Wanna Write? Read!

Over the years I’ve been amazed whenever I meet wannabe writers who proudly tell me: “Oh I don’t read.” Especially when they tell me they don’t read the type of book they
want to write. I simply don’t understand that sort of logic.

Some say they’re afraid they might “accidentally” plagiarize a story, think it was their own and not realize they had read it. I just don’t buy this excuse. Unless a person has a
photographic memory (and if he did, wouldn’t she remember reading the story?), even using a similar plot situation and characters would create a “new” story. The wonderful thing about writers is we each bring our own, individual personalities and life experiences to what we write. No two writers (unless intentionally) will take an idea and write about it in exactly the same way.

I never did catch on to how to diagram a sentence, but through reading (I don’t remember when I started reading, but I know by the age of twelve I was devouring books) I learned sentence structure, plot development, pacing, and all the elements of good writing. I know reading expanded my vocabulary, took me to foreign countries, taught me history, and gave me insight into other life styles. Reading also gave me the courage to write. I fully believe a writer should read the classics and books that are awarded for their excellence in writing, but I’ve found reading poorly executed books also helps. They’ve taught me what not to do. And, unprofessional as this may sound, they told me if that book could be published, then so could mine.

When I first started writing, I had an editor send me four books. “Read these,” she said. “They will give you an idea of what we’re looking for.” And I did read those four along with dozens more. In reading those books I learned what that publisher had liked in the past, the variety and/or similarities in the books, and if this was a publisher that was willing to accept new ideas or was married to a set formula.

Even if a writer wants to write something “new and different”, I say read what’s out there. Maybe the idea isn’t as new as you think. If not, then how is your book going to be different? Or if it is truly new and different, what publishing house would be willing to give it a try, or will you need to self-publish?

Readers don’t have to ask if a certain genre requires a dead body in the first chapter or a love scene by page fifty. Readers don’t have to ask if it’s all right to mix first and third
person pov in the same book, or write in present tense. Readers know if it’s been done before and if so, in what types of books and who published them.

As I said before, I think every writer should read some of the classics (I have one friend who read all of the Pulitzer Prize winners. Wow!), you can learn a lot from those books, especially the ones that are still popular, but writers also must read what’s being published now. Reading habits have changed over the years. Most readers today, with their busy life-styles, don’t have the time to sit down and read long passages of description or internal thoughts. We’re used to sound bytes, lots of action, and dialog. So if you want to write, be published, and sell books, check out what’s being purchased today (either in paper form or as ebooks) and give some a read, especially those similar to what you are writing. Don’t imitate, emulate.

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11 Responses to Wanna Write? Read!

  1. Mona Karel says:

    Agree absolutely. We need to read to take ourselves away from writing the same thing day after day. And also to raise the bar for our own writing. There are a finite number of plots, what we do with them makes us writers. Can’t tell you how many ideas I come up with when another author does not take her story in the direction I expected!

  2. I absolutely agree with you, Maris! Reading is an invaluable tool for a writer. I didn’t think writers who didn’t read even existed, lol. It was by reading as a child that I grew into wanting to become a writer. Love to read, love to write.
    Great post!

  3. Everything you’ve said is right on target! Great reminders for new writers as well as the experienced. Even if writing to become published isn’t your goal, reading a story takes you on a journey, a mini vacation in your mind, a chance to learn something new an improve your vocabulary. Enjoyed your blog, glad i stumbled across it.

  4. Jackie Braun says:

    I went through a reading slump after my dad, an avid reader, died. It’s no coincidence that my writing suffered, too. As you say, Maris, you’ve got to read to write.

  5. Mary Todas says:

    how can you be a writer and not be a reader? loving the written word is loving to read. if you don’t love the written word (except your own) why are you writing? I know when I’m deep into a story, I am so excited I don’t take time to read other stuff, but when I’m stalled or done it’s like I’m starving and I HAVE to read! Great post, I hope I don’t run into many of those non-reading writers….

    • Maris says:

      When someone tells me they don’t read, I have the same reaction as you do, Mary. I wonder how they ever think they’ll succeed as a writer…and as far as I know, none has.

  6. Oh, this is a great topic, Maris. I can’t imagine anyone, especially a writer, who doesn’t read. I don’t remember any time in my life when reading wasn’t an important part of it. As a writer, I try to read in all genres, even the ones that aren’t my favorites. I credit my high school English and Literature teacher for opening the door to the possibility of becoming published. I wish she had been around to see that possibility become a reality.

  7. Lucy Kubash says:

    I was a reader before I was ever a writer, and I credit the many wonderful books I did read with making me want to write and create my own stories. Like everyone has said, it’s hard to imagine a person who wants to be a writer but who doesn’t read. But then I can’t imagine anyone not liking to read, writer or not. Reading always refreshes me and makes me want to write more. It’s my favorite pastime.

  8. Diane Burton says:

    Great post, Maris, as always. I can’t imagine not reading. Children learn to talk by observing, imitating. Their imagination grows as they are read to. From the written and spoken word, they learn the nuances of language. As readers, we feed on words. Then, as writers, our imagination takes those words and weaves them into stories that entertain, inform, and satisfy someone else’s hunger.

  9. Lynn Kinch says:

    I get great ideas for writing from what I read. I love comparing style, too. Reading helps fill the empty spaces between my writing efforts with inspiration. Great blog, Maris.

  10. Tatiy says:

    Good reasons for eneritng contests, both in the posting and from the comments above. I studied’ how to write for about a decade before I entered my first contest partly from nerves, and partly because I knew I wasn’t ready. When I did, I started local, and garnered some good wins to keep me taking another step forward. I didn’t enter any BIG contests until I was published, and that worked for me. I could have used the judges’ comments to get better faster, but I could have gotten my ego flattened so much it never recovered, too, and I just didn’t feel it was worth the risk. Now, however, as a longtime full-time freelance writer, my ego is a thing of the past (sigh ) and I edit other people’s work for part of my living. For both of those reasons, I now only use contests to test-drive new projects, when I’ve only completed a handful of chapters and the synopsis, so someone else can give me an impartial opinion before I have it too far along to change, or so I get fresh insight from people not as close to it as I am. If I win, too, that’s just icing and I love cake!