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  1. Mike43

    Mike43 Member

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    Is it necessary to be an avid reader to be a successful author

    Discussion in 'Scripts' started by Mike43, Nov 1, 2017.

    Some explanation of why I ask members this question is, I believe, both appropriate and necessary to the understanding of why it is being asked.

    I was born, raised and educated in England and attended a good grammar school in the 1950's. In English literature we were required to read a plethora of works which were representative of what was then considered to be 'good' literature. Good, in this context, meant critically acclaimed literature by such authors as Joseph Conrad, Dickens, Shakespeare (of course!) and a whole slew of other authors whose works seemed, at least to most of us, to be both overly dry and rather boring. Reading, per se, should have been a pleasure but it wasn't at all so since we spent as much time doing précis, critiques and comprehension exercises on the books as we did in actually reading the material through as an actual story. After five years of this, reading English literature became a dreaded chore even though we all understood why we were given those additional and necessary tasks.

    Fast forward a few years (a variety of jobs intervened) and now I am at college studying chemistry, physics and biology at GCE Advanced Level. Text book after text book to digest. Then on to university to become a dental surgeon which was a 5 1/2 year long course. If I thought A levels required a lot of reading I very quickly learned otherwise. The number and variety of books one had to read and mentally digest at medical school was unimaginably enormous but one quickly realised that in order to commit so large a volume of information to memory it was necessary to learn the process of underlining key words, sentences and often quite long paragraphs whilst still reading through the entire volume. Thank goodness for the skills learned in doing what seemed to be a googol of précis at grammar school. Post grad orthodontic studies followed resulting in more to read and remember and finally, a few years later (due to an admixture of sincere interest in the subject and sheer stupidity on my part) I had a bachelor's degree in fine arts from a university in the USA which meant . . . uh huh, more read, remember and regurgitate during finals.

    I'm long retired now and getting on in years (75 in a few months time) and have been occupied, more off and than on, in writing a novel for a number of years. In all fairness to myself it is necessarily a very long story (currently 160K words) that will in the near future be converted/translated/transposed or whatever the correct term might be, into a screenplay for a television series. The few people who have seen the drafts of my work have all, without receiving leading questions from myself, independently commented that it is very easy to visualise the characters and events as they read the draft and all have remarked that it 'reads' more like a movie than a book. I hope that makes sense to you.

    Now, and finally if you are still reading, on to the meat of my question. I have read at most only a dozen or so books of fiction and skip-read perhaps a hundred or so more in the many years since I finished school. I really don't get any pleasure from reading general fiction although I must admit that I did enjoy reading John le Carré's novels Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Smiley's People (though not so much The Honourable Schoolboy) and a few others of that genre. So, is it really necessary to be an avid reader in order to develop into a successful writer, or not. Or maybe. Unapologetically but assuredly without arrogance let me add that I am satisfied with the standard of my writing.

    Any and all reasoned comments will be welcomed.
     
  2. pyroglyphian

    pyroglyphian Active Member

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    Hi Mike, welcome. Guess it depends what you mean by successful?

    I'm with Debussy – 'Everything you could want to know about art you can learn from studying nature,' or words to that effect. You may not have read much but, in your years, you must have developed a vast pool of knowledge & instinct about yourself, other people, human nature, etc. It can't hurt to be an avid reader, but perhaps some things can only be acquired with time?

    Congratulations anyway. Goes to show it's never too late to get your shiitake together.
     
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  3. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Sorry, but this question comes up way too often for a writers message board. Yes, reading is important. Yes, it's more important for writers. You are trying to produce what it is that you want all those people to read except you because reading's not your thing. But, surely, your book will be the best option for all those readers. Yes, anyone can write regardless of anything, but success is a different story. You want to write? You want millions of good examples that will help you do it better? The answer is reading. And if reading really not your thing, I'm guessing writing probably won't be either. Even if you want to write screenplays, it would be beneficial to read a few scripts. We are dealing with the written word here, and you only want to deal with it part way. Just know this. Your competition reads. Your competition writes well and maybe better than you because they are readers. Your competition is tough. Editors or tough. Being an avid reader gives you an edge, I believe. You might very well be a great writer, but if you were also a reader, you would be an even better writer. I am sure of it.
     
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  4. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView Supporter

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    Yes, it's necessary, although "avid" is a subjective term. You need to read lots of books. Not just any books, but books in your genre. Each genre has certain conventions, its readers certain expectations, and you need to meet them. The only way for you to understand how to write a good book is to read good books: the type of good books that you want to produce.

