Reply To: Controversial Opinion: “Reading makes your writing better” is bad advice

Forums Fiction General Writing Discussions Controversial Opinion: “Reading makes your writing better” is bad advice Reply To: Controversial Opinion: “Reading makes your writing better” is bad advice





OoOh, cool topic! I am here to both agree and disagree with everyone!

One piece of writing advice you hear a lot in the writing world is that in order to be a good writer, you must read as much as possible. If you aren’t reading one book after the other in a reasonable fashion, then your writing will majorly suffer. After all, doing this you will see examples of well-written books and badly-written books, right?

Honestly, my first feeling was to agree, then I reread it and decided I disagree after all.

In my personal opinion, this is far closer to how it should be, regardless of skill level:

At this point in a person’s writing journey, they should not feel ashamed when they are told by others that they aren’t reading enough. They can freely read for pleasure and enjoy a well-written book for its own sake, but no longer should they feel pressure to have a stack of books to assign time to every week.

If they feel the need to brush up on their knowledge by analyzing a few books, then good for them; but the advice no longer is a rule to follow, only an occasional tool to use.

I’m relatively new to this whole thing (About a year and a half) and would not consider myself an experienced writer, but I simply cannot devote that much time to reading. I am and always have been a picky reader and I really struggle to find books I enjoy. I do read regularly, but not that much, nor do I believe it’s a bad thing.

I read only for fun, but as soon as I started understanding writing craft, I started analyzing. Usually subconsciously, but still definitely there. (Ask my family. Apparently, it isn’t appreciated if you start analyzing a movie out loud while it is still in progress.)

I read for fun and analyze at the same time! It’s brilliant! I enjoy good books more and I know why I don’t enjoy others.

As such, I am definitely not going to force myself to read books purely for the sake of analyzing them. Yes, reading is important to writing, and it’s harder to be a writer if you aren’t a reader, but you don’t have to force yourself to do it.

So, strong agree with y’all on that point!

Everyone already knows that distractions are a thing. Really, this is one as well, this forum topic right here, and this website, as well as a host of other things that steal our productivity.

But in my opinion, this particular advice to “never stop reading” is harmful to a lot of writers because it presents itself as good advice for people at all stages of their writing journey.

Yeah, kinda agree. All things in moderation, it can definitely become a distraction and if you have to choose between reading to improve and actually writing, writing will probably be more valuable.

Consider this. I once took songwriting lessons from a famous songwriter. One very important thing she explained to me was this:  if I wanted to write songs, I could not be constantly listening to music. If you constantly fill your mind with someone else’s melodies and words, there is no longer any room for your own.

This, of course, applies to writing as well. We cannot constantly read if we want to have mental space to express our own thoughts. Because of this, we cannot analyze other writer’s works while we are in the process of creating our own. It is counter productive.

Either you are going to analyze books, or you are going to write them. These two things do not mix well.

Okay, this is where I do not agree. I can see that it works that way for some people, and that’s totally cool!

But personally, it really doesn’t work for me. I’ve tried and failed. If I am deep in writing I will often over-focus and spend every free moment on writing. Guess what! Fun while it lasts but not sustainable! XD

When I stop reading, (or working on other projects) and focus on writing, I get a shocking amount done, but only for a couple of weeks. Then I hit a wall and it feels like I’m drowning in my own voice. My ideas vanish, writing seems stale and my characters stop cooperating, even if I have an outline. I lose all perspective on what I’ve written. I don’t know if it’s great or terrible, I start comparing it to imaginary works of literary genius and hating it because of it.

There’s nothing like someone else’s annoying character or meandering plot to jerk me sharply back down to earth. I realize, hey, if this can get published, I might not be as bad as I think! It sounds counter-productive, but comparing my own work to others is usually encouraging for me since I tend to imagine published authors’ work as faultless.

And another thing:

(@LRC: I personally even try to avoid reading for fun when I know I am going to draft that day; I have noticed that too much intake of other people’s fiction can cloud the mind and mess up the output of your own creativity).

I have heard others mention this, but it has never worked that way for me. I have definitely noticed the influence if I was reading earlier. I might even have just put down my book to write. I start accidentally copying the style, the way the character voice works, the prose. I don’t even think about this, and it wears off after a few hundred words, but it’s still there.

I could see that some people would want to avoid that, but I’d like to argue that it isn’t a bad thing if another author’s style tints yours. You might discover a few techniques that you’d never thought of, and it’s only a first draft, nobody will notice the difference in the final product.

Personally, reading inspires me to write, and if I stop reading completely during my drafting process, I’m going to get stuck.

And, Noah ( @noah-cochran ) you mention a very interesting point too, that I’ve found quite effective. If you read enough books, you’ll gradually pick up on little things, even if you aren’t consciously analyzing them.

Very rarely will you read a fiction book that teaches you something that you did not know previously. .

Also, I want to argue a little about this. Every fiction book has some little thing to teach you or most do. And some books teach you a lot of things that you never thought possible.

I’m thinking of a book I once read that had: An unreliable narrator who lied so much I have no clue what the actual plot was, the protagonist turned out to be the villain and the villain was the hero, a practically non-existent fourth wall that was broken on every other page, so many side-tracks, subplots, and tangents that I don’t actually know what the main plot was and so much surrealistic stuff that might have been the narrator exaggerating or that might have actually happened.

Yep, never thought I’d see all that, let alone in one book XD It felt like a fever dream and I loved every second XD

The funniest part was that the author was obviously skilled. There were consequences, the characters had agency, and there was hinting at the actual story.

Anyway, I loved reading y’all’s thoughts on the matter!

Without darkness, there is no light. If there was no nighttime, would the stars be as bright?

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