idea at the centre of it, the first journalism I had published, a decade ago, was pretty appalling, and I'm sure the main reason for that is that I spent my entire adolescence avoiding books (and school, in general, though that might have been a good thing, in retrospect). These days, there's a constant battle going on between my bookshelf and my computer keyboard for my free time, and I never quite feel happy within myself unless I read a novel a week (bloody hell, I sound a bit like David Brent here). I'm not looking for ideas when I read, or making mental notes, but I just know from experience that the more I read, the more ways of communicating I'll subconsciously have at my disposal... If I read something for work purposes that's badly written, I also worry that that will seep in, too... Ideally, I think I'd spend six months of every year writing and another six months reading, because sometimes even the good stuff I read seeps in TOO far. I recently read (and quite enjoyed) It by Stephen King, and later that day had to walk away from my computer because I kept writing italicised internal monologues.

 

I think being carried away and in 'the zone' whilst writing is the best high of the lot (particularly when the writing concerned is fiction, which is what I'm currently having my first stab at, after a couple of non-fiction books)... but, like Kate, I sometimes want to put reading first: partly because the other zone that a really good book takes you too is a great place to be, and partly because I feel I am always playing catch up with other writers who read a lot more earlier in their life. Do I sound angst-ridden? Probably. But I guess that goes with the territory.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 3 weeks later...

I'm glad you agree with me Top Cat, because I've so far only read about 10 books this year, half fiction, half non-fiction. And 3 of those I had to read because I was reviewing them for a magazine.

 

Ain't that rather pathetic? Before I wrote so much, I would read 3-4 novels a week.

 

Deinonychus - my writing does not feel 'essential'. It's very hard to do, and I constantly feel as if I am pushing a very large vat of water up a steep hill. I get annoyed that the words on my pages do not reflect the story in my head, and so I struggle trying to get the words to show what I want them to. All in all, hard work.

 

Reading is easy, and unless the book is very bad, pure pleasure indeed!

Link to post
Share on other sites

Kate:

 

This is the way I see it working best for me.

 

First I clone myself, and make two Top Cats.

 

For four days a week, one sits around reading, as you say, 3 or four books. The other one goes out, socialises, observes human life.

 

Then they both get together for three days in front of the keyboard, and pool what they've learned (in a subconscious kind of way).

 

This way, maybe I realise my potential as a writer.

 

Or maybe I just have so much fun being two places at once, that I get distracted and spend the whole week playing practical jokes on people. Or just playing a lot of golf.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Kate - I guess you have to push through the pain barrier of 'word-crunching' to get to the good stuff. Another (and probably better) option is to write what's begging to be written first, no matter where it might sit in your novel. At least that might break down your writer's block a little...

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 2 weeks later...

lol Top Cat. And add to that a third persona which is 'get-my-50-hours-a-week-day-job-done' and you're closer to what I need. Ah... I've just had a blissful holiday weekend because I've read one and a half whole books, and written 3,000 words of the wip.

 

Deinonychus - I don't even have writer's block I'm afraid. Just a lack of time and natural writing talent - dyslexic, scatterbrained etc.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Don't know if this helps, Kate but when I write (never published, sigh) if it's not going well, it still goes down on the page. Then, when I come back to it the next morning I go over it again and because the idea's already there, it's easier to make the words come out the way I want them to. Of course this does involve 5 a.m. starts...

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 2 weeks later...

I would have to say that if your desire is to be a better human being, let alone a writer, you must read.

 

I read Stephen King's The Stand in 6th grade. Though not the best book to start with, I have been reading something ever since. I cannot imagine going through life not reading. I hope I don't sound like a snob. I just believe that reading for me is essential.

 

I split my time reading and writing. There are times when I am less motivated to write. In those times I begin by reading a great book. This almost always gets me motivated. When I am looking at the words but thinking of my own writing, I know that it is time to stop reading and write.

 

Also, I read just about everywhere. I take a book with me no matter where I go. I can't take my laptop everywhere and write while waiting in traffic etc. This gives me time to read and then when I have more time, I write.

 

My two cents.

Link to post
Share on other sites

You would need to read in order to pick up various literary techniques but it doesn't necessarily mean the more books you read the better writer you're going to be. I would say specific research is more important, especially for writing style, characterisation and plot. For instance if you're going to include free indirect discourse then a reading of Madame Bovary would be worthwhile, or if you're writing in the first person then The Great Gatsby and Proust would be worth investigating just to get a sense of the writing style but in the end, the ideas and structure will be down to the individual author. I suppose each author has their own individuality, regardless of the influences.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Writing and not reading is rather like cooking things you never eat - you don't have anything to compare it to and help your assessment of whether what you've done is any cook. (The analogy is based on my mother, all i can say is don't have dinner with her).

All sorts of reading is essential is you're going to be any good as a writer IMO, reading stuff you dislike so you know what not to do and reading fabulously good books to set a benchmark to aspire to (this can be daunting at times!)

The only thing which can be difficult is reading something which is similar or in the same genre to what you're actually writing, you can find yourself unconsciously copying the author's style or worse, retelling their jokes.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Well, yes - I don't think anyone's suggesting that reading a lot makes you a good writer (we're back to the 'natural ability' bit again) - I just think that the better writers probably do read a great deal. I certainly agree with what LucyB said at the top of the page - application is what counts initially. (If you haven't the talent to write, however, nothing's going to make that occur by magic...)

 

Reading helps provoke thinking and wakes up areas of your mind that might otherwise remain dormant, but as to whether this makes you 'a better human being' is not really something I'd buy into, nor is it quantifiable.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 3 weeks later...
  • 5 weeks later...

I write fiction for teenagers (latest book Jacob's Ladder, Orchard Books) and I also read manuscripts from would be authors. By far and away the biggest mistake they all make is that they haven't read anything. As a result their work is uninformed by current developments in fiction, which is as susceptible to changes in fashion as everything else. To me, wanting to be a writer and not reading doesn't make any sense at all. It shows that you don't really understand what writing is all about. Sorry if that sounds harsh.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
×
×
  • Create New...