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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

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  • #137342
    LRC
    @lrc

    Hello fellow writers. I appear to you out of the mist, a bringer of chaos—hence the provocative title. @Shannon and I have written this piece together (@Shannon: actually she did most of it), and we hold firmly to our opinions. (@Shannon: so good luck trying to un-convince us).

    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 sounds good, yet it is very shallow, is almost never qualified, and I fundamentally disagree with it.

    Fight me 😀

    So here we go. The biggest problem I have with this advice is this: it does not take into account where you are in your writing journey.

    Everyone is at a different level.

    –  If you are a new writer, still trying to understand the writing craft, then researching how to write is very important. This includes reading a range of books and analyzing them to figure out why some work and some don’t, why some writing is better than others, and the science behind story, theme, and character arcs.
    – So if you are just starting your writing journey or are relatively new, I do suggest giving some of your time to reading, as well as the craft of good story science and the art of sentences.

    However.

    At some point in your writing journey, once you have studied the Craft for a while, reading in order to analyze and “become a better writer” ceases to have effect.

    In fact, I even dare to say that it not only becomes unnecessary, it can also become bad for your writing. And I say this as someone who has been writing for 6 years and is very much a perfectionist. (@Shannon: I’m her editor/writing cheer leader, and trust me, she definitely is.)

    #1 Following this advice is unnecessary for more mature writers 

    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. .

    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.

    They can now set aside their reading time for actual action—drafting, editing, getting feedback, and fixing their own work.

    #2 Why reading constantly as a more mature writer can hurt you 

    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.

    Everyone tells us that at some point, we have to stop researching, and start writing. (This is a perfectionist flaw that I am very well aware of). However, no one seems to apply that to this “reading rule.”

    That’s a problem.


    @Shannon
    :  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.

    (@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).

    When reading is important for a writer 

    There are two main types of research in the writing realm:

    – Researching the craft of writing
    – Researching for a specific WIP.

    We have already talked about the first one, and how reading and analyzing a lot is a very important tool to use as a new writer.

    This second one is more in regard to a person’s own writing process, which is different for every single person. So we don’t hold too tightly to this, but we wanted to put it out there:

    Researching and reading books in preparation to write a new WIP is a good idea, but only before you start drafting.

    Typically, a process will go something like this:

    – The Birth of an Idea
    – Exploratory stage: is this a feasible idea?
    – Research
    – Outlining (if you’re an outliner) and character arc development
    – Drafting

    During the research phase is when you read the books. It’s when you get a taste of the market and what you like, don’t like, and the pitfalls you need to look out for in your own, slowly forming story. For example, if you are writing a historical fiction book, read a book set in the same era your story is based in, read a biography of a person who lived in that same era, and read a history book about that time period.

    The drafting phase is the time when you do NOT read the books, at least in order to analyze and learn.

    You are past that stage, you know the stuff; get your nose out of the book and write your own thing.

    Make sense?

    No? Still disagree?

    Okay, well thank you for your time. We will carefully dodge the rocks that you throw at us and disappear back into the mist from whence we came.

    #137343
    LRC
    @lrc
    #137344
    Shannon Caeley
    @shannon

    I give this post my coauthor-ship stamp of approval. 😉

    "Let us run with endurance the race that is before us." Hebrews 12:1

    #137345
    Noah Cochran
    @noah-cochran

    @shannon


    @lrc

    You two really just did that didn’t you. xD I wonder what put this topic on your mind…

    Well, I’m always game for a good argument, let’s do this. 🙂

    First off, just to clear a notion that you might think I hold, I do not ever recommend reading bad writing or badly written books as part of one’s research, I find it nearly useless, as do many other writers. Now, before I get into the main topic, let me agree with you two on something: You are correct about, as you put it, “doing your research to a point, but eventually one should just start writing and leave research behind”. This is completely true, and I want to tack on that doing one’s research on plot, characters, prose, story arc, etc…first is invaluable and should never be skipped.

    Alrighty, let’s get to the meat of the problem. The first thing I need to say, is that I believe our thoughts on what “reading to get better at writing” means may differ. So just in case, let me explain exactly what I mean by that. What I do not mean is what you two I referring to as “book analysis”, i.e, examining a book’s writing and prose closely to improve one’s own. What I do mean, is pure and simple. Read, read, read. No extra attention to the prose or anything, just read. Sure, maybe cut out the normal browse reading that sometimes happens and read a little slower, but otherwise, just read.