    Spelling/grammar/punctuation is the easiest part of writing to learn and, failing that, to pay somebody to correct. Most of the 65 million people in the UK are literate and can write well enough to be understood. What will make you an author rather than merely literate is the other skills: structuring a novel, pacing it, characterisation, building tension, etc. You learn that from reading.
     
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  5. Trish

    Trish Damned if I do and damned if I don't Contributor

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    I did read your whole post @Mike43 and I think you put your thoughts down quite well. As @pyroglyphian says, you have a wealth of knowledge, are clearly intelligent, write concisely and, well, I don't think it's going to be much of an issue for you. Particularly since you're writing not for reading, but in the hopes of it becoming a screenplay, which is quite different that general fiction writing. I think if you're getting positive commentary and you're enjoying yourself - it doesn't really matter if you read a lot. Write what makes you happy and don't worry about other people's opinions (including mine).

    And welcome to the forum :D
     
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  6. EdFromNY

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I think part of the trouble with assigned reading in school (at least back when I was a student) was that reading lists were composed of books that the schools decided we should read, which, unless you have a good school, is not nearly what you might want to read. Love of reading must be built on one's own and by one's own choices, not by the choices of others. OTOH, enough of the choices made for me when I was in high school were things I DID want to read, and so I did. But my real love for reading was fired primarily by two things - a friend in high school who got me hooked on James Thurber, and that same friend introducing me to James Michener (we were both working on a school production of "South Pacific", and he was reading the Michener novel on which the play was based; from that moment on, I was hooked on historical fiction).

    I've since gone back and read or re-read a lot of books I was supposed to have read in school. And I've often found more enjoyment in them than I would have expected, but sometimes not. In any event, it has all formed my foundation as a writer.

    I can't imagine someone becoming a successful writer without, at the very least, a strong background in the very kind of writing one intends to pursue. Style, structure, technique - these are all things that might well be taught directly, but even then require lots of practical examples. I also can't imagine loving writing and not loving reading equally well. To me, they are two sides of the same coin.

    I suppose anything is possible. But not all things are equally likely. So, I'd recommend fleshing out your read-list. Who knows? You might find after all these years that you like it.
     
  7. Skibbs

    Skibbs Member

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    I've found that both the reading and writing sides of English do not always go hand-in-hand. To an extent, you have to read to enhance your understanding of the context words are used in a sentence. Then again, not reading for a portion of your life will affect your writing skill-set to that much of an extent. I've found that writing isn't like a subject like art, for example - in the sense that writing is generally more genetic (please don't cite me on that) than practice makes perfect. Then again - I quite like to read - especially the Enid Blyton stories - books, as I find them much more entertaining than the "programmes" on the television. In that respect (alongside many others) I would paraphrase to the say: 'The book is mightier than the screen.'

    Circling back to the point - you don't necessarily need to read constantly to write brilliantly. In the end, it comes down to the question: 'What is a book trying to do?' In my opinion, there are two answers to that question: To inform or To entertain. In the end - whether it be fiction or non-fiction - books are used to break down reality into sizeable chunks that the brain can process, which is the exact same as language. So, if that is true, do you really need to read to be able to express the reality either in a novel, or around you (non-fiction). I suppose, especially when it comes to schooling, that one is encouraged to read in order to improve one's vocabulary - but that, in my opinion, is just to pass exams. In modern-day schooling, one is taught to pass exams by using a range of vocabulary that 'appeal to the reader', hence the fact a lot of writers now write using hundreds-upon-thousands of adjectives, adverbs etc. in their work as this is the way they have been brought up.
    However, if you can stimulate the reader's imagination with one sentence, surely you don't have to continue using the hundreds of descriptive techniques. This is quite opposite to me, as I prefer to write descriptively, but it's a point I enjoy debating. To conclude, I would say that as much as reading affects you vocabulary - it isn't required to stimulate the reader's mind. Then again, I do have a very abstract way of looking at things...
     
  8. izzybot

    izzybot Transhuman Autophage Contributor

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    I just always wonder how you get to wanting to write books if you don't care to read them. I was always an avid reader, and my mom read to my brother and I constantly before we could read ourselves, and I've tended to accredit that with why I glommed onto writing. How do you go from not particularly liking books to wanting to make them?
     
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  9. Mike43

    Mike43 Member

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    1. Perhaps if you re-read my post you might wish to edit your own post. I said that I did not enjoy reading general fiction but at no point did I say I didn't particularly like books per se nor did I say that I didn't read them. I wonder why and how you interpret my words as you have done. As an aside, although the side point is germane, one does not have to like something to use it, hear it, do it, build it or manufacture it or experience it. By way of an example, I highly doubt that a machine operator who makes cardboard boxes has any feelings for them one way or another. It would seem more likely that he does his work to earn income.
    “Writing is like sex. First you do it for love, then you do it for your friends, and then you do it for money.” Virginia Woolf.
     
