Writer = Reader

You can be a Reader and not be a Writer.

You cannot be a Writer without being a Reader, first and always.

No exceptions. No arguments. No Ifs, Ands, or Buts.

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We learn to read before we learn to write. We learn to write well by continuing to read, forever and ever. No excuses like, “I’m too busy writing to make time to read,” or “I don’t want to be influenced by another author,” or “I’m afraid if I read a book while writing this one I’ll lose my unique voice.” No, no, and no, I reply. Not good enough, because as I said above, No Exceptions! And that means you, as well as every other Writer.

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Sorry to have to bring out the tough love, folks, but I’m tired of hearing these excuses from too many of you. And I’ve said it all before. If you want to learn how to write … read, read, read! But some seem to need to be reminded. Again.

In order to be able to write well, think of reading in this way: You would never allow an untrained surgeon, one who doesn’t keep up with the latest advances in medicine, to operate on you; Or what about mechanics who have not gone through a lengthy apprenticeship and maintained their qualifications? Would you allow them to work on your car? I thought not.

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So consider reading to be a major part of the apprenticeship of writing. And continuing to read, even while you write, is something like taking Professional Development Days to further improve your writing–-except that reading a good book is a lot more fun than attending those boring meetings.

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Please note that I assume you wish to WRITE WELL so that Readers understand and appreciate whatever it is you are writing. I know anyone can “write words” without reading, but can you “write well”? Aye, there’s the rub! Besides which, it’s not a badge of pride to say you never read books, especially if you call yourself a Writer. As Mark Twain so aptly put it, “The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.”

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And just to prove how important reading is to this Writer, here’s a photo of part of my personal library . . . The rest of my books are around the corner in the kitchen, in a Calgary storage unit, at my trailer, and on my eReader. Yes, I’m bragging. Some of those books have been with me most of my life, longer than many of the people I know. Comforting that they’ll always be with me. If not physically, they’ll continue to travel with me in my mind.

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30 responses

  1. I think you could open a lending library of you so desired. Might need a few more cozy chairs first.

  2. Reblogged this on Musings on Life & Experience and commented:
    I’ve never totally understood people who can read but don’t.

  3. So much is absorbed painlessly and unobtrusively from reading. Reading is important in so many ways

  4. Thanks for reminding us what we must do.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, vision 791!

  5. A writer who doesn’t read is like a personal trainer who doesn’t exercise.

  6. I agree, reading is the best place to learn. I don’t get time to read as much as I used to these days… I hold down too many jobs. But I don’t let a day go by without reading something.

    1. Thanks for reblogging, Chris!

      1. Welcome Susan – great post 😀

  7. Yes – reading a lot is crucial to becoming a good writer. As I read, I find things I don’t like about a book – even by famous authors, and I take note. These are things I will try to avoid in my own books. I also find authors who tell a story in ways that I love and I try to emulate some of those features. Yet, I will make many mistakes along the way. But hopefully with time, the more I read, the more I will learn the nuances of good writing.

  8. THANK YOU. I’ll never forget an argument I had with another writer on this topic; she claimed that she didn’t like to read, and it just blew my mind. Reading is the second best tool we as writers have to excel at our craft, the first being writing itself.

    Besides, I need something to justify my terrible book habit..

    1. Thanks, L.S.! And no one should ever have to justify a book habit, in my opinion.

  9. Glad to see it isn’t just me! Great post!

  10. I couldn’t agree more. Reading is the best thing one can do for their writing career.

  11. I wholeheartedly agree…sadly, when I’m writing, I find so little time to read actual novels anymore. I manage to squeeze in a half hour or so a night (when I’m not reading the latest marketing drivel directed at self published authors) to read for pleasure.

    1. Thanks, Anne! There are always short stories, and poetry, and magazine articles you could read that are of a length handy to be shoe-horned in for brief periods of time. Also children’s books, YA novels …

  12. Words to live by, thanks for the reminder. No guilt as I venture into reading Giller long list nominated novels. Thanks Susan.

  13. Couldn’t agree more. My kindle has made life easier thou I would have run out of room ages a go.

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