1. AdventureAlways
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    AdventureAlways New Member

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    Does a writer have to have read extensively to be successful?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by AdventureAlways, Sep 20, 2010.

    I wonder and worry about this question. I enjoy writing and am more than proficient at the craft, but my experience with novels has been few with the exception of a few books as assignments. Reading books I can do, but I find no great joy in the endless amount of detail that plague some of the world's "classics". Put off by novels, I have recently turned to graphic novels, and now (since my interest lies in theater) I am reading plays, which are much easier for me to follow. From all of this I get that I am an easy listener, but a spacey reader and prefer speech to excessive explanation.

    What is your opinion? Do you have to be a great reader to be a great writer?
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Yes. Reading and writing go hand in hand. Since you like reading plays, you will probably find writing a good play to be easier than writing a good novel or poem.
     
  3. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Why not read novels that _aren't_ "classics" and aren't heavy in the kinds of detail that you don't like?
     
  4. Unit7
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    Unit7 Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you don't like the classics then don't read them. Find books and genres that you do like and read them. Just because they are considered classic, doesn't mean you have to enjoy them.
     
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  5. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Different people absorb information in different ways. Some are very visually oriented and able to draw huge amounts of information from a single picture while others rely on explanatory descriptions to understand nuances, and some feel it through sound. If one medium attracts you far more than others, then that is probably the medium you should focus on writing for.

    I write and illustrate graphic novels and often struggle with the story while it's on script level -- it's only once I start drawing stuff I'm able to tell whether it works or not. While I can illustrate pretty much any mood, I'd find it near impossible to convey it in writing.

    So my advice is that you remain loyal to the medium that attracts your imagination the most -- it's likely where your affinities lie.
     
  6. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    I can't say for sure that you must read a lot in order to be a good writer, but I have never heard of an exception.

    Reading does a lot for you. It familiarizes you with useful vocabulary, and gives you examples of character, pacing, foreshadowing and all the rest of the tools you'll need in your own work. It lets you know how others live their lives. It gives you insight into other cultures, time periods, and whole worlds (if you read science fiction, fantasy, or horror).

    But this doesn't mean you have to read classics. Keep reading plays and graphic novels, but don't stop there. Try some young adult, some thrillers, some romance or science fiction or humor or fantasy. Look at short stories (eBay always has a few old copies of F&SF or Analog for cheap). Look for stuff similar to the graphic novels you like. (Neil Gaiman has some graphic novels out, but his short stories and books are pretty good too.)

    A caveat: Every writer is different. This is why you'll find people on this forum who plot and who write from the seat of their pants. People who hate first person, people who love it. And for all I know, the "every writer is different" might well extend to whether you need to read a lot to write well. If you're getting stuff written and finished, or even published (assuming that is your goal), then clearly you're doing it right even if you're going about it differently from the rest of us.
     
  7. Thanshin
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    Thanshin Active Member

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    Yes.

    Some of us have great imaginations and can forge in our minds the idea of an exception to that rule, but the truth is that there's much to learn about writing and reading is the only realistic way of learning it.

    It's as easy to write without having read as it is to compose without having heard music. You could do some tribal rhythmic proto-music, but you won't top the MTV charts.
     
  8. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    You have be a good listener to tell a good story, a good observer. If you can write well you can tell your story. Reading helps with flow and sentence construction etc but you can be taught that. Where reading does help is when you want to experiement - you know what has tried before, you know when it has worked etc And you have a better instinct about the construction of a work.

    Some of the most fantastic stories available are in ancient legends, balllads, even our favourite fairy tales, some came from people who often were illiterate. They have now been written down, but began in oral tradition. We wouldn't have writers now without them. Often the original storytellers may never have seen a book except in church. They could only read that one if they also came in latin.

    Yes you can produce a good credible story - my brother can think he has read about three books since he was twelve. However it will miss out on the tricks and things you can use to make it better.
     
  9. Horizon Noise
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    Horizon Noise Member

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    Your thread question is subtly different to your detailed question. Yes, you have to read a lot to be able to write. I wrote about this elsewhere but my post has disappeared. Basically I said that I have heard dozens of successful authors state that regular reading is an essential part of writing and not one of them has even hinted that you don't need to read so much, let alone not read at all.

    That said, reading 'classics' - or anything else - is pointless if you don't like that style or genre. It's like a boring lesson in class, you won't absorb anything. Personally I don't find any use for most classics. They don't reflect the content or style I'm aiming for and to be honest, many classics would never get published today and are read simply because they are termed 'classics'. Read what you enjoy and if that happens to be Alan Moore or Michael Moorcock or John Banville or Tolstoy or, heaven help us, Terry Pratchett, then go ahead.

    You might, however, want to try different styles and genres. Don't simply decide you don't like XYZ and avoid it at all costs. Try it and if you don't like it, don't read it. But make sure you're always reading.
     
  10. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Basically, as long as you are putting words in, you can put words out. It doesn't matter what words, and can be supplemented with experience - I find going to the movies is a good crash course in basic storytelling and always leaves me pumped up with ideas. If you don't want to write in a particular style and don't read the same style, you're missing out on nothing. if you DECIDED to write something in a classical vein you'd be screwed, but if you just write based of what you do read, you're fine.