    Before I comment on your arguments Shannon (or LRC, whoever wrote this heresy 😉 ), let me state what I believe the benefits are of reading a lot as a writer. It is simple, the more good  prose and stories you read, the more they are in your mind, making it easier to craft your own stories and eloquent prose. Many authors (who take my side of this argument) even recommend reading poetry to instill the use of literary devices and flowing language into one’s mind. That’s on my list to do. 🙂 Another benefit is giving you story ideas, and even more importantly, showing you what’s already been done or is overused (I believe you did mention that in talking about being aware of tropes).  The concept boils down to what people tell newbies in all arenas of life, and that is to expose yourself, and continually expose yourself to the arena you are going into. If you want to be a game developer, play a lot of games. If you want to become a musician, listen to a lot of music (I’ll get to your example in a minute Shannon). If you want to become an artist, look at many artistic sights and painting. I think you get my point.

    Okay, so now that my reasons for why reading a lot is beneficial are clear, I’ll get to your arguments, starting with Shannon’s music example. I just want to say first, that this was a sound point, and I liked it. You know what’s coming. But. xD Yeah, there is a but, and that is firstly that I think that the example applies more to music than anything else, since chords and intervals are known to get stuck in people’s heads. Stories and arcs typically do not, at least not in the way music does. There are two main ways that reading other people writing while writing your own could possibly interfered (I’m running with your argument for a moment here): Prose and Plot/Arcs. Learning and copying prose techniques is a fantastic thing to do, and the main reason I think reading copious amounts of books is a wise thing to do. This is where the musical analogy isn’t quite as strong, because prose are nothing like chord and cadence combos, prose are meant to be similar, because good prose are good prose and bad one’s are not. As for story, I can see your point here, but I’ll I can say against it, is it hasn’t happened to me. You might be calling me out right now and saying that I’ve only been writing for three months, but after writing nearly 90k words in the last 5-6 weeks and reading numerous fictional works at the same time, I can say reading fiction does not affect my story at all, especially since I’m an outliner. I could see a pantser possibly having this problem, but an outliner should not.

    Time to move on. I want to focus in on the following sentence

    There won’t be a new book that suddenly changes the rules to the craft.

    That sentence, and the many others talking about reading as researching, is where we differ. I do not read because I think I’ll learn something new, nor do I do it as any sort of research. As I said, I do it to have the flow and rhythm of good prose and good stories constantly going through my head, and to possibly extended my ideas and lexicon. That sentence is something you repeat quite frequently in various ways, I think this is the bare bones of your view, and that is not the way I look at it or mean when I recommend reading a lot.

    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 (LRC)

    I have not had this experience whatsoever, but if that actually happens, that is a valid reason for not wanting to read. 🙂

    I’m looking forward to a rebuttal. 🙂


    @rose-colored-fancy

    Hey Rose, get in here and help me out, or gang up on me if you agree with these ladies’ views. xD

     

     

    #137346
    Bethania Gauterius
    @sparrowhawke

    Only practice can make you a better writer for sure. Definitely don’t take cuts out of your writing time for needless reading time.

    However, I enjoy reading and it honestly inspires me. When I read a well-written book, it makes me want to write. Yeah, I’m an immature writer; maybe that inspiration ceases to affect you when you’re a pro. I don’t know.

    Somedays I wish I didn’t know all the writing rules. I feel that I need to write my prose a certain way because this is how all those published authors do it even though I hate that style. But then again, I’ll find an author whose style I love and want to imitate.

    Imitation is important. It’s how all the great authors learned their craft. Then they matured and wrote their own original material. So I guess your argument does have merit.

    I don’t think anyone should feel bad though if they’re work is similar to someone else’s. There are no new ideas. Just make sure you’re not plagiarizing (and you can’t plagiarize ideas).

    Don’t just stop reading because you don’t want it to ruin your writing. Reading has a lot of other benefits 😉

    Idk if any of that made sense. My thoughts are always jumbled and rambly.

    (I’m not here to argue either side.)

    "For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust." - Psalm 103:14

    #137357
    Rose
    @rose-colored-fancy

    @lrc


    @shannon


    @noah-cochran

    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?

    #137363
    Buddy J.
    @wordsmith

    @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.

    Now…

    “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, reader of many books, Student in writing, and Lumenite!

