Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Writers who don't read

I want to get into writing but my question is: "Is there ever been any real-time authors that didnt actually previously read books, as in, more than 4 books?" because i feel that i can make it, and that i have a unique mind

Every so often, on the Absolute Write discussion board, a new writer will ask whether he or she can become successful without reading.

At first I found it difficult to understand this, because I was given books from the moment I could sit up to be read to. I tried reading my uncle’s huge hardcover copy of The Lord of the Rings when I was six, and when he found out, he gave me a paperback of The Hobbit which I still have. But these writers have their own reasons for not reading.

Some of them worry that reading other people’s work in the genre may distract them from their own thoughts and ideas. They don’t want to be influenced by someone else’s imagination.

One problem with this is that while you can certainly write in a vacuum where no book exists but your own, once you send it out… well, agents, editors and the general public do read. Plus, they’re aware of books they may not have read. So if you’ve reinvented the wheel because you weren’t aware of what’s being done in your genre, there’s going to be a sad awakening somewhere down the line.

The other problem is that reading extensively is the best way to familiarize yourself with not only techniques and tricks of writing, but also the requirements of a genre. I once saw a self-published erotica novelette from an author who didn’t seem familiar with what successful short erotica provides. I say this because the sample was all about the heroine preparing lunch for herself, and the most exciting thing was a long carrot.

You see the same mistake made by people who’ve written a tragic love story but want to call it a romance. Not going to happen.

Another reason was provided by someone who wanted to write for teenagers, but who said, “and re reading "ya", whatever that is, books are a luxury i cannot afford” (link). Unfortunately that showed in her manuscripts, because apart from other issues, no one in them was a teenager.

I sympathize with not having money, but this isn’t such an obstacle when it comes to reading. Even if there are no libraries nearby, what about online contests and giveaways? Some publishers will send free books for reviews. And then there are garage sales or borrowing from friends. All of which I’ve done.

If you really want to read - and grow as a writer - you’ll find a way.

Learning disorders aside, some people just focus and concentrate in different ways that may make reading a novel from start to finish a difficult process. But in that case, there are other things to try—like audiobooks. Or short stories, which take less time. Some MG books are intended for “reluctant readers”.

What turns me off, though, is if someone actively looks down on other writers’ work (in general). I can understand not enjoying a specific author. But if a writer says, “I like writing because I have so many ideas, but I have no interest in anyone else’s books” (to paraphrase this), it comes off as incredibly pompous. Not something likely to make me try that writer’s work.

I'm sure there are a few writers who are so naturally talented that they can write well without having read anything, but they would be the exception. The rest of us need to read, and lots thereof.


Maria Zannini said...

I don't think I've ever come across someone who writes but doesn't read. I wouldn't imagine they'd be very successful.

But that was a good idea about audio books. I think it has the added advantage of hearing nuances and the 'poetry' of words.

I don't travel long distances much anymore, but when I did there was always an audio book for the road.

Mark said...

Even if you could, why would you want to?

Polenth said...

The thing do-I-have-to-read people are missing is novels are a cultural construction. No one is born instinctively able to write a novel, but that's often the vibe of such questions... the idea that if they're talented enough, a novel will spring forth naturally with no training.

Marian Perera said...

Maria - I have come across such writers who don't read, but AFAIK only one has been published so far - with CreateSpace.

Audiobooks are good, but I'd still suggest aspiring writers try to read actual books. It's just easier to get used to techniques and technicalities that way.

Mark - No idea. Books are such economical, lasting entertainment.

Polenth - Exactly. And these days, it probably seems easier than ever to be a published novelist, whether one reads or not.

Majanka said...

If you want to write a book, then you should've read more than four books. You should've read tons of books. Else it's like saying you want to become a pro-football player, but guess what, you've never watched a game. How will you know the rules then?

As for writing, how will you know what makes a solid plot when you've barely read any other books before? Reading is an exercise: you can dissect the book, find out what works, and what doesn't. Then you can learn from what works, and implement some of those things in your own book.

If you never read, you can't write a book. Simple as that.

Besides, I have no idea why anyone would want to write a book if they don't even enjoy reading them!