    I like to think of there being a balance of words inside you, kinda like seeing a cross-section of me, like a text-book diagram which is half red, half blue, saying "words in" on one side, "words out" on the other, and you change the balance throughout the day/week/year, bit by bit, and if it dips too far one way or the other things start getting a bit wonky. :p
     
  11. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Of course it's possible to be a great writer without reading much. But nobody in the entire history of literature has ever done it.

    :)
     
  12. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I'm sure somewhere along the track of time someone got their work published who was poorly read, but the odds would stack against such an outcome, I would think. Why not hedge your bet?
     
  13. KP Williams
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    KP Williams Contributing Member

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    There isn't any universal answer to any question you can think of, this one included. The majority of people like to say that reading is an absolute must for every writer without exception. Personally, reading can be a great source of inspiration for me, but once I have that inspiration, other people's works are the supreme distraction for me. Every single time I read something of interest to me, I lose the will to write my own stuff, preferring instead to immerse myself into someone else's world. It's easier than making your own world, and it always takes a painfully long time to get myself back into writing mode, meaning the quality of my writing suffers. So, I keep my reading to a minimum so that I can keep my writing to a maximum.

    I doubt there is anyone in all the world who would argue against reading for a writer. That would just be silly. But I personally don't see reading as the all-important ingredient it's so often proclaimed to be. I'm just of the opinion that practicing writing will yield far better results than reading a legion of books, because you're actively trying it out yourself, finding out what works for you and what doesn't. Obviously, I'm in the minority.

    Edit: And yes, I know this post is badly worded and choppy. That's the result of being badly out of practice. Stupid video games...
     
  14. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    The answer is "no." That's almost always the answer when you ask about an absolute like this. I remember reading an interview a while back with a fairly successful writer who didn't read much prior to writing, and stopped reading altogether after starting writing. I wish I could remember who it was.

    But this is an exceptional case. Reading a lot will help prevent you making basic mistakes (conversely, it will also make your writing more likely to conform to what has come before). The convention wisdom is that you need to read a lot to be a really good writer, and I think in most cases that is true.
     
  15. OdyNY
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    OdyNY New Member

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    Why are you lumping all novels together? Or even all "classics"?

    This seems more problematic than the amount of material read.
     
  16. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    No. To be a sucsessful writer you could always just be Paris Hilton or some other celebrity.

    To be a good writer... There no short cuts. I you don't read you need to be hell of a listener and storyteller in real life.
     
  17. Horizon Noise
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    Horizon Noise Member

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    Obviously I see your sarcasm but as an aside, many celebrity 'writers' have never written a word in their lives. They dictate some blurb into a machine and somebody else writes their story. Then again, you can't blame them. If I could earn £Xm from publishing twaddle and selling it to fools I'd do it in a millisecond.
     
  18. Peerie Pict
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    Peerie Pict Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think w176 knows that celebrity writers can't write and that's why she said it.

    Anyway, I think the technical question regarding how much reading you need to do to become a capable writer is one thing. If I were you, OP, I would be more concerned about my disinterest in reading. I cannot fathom why someone who wants to write novels wouldn't want to read what others write.

    I can't imagine, for example, that Stanley Kubrick was indifferent towards the work of other directors.

    How can you have any idea as to the merit of your work if you don't stand it up alongside the work of peers? If someone asks you who your literary idols are, will you simply say "Um, I don't have any really. I don't like reading."

    I find the question quite baffling and can't see why anyone would want to embark upon writing without immersing themselves in literature.
     
  19. zilly
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    zilly Senior Member

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    Reading will almost certainly not hinder your writing ability. So, if you want to be a good writer, doing some extra reading would be wise.

    That being said, a lot of reading does not automatically make for good writing. And, just as certainly, there's nothing one must do to be a good writer. There are only things that are likely to improve your abilities -- reading being one.
     
  20. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    YES!

    you must at least be a constant reader of whatever it is you want to write...

    but reading all kinds of writing is also helpful in learning/absorbing the best of all that can be done with words...
     
  21. viktor
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    I think if you're not a natural literary genius (and I don't know you so you might be), then you need to read as much as you can. Don't worry about other influences on your style. I believe that all art is derivative anyway.
     
  22. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    Have you tried audio books. I used to listen to then on a three quaters of an hour's bus journey to and from work. Reading on a bus makes me nauseous.

    The more you read the better. Surely.
     
  23. Horizon Noise
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    Yep, I was acknowledging that she knew that. I was just adding that some of them haven't even got to the stage of being a bad writer on account of never having written at all.
     
  24. BUDDY GORGEOUS
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    BUDDY GORGEOUS Active Member

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    I think its pretty obvious at this point, AdventureAlways, that if you want to be a writer/author your going to have to do your home work and read. If you produce a book having not read much, chances are it's not going to be very good. But im sure you can find a type of book that your looking for out there that can grab you by the lapels and wont let you go.

    But to be a writer you have to read mate!.

    It's like me saying: "I want to be a guitar player... but i dont like listening to music" or "I want to be a professional swimmer... but i dont like water". It will help you mate to pick up a book every now and then and dive into it. Not only as a bit of entertainment but as a learning process too.

    And im sure you dont want to be a new Russell Brand who's probably only read the nutritional info on the back of a chocolate bar (if he can read) or Katie Price... it's amazing thinking of it though! she's produced more books than she's ever read... wow! :p haha.
     
  25. Thanshin
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    Thanshin Active Member

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    I can't imagine a writer who wouldn't consider reading a pleasure. Unless he's so good that he just considers everybody else's work to be distastefully inferior. :D
     

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