    #137367
    Noah Cochran
    @noah-cochran

    @wordsmith

    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.

    Couldn’t have said it better myself mate. 🙂

     


    @rose-colored-fancy

    So…you see similarly to me, but not the same. LRC and I were arguing about which one of us you agree with. 🙂

    Ask my family. Apparently, it isn’t appreciated if you start analyzing a movie out loud while it is still in progress.

    Oh Rose, I’ve had much experience with this in my family as well. xD My dad has to stop my sister from doing this all the time, though I do it a good deal as well. Is there ever that moment while your watching the movie where someone has to get up, you pause the movie, and then people start verbalizing their thoughts, theories, and critiques? That happens all the time in my home. xD

    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!

    I’ve had that thought many a time. 🙂 The amount of garbage that I start reading and then either stop, or by the time I finish the book  want to beat the daylights out of the characters, is huge. xD

     

    #137368
    Rose
    @rose-colored-fancy

    @noah-cochran

    So…you see similarly to me, but not the same. LRC and I were arguing about which one of us you agree with.

    Pretty much! I find it really interesting how everyone who has posted has a slightly different opinion, nobody is actually completely agreeing.

    I guess that means we’ve all thought about it XD

    Oh Rose, I’ve had much experience with this in my family as well. xD My dad has to stop my sister from doing this all the time, though I do it a good deal as well. Is there ever that moment while your watching the movie where someone has to get up, you pause the movie, and then people start verbalizing their thoughts, theories, and critiques? That happens all the time in my home. xD

    Exactly! Besides the inevitable analysis, I’m the kind of person who talks to movie characters (so is my brother once he gets invested) so movies always have a running commentary XD

    I’ve had that thought many a time.   The amount of garbage that I start reading and then either stop, or by the time I finish the book  want to beat the daylights out of the characters, is huge. xD

    Exactly! It’s kinda comforting in an odd way XD

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

    #137375
    Arindown (Gracie)
    @arindown

    @lrc

    I haven’t the time, nor the current mental capacity to actually duel you on this one, but my opinion is that writing is like life…you never stop growing, and you never stop learning from those greater than you.

    As a writer, you can study writing theory all you want, but it’s reading that keeps your story-soul growing. I think it’d be a weak writer who told themselves they could never hear someone else’s story again, and still write good books. There is always room for improvement.

    Stories are like hobbits, “You can learn all that there is to know about their ways in a month, and yet after a hundred years they can still surprise you. (Gandalf quote)” It’s like watching your favorite movie for the 500th time. There’s still parts that give you goosebumps, and there’s still parts you never noticed before. As long as you’re reading, you’ll be learning.

    Professional American football players watch hours and hours of video of other teams, and themselves, playing football. They don’t do it because they don’t know about football…they do it because they do know about football, because it helps them play smarter and better.

    I know quite a bit about writing theory and grammar and English, but L.M. Montgomery’s wit never ceases to amaze me, Tolkien’s descriptions never cease to leave me in awe, and Andrew Peterson’s characters never cease to make me cry. Of course, my reading doesn’t (usually) steal my writing time. It adds to it. It makes me smarter, and better, so that the genius of classics can (hopefully) become instinct to me.

    Personally, I don’t read to become a better writer. I read because I love stories, and it makes me a better writer whether I like it or not. Sometimes, enjoying the journey is as important as reaching the destination.

    Not all those who wander are lost.

    #137380
    Josiah DeGraaf
    @josiah

    Thanks for starting this discussion @LRC and @Shannon! My sentiments align more with @noah-cochran on this one, though. While I do agree that it’s too much to say that your writing will “suffer” if you aren’t constantly reading books, I rarely hear even bestselling/award-winning authors suggest that they’ve “made it” and don’t need additional growth in the craft. There’s definitely a law of diminishing turns at play here, but I think Noah hit the nail on the head with this sentence:

    “I do not read because I think I’ll learn something new, nor do I do it as any sort of research. As I said, I do it to have the flow and rhythm of good prose and good stories constantly going through my head, and to possibly extended my ideas and lexicon.”

    While there can be times during the drafting process where it’s better not to read books in your specific sub-genre for some writers, I think there’s a lot of value in regularly reading books just to be keeping yourself in the right mindset and rhythm as Noah said. Yes, you’re probably not going to be learning anything dramatically new if you’ve already studied the craft for a while. But perhaps there’s an original turn-of-phrase or a unique stylistic choice that inspires you.

