Sunday, November 27, 2011

Do you think it is possible to write a good book if you never read?

The title is a question posed by a young would-be writer on a message board.  She added that she doesn't have much of a vocabulary because she doesn't read, though she did finish a popular book by a writer whose derivative crap is selling well. She only reads when she has to. Can she still write? 

My reply:


Unless you get past the not-reading thing, you're never going to make it as a writer.

I doubt anyone else here will be honest with you about that, either.

You're looking for an excuse to get out of reading, yet be a writer, but that's like a composer who refuses to listen to music, or an artist who doesn't go to museums, or an actor who doesn't watch movies and plays.

I'm a professional writer and editor and will let you know you will never get a thumbs up from me or anyone else in the publishing industry unless you suck it up and start going through books like a threshing machine. I can tell who's got something worth reading and who's just phoning in a recycled version of a book they skimmed back in the day.

You are at the perfect age to start, too.

For someone who wants to write, yet not read books, it's completely ridiculous to avoid reading, so put on your game face and make the library your new second home. You will never get the vocabulary you need unless you put the words into your brain. Your brain is a sponge and starved for new stuff. Feed it.

EVERY writer I know is addicted to reading. You just never found the right books that made you want to finish them.

The big fat popular book you did finish is one of millions out there, and you'll figure out later that the writer of that book is not that good. I think the book's pretty lousy, but you love it. Why is that? Because you don't know what's OUT there!

You're settling for crappy stale bread and think it's great because you've never sampled anything better. Just for the asking you can have a gourmet meal of reading. It's all at the library. For free.

You must think you won't be a good writer, so you can blame future failures now with the "I don't read" excuse.

Well, (bleep) that!


Or begin considering a career in the housekeeping industry.

No, I take that back. I was at a writing conference and got a box of free books that I could not take home on the plane. The housekeeping lady who made up my room was thrilled to get them. She adored reading and so did her kids. I helped her load 20 books into her cart next to the clean towels. She'd share with her family because there was something for everyone.

So how are you going to write anything better than recycled crap unless you read?

You won't.

Get cracking.


She later posted a thank you and said she'd not thought of things from that direction before. She promised to go to the library.

I hope it works out for her


  1. First, off, I can't imagine not reading. That would be like not breathing. And I can't imagine that kids who don't read will grow up to be writers, either. I have seven grandkids, and five of them are readers -- one has dyslexia, and the other has had three strokes, so reading is harder for them. But none of the others have gone more than a few days at a time without reading since Pre-K.

    Three of them are budding writers -- one is about to publish his second book (he's 12), one writes fan fiction (he's 14 and has had over 200,000 readers on one forum where he publishes), and the oldest(21)is finishing college and going to writing workshops and cons, talking to any writer who will listen for tips and advice on polishing his first manuscript. (Any writer except Grandma, of course, who isn't allowed to see it yet.)

    Of course, I'm proud of them, but they didn't become writers because I write. They became writers because they were inspired by Heinlein and McCaffery, Paolini and Rowling, Nye and Robinson, Elrod and Butcher, Foster and Tolkein, Lewis and Snyder, and all the other writers whose works they devoured as soon as they could read -- not to mention all the ones their parents and grandparents read to them before then.

    We still read new books together -- taking turns reading aloud on long car trips, and racing to finish books on planes, or just texting back and forth to see where everyone is in a new tale. Our family is closer because we read together, and we take vacations that are themed around our favorite stories -- we've been to Hogwarts and Hobbiton, Brooklyn (where the tree grew), and Walden Pond, Chawton Cottage and Independence Missouri (on a paddlewheeler).

    You are so right: there's a whole world out there, and it's free at the library. What a shame more kids aren't being exposed to all the worlds in those books.

  2. You cannot be a good writer without reading, just as Pat says. And not only that, writing takes practice as much as anything else does: hockey, snowboarding, sailing, etc. You need to do something a lot to become good at it, and you have to enjoy it, too. And with the content that is available from books, there is something out there for everyone.

  3. You're awesomecakes.

    And to be honestly, I can't imagine not reading. Even now, working 60-70 hours a week and dealing with OMGCHRISTMASISCOMINGNOW???? I still have a pile of magazines on the back of the toilet and my Kindle on the bathroom sink. I may only sneak in a few pages a day, but I READ.