inspiration, Musings, Writing

Can you write if you don’t read?

I haven’t really read any Stephen King books. Don’t shoot me please! It’s just not my favourite genre but he has a lot of great writing advice and tips. This quote caught my eye the other day.ย Writers are often told to read widely and this is vital to help us write.

I read a blog post the other day and completely failed to take down any of the links but the blogger was talking about an author who was quoted as saying she never read as she was worried she’d end up copying other writers. I don’t understand this. One – I love to read and even if I didn’t write, I couldn’t give up reading. But as I do write, I’m confused by her point of view. I write YA so I read a lot of YA – it helps me to see what else is being published in the genre sure and it helps to understand teens trends etc, but mostly I just enjoy it. Why write something you wouldn’t enjoy reading yourself?

As for the potential to copy, I don’t think there really are original stories anymore – how many books have you read with a love triangle, or a girl who discovers she has supernatural powers, or forbidden love between a human and a creature or boy meets girl, they fall out, then they get back together? The point is to put your own spin, your own voice on a story. I just don’t think it’s possible to write like someone else, because even if you know their writing, you don’t know them. Our environment, our past and our likes and dislikes all shape our stories and unless you knew everything about them, I don’t think you could write the same way and the same story as them.

Plus other writers can be inspiring – their setting or their story might inspire you in an emotional way,might make you want to tap into the same feelings but it doesn’t make you want to write the same exact story. That would be boring and pretty pointless.ย I’ve read a few YA books that do have some of the same traits and plot lines but they always have a unique plot and new characters, a hook to stand out. They have their own voice.

I think that author is missing out on discovering not only great books to enjoy, but great writing. And every writer should be inspired by great writing – to make their own writing better. Surely that’s the goal of all of us.

So I’m sticking with Stephen on this one. I’d never give up reading. Reading helps my writing. And I love them both too much to do one without the other.

What about you?





36 thoughts on “Can you write if you don’t read?”

  1. Agreed times infinity ๐Ÿ™‚ For a writer to say she never reads other authors’ work is a bit like a scientist saying she never reads other research in her field. We can’t exist in a vacuum, and by avoiding reading other books (whether in her own genre or more generally – did she really say she never reads any books?!) she’s missing out on so much that would enhance her own work, never mind her life in general. It also puts her in the same exclusive club of non-book-reading authors as Victoria Beckham, apparently ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I could never give up reading – according to my mother I came out of the womb reading a book. . . ๐Ÿ˜€

  2. Plagiarism is always on my mind when I write. It could be a phrase or a string of words that are identical to someone else’s book. It could be the same feel for an opening (I recently came upon this with a short story I wrote but have been reassured my ‘voice’ and plot are different, even though the opening scene is similar). It’s fantasy. Like you said, is there anything ‘original’ anymore?

    I’m sure there are pieces of what we read that flow over into our writing. It’s inevitable, but to not read anything because you’re afraid of copying someone else? I couldn’t do it. I agree with you and Stephen on this one.

    1. I think it would have to be a complete carbon copy for plagiarism. I think the new hyped book 50 shades of grey is interesting – it started as Twilight fan fiction but then she took out Bella and Edwards names and published it. Stephenie Meyer hasn’t complained. I don’t think you need to worry!

  3. This sounds very much like a soundbite to me ๐Ÿ™‚ I have the blog reference if you need it. Reading resulted in me taking up writing and my reading is constantly improving my own writing. I have no doubt of that. Even if it didn’t I wouldn’t dream of giving up reading. I completely agree with your point of view here.

  4. Honestly, I wouldn’t want to read anything written by the writer who claims not to read. While some have an innate talent for words, it wasn’t built in a void. Writers learn from other writers. The truly talented develop a style because of other writer’s: seeing what works, what doesn’t; hearing the rhythm of language used by masters; feeling the thrill of a well-turned phrase or a rich inventive metaphor. Writers who don’t read, don’t grow.

  5. I was thinking about this today too. But you’re right. The story and voice are your own. =) And Ioved the video. I cried like a sap. =)

  6. Completely agree! I’ve seen a lot of author’s say that they won’t read the genre of book they write, and I just think that strange.. great discussion. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Quite interesting. I’ll throw this in the mix…I went to see Alice Hoffman speak a while back and she said that when she is actively involved in writing a book, she will read on the side–but she won’t read books in her genre.

    On the flip side, when she is not actively writing a book, then she is reading books in her genre.

    She says it does have a lot to do with emulating an author, which is different than “copying” an author. Writing styles are easy to pick up for some people; they can be absorbed and they can be influential on an author.

    However, for an author to say she simply, flat-out doesn’t read–that’s pretty suspicious to me and I wouldn’t be jumping at the chance to read her books if I knew that about her.

  8. I tried both techniques. My first book was godawful, mostly because I didn’t read any fiction while writing it. So I wasn’t immersed in good books nor did I have a real basis of comparison. My other books I’ve read fiction while writing. I think they are much better for it. I find the characters take over the story and if I stay true to them, I can’t copy anyone else. Just in case, I don’t read more than one book by a specific author as I write mine.

      1. Thanks! The first book is on version 125. In the beginning, everything sucked. And I had no voice. It was bland as boiled rice. ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. I agree, especially from a blogging standpoint. And I find the more I read, and the more genres I read, the less I feel that I may copy someone’s idea. I think what we write is a blend of everything we’ve ever been exposed to.

  10. Couldn’t agree more! I think that the only way to diversify one’s style of writing is by reading what other writers have written before. Reading triggers a writerโ€™s creativity.
    Great post!

  11. I used to think along those lines of being worried I would “steal” an idea from someone accidentally, but what has actually happened is:

    If I come across something that I was hoping to use in a story I end up considering it a challenge to try and evolve it into something else.

    For example, a get a lot of ideas/inspiration from TV and movies. I have been writing a horror movie script since 2003 and originally it revolved around supernatural beings and a werewolf being the only way to kill a vampire…then a few years later (as I was still working on the script) Van Helsing came out where that was a major plot point.

    So, a couple years ago I began a major overhaul to the script and idea.

    Honestly, I think it makes me a better writer.

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