    It’s also useful simply for purposes of keeping tabs on your genre and what’s selling. Different trends come and go, and so reading in your genre is helpful to know what readers are currently interested in and which tropes may be becoming more stale over time.

    So personally for myself, I still find it very useful to be regularly reading books (not always in an intentional “learn the writing craft” sort of a way, but still in a way that helps me as a writer) and would recommend that writers have a habit of reading regularly (not necessarily consistently… but at least regularly).

    Lit fanatic. Eclectic reader. Theology nerd. Writing fantasy at https://josiahdegraaf.com

    #137384
    Cathy
    @this-is-not-an-alien

    @lrc @shannon
    Hello pagan heathen! First of all, I like you; I like arguing, this is good arguing. Second of all
    WHAT THE HECK WHAT BLASPHEMY IS THIS!?! BURN YOU AT THE STAKE HERETIC!!!!
    *Ahem* allow me to sweetly, happily mercilessly rip out the soul and ribcage and gizzard of this argument. First of all by breaking down each and every one of your arguments and inverting them as someone who spend two years studying Socratic rhetoric 😈😈

    “#1 Following this advice is unnecessary for more mature writers.”
    Ahhh the gall. The heart of this argument is vanity; no true lover of a craft would ever call themselves more than an eternal beginner. True writers often procrastinate or perfectionize their own writing by comparing it to others’ and this destroys creativity. It is like Pharisees studying novels, breaking them down, deciding on “correct” structures and execution, it’s like scruples in prayer that destroy prayer, it is evil heresy and a plague to writers.
    But do scruples in prayer make prayer unnecessary for a relationship with Christ, does bad application of the law, ripping the soul out of the law make the law bad? Remember Christ said not one dot of the Law would be erased!
    I never consciously studied a book successfully, consciously studying it ruins it truly. But I learned so many things from so many books, comics, movies and songs and I’m at the final draft of my novel now that I started when I was thirteen. I never drain out because I’m always charged by new things in the real world and in other novels and stories. I learned some very precise things going along.
    ~from Inkheart I learned to use layered and consistent imagery, and to effectively design conflicted characters and to be so authentic in writing that you write two stories; the one you’re actually writing and the imprint of your personal struggle to reconcile with something inside you.
    ~from Red Badge of Courage I learned you can repeat a phrase to trigger a host of themes and contextual symbolism to pull everything together without having to “tell”.
    ~from Rurouni Kenshin (comic book) I learned you can slip in a lot of “set-up” for the plot under goofy mini-plots and use deep contrast between the past/present identity of a person struggling to maintain a redemption arc.
    ~from Coraline (stop-motion kiddy-horror film, yes, I dig that XD) I learned to set-up with high-tension even when nothing bad is happening by slipping in just a couple “off” things and tacking them further and further the deeper you get in. I learned to plan the beginning around the battle for flawless foreshadowing and smooth high-stakes action.
    ~from the sacrament of Confession (I’m Catholic btw! Fight me LOL!) I learned to speak rather than hide. For writing I learned to write the things I didn’t dare admit because other people feel them too. So I learned how to be authentic to find my “writer’s voice”
    ~from my sensory crossover where I “see” sounds and “hear” certain textures etc I learned to mix that into my narrative for a sharper dynamic and “style”.
    ~from Shadow of the Bear I learned to be stylistically simplistic more and that interesting characters make up for slow-building plots when necessary and that it only takes a tiny bit of “off” things to maintain a level of suspense. And that subtly in themes is an art.
    So like, I’ve only got three books there that I learned from (not counting the Bible which of course) so books really don’t give as much as they’re pumped up to sometimes, especially if you read them like a golddigger instead of appreciating the treasure books are of themselves *hyper-romantic sigh*.
    “# Reading constantly as a more mature writer can hurt you.”
    See, and I think this is one of the biggest gripes you have with reading; reading under compulsion destroys creativity. Studying reading, books, structures takes the soul out of writing. That’s a very valid point and no one should feel pressure to keep reading, I know I haven’t read a lot for a writer but I certainly have been reading a lot more in my final draft here (mostly because I’ve made more friends on StoryEmbers than I have my entire life combined and now I get book recommendations all the time and they’re soo awesome books and they’re all wholesome or reasonably so and I don’t have to worry about it and it’s awesome!!!)
    I believe the heart of your heresy is applying the “rule” as a set-in-stone compulsion rather than a tool. Stop reading start writing is excellent advice and I wholly agree, writers very often spend so much time doing “other things related to writing” to procrastinate writing because of the Blank Page Syndrome. Which is why I make sure to set a very precise time to write on my novel every single day and I have a deadline for each chapter (7th and 21th every month…not like…always on time…XD) and when I can’t figure what to write I “freewrite” in a separate publication the overall plots/themes/problem until I solve it and if I can’t formulate the words for the scene I want in this chapter I “freewrite” the scene while murdering my inner critic so that it’s on the page the “body” of what happens and I go back and rewrite the entire thing adding in depth the way I “layer” art. At first I really hated this system but it really forced me to kill my perfectionism.
    So read, read as much as you want–but never during the period you set for writing.
    Another way to get out of block is mix you mediums; songwrite your story, worldbuild, comic-bookify, illustrate, audiobook it; anything to keep your subconscious mind on the project (which has become more and more important for me the more WIPs I’ve gathered on top of non-writing projects)

