Do I really need to read a lot if I want to be a writer? I love to write, but I don’t like to (or don’t have time to, or don’t want to) read. What should I do?
From, more Ninja Writers than seems possible
Hey, Ninja Writer!
First, full disclosure. I was practically born with a book in my hands. My mother taught me to read when I was three because she had another baby and she needed a break from reading to me.
Reading has saved my life more than once.
I love books.
I want to say that you absolutely need to be a reader if you want to be a writer because . . . well, of course you do! It seems sacrilegious for someone who wants to write to try to find away around reading.
And then I realized that my own bias was getting in the way of really addressing the question.
I’m going to be very straightforward here.
If you want to be a writer, you have to consume stories. There is no other way around it. Wannabe writers need to take in stories the same way that wannabe doctors have to go to medical school.
It’s a requirment.
Don’t just take my word for it.
If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut. . . .
It’s hard for me to believe that people who read very little (or not at all in some cases) should presume to write and expect people to like what they have written, but I know it’s true. If I had a nickel for every person who ever told me he/she wanted to become a writer but didn’t have time to read, I could buy myself a pretty good steak dinner. Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.
Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it.
The most important thing is to read as much as you can, like I did. It will give you an understanding of what makes good writing and it will enlarge your vocabulary.
All of that said — of course you can write if you’re not a reader. Just get out a notebook and a pen and start forming letters into sentences. Or fire up your computer and start typing.
Some people are just natural storytellers. You know them. They’re the ones who wind up with an audience where ever they go. They start talking and people listen. Maybe you’re one of those storytellers. I’m guessing, actually, that you are.
But if you don’t take in stories in some way, preferably via reading, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever be the kind of writer that other people read. If that’s your goal, you need to be a story consumer.
Even if you’re a natural storyteller who might get away with writing without reading.
At the very least watch movies and television, which is taking in the end result of someone else’s writing.
The thing is that you might want to be a writer without reading, but as a writer you better hope that there are some people out there who like reading more than you do.
And you need to appeal to those folks. To do that, you need to write well. To do that, you need to learn. Writers learn from other writers.
When someone tells me that they don’t like reading, my brain always translates that into this: So far, I haven’t found my reading groove.
I know so many people who were turned off of reading completely by early years of being forced to read books that they didn’t connect with. I know others who finally found a book that filled them up and that was all it took. Once they found the book that broke through the wall built by compulsory reading, they became capital-R Readers.
If you want to be a writer, I don’t see a way around being a consumer of stories. Here’s a plan, if you’re struggling with that:
Watch stories. You’re probably already doing this. In fact, I’d bet you are. Taking in stories in some way is the root of wanting to be a writer, after all. So if you’re a movie buff, if you love to watch television — keep that up. Start paying more attention to the stories you’re watching. Watch like a writer. Notice things like character development and story arc.
Find your book. Stop listening to people who tell you what you should be reading. Don’t worry about critics or whether or not anyone else thinks what you’re reading is worthwhile. Just find a book you enjoy reading, and read it.
Read things that aren’t books. Everything counts. Short stories. Poems. Essays. In fact, Ray Bradbury recommends reading one of each every day. That’s a great place to start, if becoming a reader (so you can be a better writer) is your goal.
Remember that reading is a skill. No one is born a good reader. If you haven’t exercised your reading muscles, then it’s unreasonable to expect to have instant mastery. The more you read, the better you’ll be at it, and it’s human nature to enjoy doing things we’re good at.
Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She lives in Reno with her husband, three superstar kids, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the author of Viral Nation and Rebel Nationand the upcoming novel The Astonishing Maybe. She is the original Ninja Writer.