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 fifteen 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.
As for my own reading habits I must admit to being short on time. I read a lot of non-fiction, but unless I’m editing someone’s work I don’t get much of a chance to read the work of others. I love reading. I do. When the author doesn’t piss me off because I think his pacing sucks. Or I find nothing about the story resonates. Or (hello J.K. Rowling) the author screwed up a character so badly I wouldn’t finish the book let alone the series.
Sue me I’m opinionated.
But my attention span is a limited resource. There are only so many hours in the day I can spend in the worlds in my head and if the choice is between reading about someone else's and writing about my own I will choose my own.
Between projects or during slumps I try to fix this. But the last time I picked up a book from one of my favourite authors I enjoyed it till about page 100, got distracted when I got an idea for my novel and simply never went back.
Of course I’ve had that happen to me with his work before. But the number of books I’ve started far outweighs the number of books I’ve finished. What can I say, they are all so interesting and all so time consuming.
Most of what I read now is non-fiction. It doesn’t share the same mental space as my writing and I love to learn like it is an addiction. I love getting my hands on an interesting book and finding out more about the history of chemistry, for example. Fyi UC Berkeley proved transmutation is possible if you use a particle accelerator. How awesome is that?
It’s not that I don’t like reading, or I don’t want to. It’s that I have a very long list of criteria for books that grab my interest and a very short list of books that qualify. When the choice is between the Amy Tan book on my bookshelf or “Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics” I’m going with the latter. (an awesome read btw)
I don’t know if I should dream of the week I can sit down and plough through all four books of a series I have in hardback. On the one hand I would love to read them. On the other, I doubt I’ll get far because I’ll get inspired then distracted. Maybe I could succeed during a particularly gentle week seven or eight.
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.
If you don’t agree, good. write about it.