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

Taylor Clogston

@lrc I feel a little bad piling another response on when it seems like you haven’t yet had a chance to reply to the excellent other discussion points people raised… but not that bad.

I agree with you that the “You must be always reading or your writing will be terrible!” we sometimes see needs qualification and suffers from returns that diminish with skill. I disagree that it’s fundamentally wrong.

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.

I disagree with the basic philosophy that you can internalize a universal model of “good storytelling” that you can apply to every story for any audience. I used to believe this, but then I started reading books from different storytelling traditions and decided that wasn’t true.

If you choose to accept, say, the monomyth as the core of good storytelling, that it simply describes the most effective way of structuring a story and that most stories which deviate from it are by definition less effective, then I could understand how a person might come to your conclusion.

I don’t, and I believe it’s possible to find very real value in the ways experimental or otherwise non-“traditional” stories are told. In this philosophy, if you keep pushing your comfort zone as a reader, you’ll keep having opportunity to learn more as a writer.

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.

This will be useful for some people, but not for everyone. I know people who can only read one book at a time, while I can read two or three at a time. In fact, I prefer having a more serious and a more fun book available to me at one time, so I can switch between them to better suit my mood. I don’t think that’s the best way for everyone to read, but it’s the best way for me to read. I’m also in analysis mode every time I read a book (unless I’m deliberately not for the sake of beta reading), which isn’t how everyone else does or should read.

I also write for two hours every weekday morning, and I don’t think my reading negatively affects that writing. I take a lot of care to sculpt my writing style with copy work, as firmly believe everyone should, and between that work and the fact I do read several books at once, my prose doesn’t seem to come under attack from any given source simply because I’m reading it.

As for ideas? Everyone should be stealing ideas. There’s no such thing as a new idea. The more ideas you have, the better you can combine them in fresh ways.

In general, it sounds to me like you’re taking your personal experience, the issues which you find helpful to avoid in your own artistic process, and believing them to be universal.

As I hope the diverse responses to this topic have showed you, everyone works differently. The fact that you’ve been able to pin down why certain techniques and behaviors don’t serve you well is impressive.

"...the one with whom he so sought to talk has already interceded for him." -The Master and Margarita

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