  10. izzybot

    izzybot Transhuman Autophage Contributor

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    Did you have a second list item or ... ?

    I mean, you spent most of your original post on what a 'dreaded chore' and apparent slog reading has been throughout your life, and said that you "don't get any pleasure from reading general fiction," so you'll have to excuse me for understanding this to mean that you don't enjoy reading books (should I have to be more specific: novels). What's the distinction there? You don't get any pleasure from it but you do enjoy it? I don't get it.

    You also said that you've read about a dozen books and skimmed about a hundred, so I would have to say that, no, you don't really read them. The fact that you don't / haven't read much is literally the topic of the thread. I'm just wondering what the thought process is from "I'm not an avid reader" to "I want to devote hours of my free time to making a type of thing that I don't pay much attention to".

    The last bit of you post seems to imply that you're in it for the money, but there's much easier ways out there, man. Why? I'm not going to try to stop you. I'm not trying to be confrontational; I truly couldn't give a shit what you do with your life. But in the same vein, I'd characterize math as the necessary evil of my educational career and life, and you don't see me pursuing ... whatever the equivalent to a novel would be in calculus or somesuch. I'm just looking to understand the mindset, here.
     
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  11. Mike43

    Mike43 Member

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    Thank you for your pleasant and reasoned post Skibbs.
     
  12. Mike43

    Mike43 Member

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    I'm not trying to be confrontational either izzybot, but I doubt you'd ever understand my mindset and think we should close that avenue of conversation. We have lived very different lives and have greatly differing life experiences and values. By way of example may I say that I do, as you put it, give a shit about your life whether or not you care that I do. If one did not care about both giving as well as taking then wouldn't the point of a joining any forum be rendered debatable at best?
     
  13. Mike43

    Mike43 Member

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    @deadrats: You wrote: Sorry, but this question comes up way too often for a writers message board.

    I'm sorry to have posted it in that case but wonder where the question might better have been asked.

    I did Google the question before posting but found little to nothing by way of an answer. Now, interestingly, if I input the exact same search phrase it is this web site and this thread that occupies the #1 and #4 spots. So if nothing more the forum has some increased search engine exposure.

    https://www.bing.com/search?q=do+you+have+to+be+an+avid+reader+to+become+a+successful+author&qs=n&sp=-1&ghc=1&pq=undefined&sc=0-27&sk=&cvid=27615B909AB0480EB498DD2B47FFE6D3&first=1&FORM=PERE
     
  14. izzybot

    izzybot Transhuman Autophage Contributor

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    Well ... cool discussion thread, then, I guess.
     
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  15. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan (V) ( ;,,;) (v) Contributor

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    Well, technically that's Bing, so that might be your problem. But yes, the general consensus is that to know how to use words well, it helps to have seen them used well already. If you're not a huge fan of reading then I really wouldn't recommend picking up writing as a hobby, but with 160,000 words to you, I guess that's not really a problem and hopefully with retirement ahead of you you'll be able to find some literature that grabs you.

    Being a writer and writing is not like being a factory worker at a box plant. You don't become a writer by handing in a resume to a someone your uncle knows and go in 9-5 pushing buttons. It's more like being a sculptor or a graphic arts designer. It's something you have to work hard at and have a passion for because it's a lot harder to make a living as a writer than it is to be push buttons in a factory. In writing you can't sit in front of a machine, phoning it in, doing the exact same thing over and over again and get decent results. If you don't like writing you're not going to write good books and that means you're not going to sell those books and that means you're not going to be a writer for long because why do something you hate for no money.

    I also don't understand the general hate that's generally levied at school books. I rather like Shakespeare (so many puns) and Dickens (in Great Expectations they lit an old lady on fire!) so I can't really follow why people find them so dull and dry.

    Also, putting links in your posts to definitions of words could be construed as somewhat condescending. There are a good deal of people here that also went to university and a good deal more are pretty darn smart regardless. So, you know, I'm going to assume you meant no disrespect, but heads up.
     
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2017
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  16. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView Supporter

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    The purpose of writing is to convey your meaning to readers through words. The meaning you got across with your post is that you don't enjoy reading ("I really don't get any pleasure from reading" - pretty clear!) and it's a chore. Rather than be rude to izzy, who answered the question you asked, perhaps you should correct the errors in your post so it conveys the meaning you intended.
     
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  17. Mike43

    Mike43 Member

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  18. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView Supporter

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    I'm not a moderator. Good luck with your time on WF.
     