    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.

    LOL that’s crazy! I listen to two or three songs sometimes right before I write a song and the first stanza might sound a little like one of them but by the time I hit my beat you’d never recognize it as something I’ve heard. I only do this when inspiration doesn’t strike me immediately tho, usually if I start writing the song it’s a song that’s been in my head all day that I need to write down.
    Of course this is my method and idk how well it would work for you, I honestly can’t think of being so hyper-independent an artist to avoid imitation to learn. *dramatic voice* It’s absolute heresy!!! Babies grow by imitating, any craft you ever study you study by imitation, Benjamin Franklin learned persuasive writing by copying books and then rewording them, Socrates first lesson to learning is to know that you know nothing, you barely scratch the surface, awareness that you’re a beginner makes you an expert by application. You must imitate to act, you must have material you didn’t make to build something solely your own; builders must have wood, artists must have paints, songwriters must have meters, humans must have God to love to breath to create to everything!
    So, to conclude:
    #1. Reading is important for writers at all stages for enjoyment, relaxation and inspiration but never compulsion.
    #2. You cannot write without reading.
    #3. Condemn your scruples that have led to this heresy. Repent and return to the truth thou heretic!! 😀
    Also…lol what the heck did I walk into btw?😂😂😂

    Don't let the voices in your head drive you insane;only some of them can drive; most are underage

    #137408
    Noah Cochran
    @noah-cochran

    @this-is-not-an-alien

    Cathy my friend, you could cook a cow with that tongue of yours. 😅 🤭 Perhaps you could be a tad less…forceful next time. 😉

    Don’t take any offence from this young lady’s rather…violent tongue @lrc and @shannon. I must admit though, the way you began your rant, Cathy, was quite amusing. 🙂

    Okay, so I don’t know if you read my comment or not Cathy, but I agree with you. However, some of the things you said we don’t quite agree on, so I figured I would respond to you and take some of the pressure off the two people you just grilled like slabs of meat.

    Ahhh the gall. The heart of this argument is vanity; no true lover of a craft would ever call themselves more than an eternal beginner.

    I highly disagree with this, but I’ll let you be the one to use violent language. 😉 So, I definitely think there is such as thing as a beginner, and such as thing as a professional. Can professionals continue to learn and improve? Absolutely, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a vast difference between a pro and a amateur. The amount of research they have done, the skill and speed at which they write, and the amount they have written are all factor that play into whether a writer is a beginner or not. Also, their argument had nothing to do with vanity, I believe you construed their reasons in quite the wrong way. Their reasons were along the lines of they don’t like the pressure to read, they don’t think it improves them much at all(not because they’re vain, because they don’t see the value it adds, trust me, they don’t consider themselves pros by any means), and they think it distracts them. I disagree with these reasons, but it has nothing to do with vanity. Also, I’m not sure your prayer and law analogies were that applicable. 🙂

    In regard to compulsion to read, you’re slightly talking out of both sides of your mouth. You say you should read, but you also say you should only do it if you enjoy it and it doesn’t take discipline. In this technology age, the ability to sit down and read for 2+ hours straight without being distracted or running out of time because one wasted it on online, is getting harder for people. So I have two thoughts: One, if one is a writer, than one should enjoy reading to an extent. Two, if it takes some compulsion sometimes, then so be it, because breaking technology addictions to sit and read often does take some compulsion. So essentially what I am saying, is some compulsion is fine with me.

