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

Buddy J.

@lrc @shannon

You guys weren’t kidding about a controversial take. XD I approve. We need more of that iron sharpening iron.

Now… I don’t agree with it, but I also don’t agree with the perspective you’re arguing against.

“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?”

This advice is poor because it doesn’t take into account difference in life style, learning style, and what people have access to. What else, though, is that it doesn’t take into account the best and most efficient ways of learning.

The most efficient way to learn is not the non-stop grind that doesn’t give rest, time for chewing, and time to rebuild.

That said… writers have to be good readers to be good writers. And, that basically just means getting familiar with literature as a whole. Understanding its nuances across the board. Because while literary “specialization” might come into play in an individual’s writing… every genre/market pulls from so many different places that we often need an understanding of literature that is wider than just that one market to be able to make a statement in it. We need variety.


“You have studied the craft. You have analyzed. You have researched. You know what structure is, how character arcs work, how to properly foreshadow and come full circle, how to slip themes seamlessly into your characters’ fears and desires, and how to do parallel character arcs like a pro.

“You have practiced, a lot, (probably too much) on stories that will never see the light of day.

“You know the art of sentence structure and when to show and when to tell so you can provoke the emotion in your reader. It has been years of gathering this knowledge, slowly but surely, and you have wisdom enough to know when the “rules” of writing can be bent or broken.

“All stories follow similar patterns, have similar tropes, and have similar pitfalls. Once you know these things and what to look out for, the general advice of “read all the time in order to be a better writer” no longer applies to you.”

“There won’t be a new book that suddenly changes the rules to the craft. It will either be executed well or executed poorly, and you already know the reasons why a book is great or not. Very rarely will you read a fiction book that teaches you something that you did not know previously.”

All of these things are not why people should read. They might be part of why people should read. But they are only part. And, I’d argue a small part.

Books are writer’s teachers by experience. We read and soak up. We experience words and worlds of other places. We start to catch onto bits and pieces of history, culture, and language that strengthen the nuances of our writing (whether we do it consciously or subconsciously).

We get to experience the plots, pacing, rhythm, and tendencies in prose that other cultures tend toward… and we get to study them in ways that help us know how to mix things.

Fiction prose, non-fiction prose, poetry and more that I’m not thinking of are all pieces of a very important puzzle. Reading strengthens the writing mind.

Now, you’re absolutely write that it’s not proper to read all of the time. Nor is it proper to read everything. I am extremely picky. And, I recently noticed that all of the books I finished in the last few months have been middle grade books. Why? Because that’s what’s most valuable to me right now, both in terms of what I enjoy and what I need.

Further… I’m an adult. I have a job, I run businesses, I teach martial arts… it gets busy. I don’t always have time to read. But that doesn’t mean I’m slipping away. I have enough experience to retain what I know, to keep putting it into practice. Even my writing is less consistent than I’d like it to be. But I’m still improving on that too, and producing what I need to.

My brain is in gear. I don’t need to be flooding it with literature.

But I don’t think I’ll ever stop reading.

One of the most and highest esteemed authors of the 20th century was J.R.R. Tolkien, a man who redefined epic fantasy for the western hemisphere.

What equipped the man for that? Much of it came down to the sheer amount he read, researched, and knew. A polyglot and a reader. The man knew his craft because he was deeply immersed in it. It wasn’t a question of whether or not he knew the basic patterns well enough and could execute them with basic proficiency… it was a matter of how many sources he had as reference to construct his own style, world, and to convey the stories he conveyed.

If we were to want to learn how to write like Tolkien… it wouldn’t just be by studying his writing. It’d be by studying his life. Everything he read, everything he experienced, and more.

Even then, we’d probably come up with a slightly different style.

But… we need literature, and to stay in it our entire lives, because it’s how the machine will stay greased and ready to work. It’s how our brain’s abilities will expand and increase. It’s how we’ll comprehend nuances in language and story that we hadn’t comprehended before…

It’s how we’ll get to “discuss”‘ writing with the writers of the past.

We just have to do it for the right reasons. Not simply as an education, but as a lifestyle. But with every art comes a time when we need to step back and digest. To rest and regroup. To test what we’ve seen and learned.

So, I’d argue to not stop reading. But be wise about how you do it. Because… in the words of LRC…

“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”

Yes. This can happen to me to.

Published author, student in writing, works with HazelGracePress.com

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