  19. Mike43

    Mike43 Member

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    In my post I did say that I was already retired, not that retirement was ahead of me and I think you can take it as read that I do know that writing, and most especially creative fiction, requires a great deal of hard work and persistent self-application. My point was that not everyone enjoys the work they do all the time, day in and day out no matter what occupation they may have. I know I didn't enjoy my medical work all the time.

    I do not see where I said that I didn't like writing, and please forgive if I am in error here, but could you please show me where I placed links in my posts to definitions of words.

    I certainly meant no disrespect to anyone on the forum at any time and in any way. I don't crow about going to university, or about being a doctor believing that would make me a 'superior or better' person, I gave that information so that members might understand the sheer volume of text books that I read over a period of many years. If there is one thing that everyone should remember it is that however well-educated or 'smart' you may think you are there is always someone (probably standing right next to you) who is 'smarter'. I hope that sets the record straight.
     
  20. Mike43

    Mike43 Member

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    Thank you for the good luck wishes. I'm thinking that you're thinking I'm going to need it but no matter ;-) I wish you the best of success in your writing and being a Geordie, I mean it.
     
  21. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    The machine operator who made those cardboard boxes didn't design either the machine or the boxes. The person who designed the machine and the one who designed the boxes probably do have a lot of experience and education in machine design, package design, etc. Similarly, it strikes me as extremely likely that a musician listens to music, a cook eats food, a web designer experiences other designs, etc. Whether they enjoy those things or not, they need exposure to them.

    I think that you need to read a fair bit of fiction in order to write it, and that you probably need to read some modern fiction in order to get published.
     
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  22. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan (V) ( ;,,;) (v) Contributor

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    Yes, I say that you were already retired, but being but a nubile youth, to me the only true lie event after retirement is death, so I was more saying, "good luck in future years, I hope you have more than a few of them." Just a touch of subtext that I guess can be easy to miss if you're more accustomed to reading technical manuals and skim reading books.

    This,
    this,
    and this
    all kind of give the impression that you don't enjoy reading and might be why people here are assuming that you're not a huge fan.

    And every time you use the word précis there's a link to it's definition, at least on my machine, anyway. I'm glad to hear you didn't mean anything by it. :)
     
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  23. Mike43

    Mike43 Member

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    @ The Dapper Hooligan

    Thanks for your post. I did say that I didn't enjoy reading - that was half of the original question I asked although I don't believe that I have never said that I don't enjoy writing. All of the points you have listed have to do with reading, not writing. I'm sorry if that isn't clear.

    As for the word precis bringing up a link - definitely my bad. I cannot create diacritical accent aigu on my system for some reason and used copy and paste from another source. My apologies for creating this annoyance.

    You also said :

    Just a touch of subtext that I guess can be easy to miss if you're more accustomed to reading technical manuals and skim reading books.

    You're right, I didn't regard it as subtext and that is quite possibly due to my being more accustomed to reading technical manuals which must be devoid of all ambiguity.
     
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2017
  24. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    I think reading to gain writing skill is totally different from just sucking down a book for the enjoyment of it. You look at it differently while you are reading it, and maybe even want to read it twice.

    At least for improving your prose. I imagine reading a lot helps you have a good knowledge about what's been done and how, so you don't risk copying or writing something from another time.
     
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  25. Megs33

    Megs33 Active Member

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    Funnily enough, i've learned the most by reading mediocre fiction in my genre (YA Fantasy because of course it is). I've read hundreds of books, and while the good books are amazing, they're often so seamlessly written that it's difficult to tease out all the bits and pieces that come together to make it so awesome. I don't know enough about authorial mechanics yet, although i'm planning to start buying used paperbacks so i can highlight and make notes.

    I love to use Kindle Unlimited. I dig around in the libraries and dredge up books that are decent but aren't ready for a large-scale publisher. It's amazing how easily the problems jump out: a cardboard character here, an awkward transition there. I enjoy reading these stories objectively and catching all the little problems. I don't do anything major. Just a note in my head. "Ah, the author would get his point across better if he rewrote this part," etc. It inflates my sense of "hey, maybe i CAN do this," if nothing else.

    I have two Kindle Unlimited criteria. 1) It can't have a crappy rating, and 2) the sample of the book needs to hook me (because authors have friends who all give five stars). If one of those isn't met, i move on. I'm reading to learn, not drive myself to slamming my head against the nearest wall.

    To be fair... reading what i want to read is also a dangerous rabbit hole. I might be more apt to curl up with my kindle than boot my laptop for a writing session. So balance is key, but to each his/her own.
     
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