    You made the comment that quote “you cannot write without reading.” As I said, I agree with your view as a whole, but I might disagree with that statement. If you haven’t read very many books, than yes, you’re going to be a bad writer. But what @LRC and @shannon were saying was that they felt they had read enough and it didn’t help them anymore. Now, I disagree with them, I think it still can help them (read my comment for why), but I wouldn’t say you can’t write if you don’t read. Pick a big name author, if that author never read again, I believe they could still put out great books with little difficulty. I’m not sure if that was what you meant (that you have to read forever to write), but I just wanted to mention it.

    I’m Catholic btw! Fight me LOL!

    I’m game to discuss theology with you, I quite it enjoy it. However, I would rather it be a friendly discussion than a fight. 😉 🙂

     

     

     

    #137412
    imwritehere1920
    @imwritehere1920

    …….whoa.  What just happened in here? *peeks cautiously around the door*

    There are a lot of interesting views here!  I think a lot of good points were made.  I’m not much of a fighter *please don’t hurt me* 😊  May I offer my small observations?

    I’m not a big reader because I’m really busy; and I agree with you that if writers aren’t reading a ton of books all the time, then there’s no shame.  We all go at our own pace.  I prefer to think of it as quality over quantity, if that makes sense.

    I think @noah-cochran made a good point in that exposing yourself to good writing can help you grow (at whatever stage you’re at as a writer.)  It can help challenge you to approach your story from a new angle.  Reading well-written stories can show us how to apply the rules of writing (seeing what we’ve learned put into practice.  And it can embolden us to try new techniques).

    May I just add though, that sometimes it’s okay to read a poorly written story on occasion?  Please hear me out.  If reading well-written stories can help sharpen our skills, then what if poorly-written stories can help us recognize common writing pitfalls?

    I’m not saying read poorly-written stories all the time.  But if you’re a new writer, or even intermediate like me, sometimes being able to read those kinds of stories can help you spot writing flaws that you can correct in your own WIP.  (Am I making sense?)  For example, there was a well-known writer who wrote great fantasy stories.  But somewhere along the line, his writing fell flat.  As a writer, I could identify the common writing mistakes that I learned about and needed to avoid (slow pacing, plotlines being strung out unnecessarily, repetition of background info, etc).  Anyway, that’s just my observation.

    *ducks as rocks fly*  *sorry!*

    Erm, pardon me as I digress: (as you all were!) 😁


    @wordsmith

    Hey there!  I’m Lily (don’t think we’ve officially met.) I saw that you read middle grade books (my favorite genre!)  Which ones have you read recently, and which has been your most favorite?

    We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master. — Ernest Hemingway

    #137426
    Cathy
    @this-is-not-an-alien

    Cathy my friend, you could cook a cow with that tongue of yours. Perhaps you could be a tad less…forceful next time.

    *sheepish grin* You’re right I think I got a “little” (a lot) *ahem* carried away with arguing, I have a lot of siblings and close relatives who all enjoy bantering…intensely 😅. Thank you for correcting me, I need to very much rein in my tongue more. I’m sorry I grilled you @lrc and @shannon, it was an immature and unnecessary thing to do and you were right on a good many points for how you stop reading and start writing at a point <3

    So, I definitely think there is such as thing as a beginner, and such as thing as a professional. Can professionals continue to learn and improve? Absolutely, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a vast difference between a pro and a amateur. The amount of research they have done, the skill and speed at which they write, and the amount they have written are all factor that play into whether a writer is a beginner or not. Also, their argument had nothing to do with vanity, I believe you construed their reasons in quite the wrong way. Their reasons were along the lines of they don’t like the pressure to read, they don’t think it improves them much at all(not because they’re vain, because they don’t see the value it adds, trust me, they don’t consider themselves pros by any means), and they think it distracts them. I disagree with these reasons, but it has nothing to do with vanity.

    I see your point there. Everyone has a different level of skill depending on a lot of factors like their application, aptitude to the skill and manner of learning etc, and what helps someone starting won’t necessary help someone who has a lot of experience there. So a more mature writer should change their method a little from a beginner I guess, that definitely is a factor in a writing journey.

    Also, I’m not sure your prayer and law analogies were that applicable.

    Probably not XD
    *has already forgotten half of whatever I wrote and glances back over it a little quizzically (Eesh, did I actually write that? In a really really super over-dramatic voice that nobody’s gonna hear over written-down posts…)*
    *making a swatting motion at that argument* Forget the bad analogies, the main point is…*squints at my last post* “scruples over structures don’t make structures any less valuable because they’re misused” *pause* Nah, inapplicable to this argument since the main point wasn’t necessarily to abandon reading as to abandon reading at certain parts of the process.

    I highly disagree with this, but I’ll let you be the one to use violent language.

    Ok! Me to me; ahh the gall! The heart of your arguing is vanity, having to burst into such a heated reprisal just because you coul–*halts mid-insult to wonder if grilling myself isn’t more likely to perpetuate my argumentative nature instead of help…?* Well, it was my bad.

    In regard to compulsion to read, you’re slightly talking out of both sides of your mouth. You say you should read, but you also say you should only do it if you enjoy it and it doesn’t take discipline. In this technology age, the ability to sit down and read for 2+ hours straight without being distracted or running out of time because one wasted it on online, is getting harder for people. So I have two thoughts: One, if one is a writer, than one should enjoy reading to an extent. Two, if it takes some compulsion sometimes, then so be it, because breaking technology addictions to sit and read often does take some compulsion. So essentially what I am saying, is some compulsion is fine with me.

    I see what you’re saying here, but I would like to make a distinction between discipline and compulsion in that discipline is something hard you undertake because you choose it’s benefits where compulsion is something hard you undertake because you’re afraid of the consequences of failing to do so.
    But in that case too, compulsion can be necessary some of the time to break away from technology addictions or obsession with other projects or such. So that makes sense, I agree with you there now.
    (Btw, 90k words in 5-6 weeks is pretty impressive ;), I’ve actually never met a “pure” outliner before, what’s your method?)

    You made the comment that quote “you cannot write without reading.” As I said, I agree with your view as a whole, but I might disagree with that statement. If you haven’t read very many books, than yes, you’re going to be a bad writer. But what @LRC and @shannon were saying was that they felt they had read enough and it didn’t help them anymore. Now, I disagree with them, I think it still can help them (read my comment for why), but I wouldn’t say you can’t write if you don’t read. Pick a big name author, if that author never read again, I believe they could still put out great books with little difficulty. I’m not sure if that was what you meant (that you have to read forever to write), but I just wanted to mention it.

    Fair point. I never really thought of an example as extreme as never reading again and still being able to produce great books, I don’t know if I agree that they could at least on the long-run, but if they hadn’t read in a long time, maybe even years, maybe so. But following that example too far would be too theoretical to “prove” either way.
    I do think from time to time writers do have to read to refresh their minds with new ideas, concepts or mindsets or just get out of their own thoughts for a little but good authors with writing experience and everything probably could go years without reading and still write something fantastic. I think it would take its toll eventually though if they kept up that trend.

    I’m game to discuss theology with you, I quite it enjoy it. However, I would rather it be a friendly discussion than a fight.

    Lol ok! I promise I’ll try very very hard to not get carried away XD. There’s so much theology to talk about really, where would you like to start? If I can ask, what’s your religion? I know there’s Messianic, Baptists, Evangelists, Church of Christ…*can’t think of any others off the top of my head* Idk if that’s a rude question or not…sorry about my sharp-tongueness XD


    @imwritehere1920

    Hiya! Welcome aboard! 😁

    May I just add though, that sometimes it’s okay to read a poorly written story on occasion?  Please hear me out.  If reading well-written stories can help sharpen our skills, then what if poorly-written stories can help us recognize common writing pitfalls?

    Oh I agree there! I’ve never read a poorly written story on purpose but *actually has watched more poorly written movies than books…* I can definitely learn from them and pull ideas. I know when I watch movies that have, say, an interesting enough concept with horrible execution I can look at what they did that didn’t do right (usually poor investment in the characters, setting or overplotting too many ideas in too small a timeframe) or if they had a cliché idea with reasonable execution etc. It can really teach a lot (and it usually leaving me pinponging ideas for weeks on the bigillion different ways to re-imagine the story improved or just scrap the good ideas, concepts techniques teased from the bad ones)
    Anyway, now you can through the rocks at me instead 😉 *I’ll throw them back, if anyone…wasn’t wondering :D*

    Don't let the voices in your head drive you insane;only some of them can drive; most are underage

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