Writers Reading

It’s one piece of advice almost always given to hopeful writers: Read. Read is essential for anyone who wants to write. You need to develop an understanding of what’s already out there, and what it takes to craft a story.

But in a recent article, Cormac McCarthy said that he hasn’t read a novel in years. The comment is glossed over in the article, but it got me thinking: do you need to read to write? Of course, you could argue that McCarthy has probably read many novels in his lifetime; that he’s a very established writer; that he could be referring to new work published; that he could be readings lots of nonfiction or short stories.

But it still irks me a little. If you’re a writer, why wouldn’t you want to read at least one novel every so often? Even if you’re an established author, it’s good to know what changes are occurring in your market. You could miss this generation’s The Great Gatsby or The Catcher in the Rye. Or you could miss a book that will become a personal favorite.

At DIYMFA, Gabriela has a great post about how important reading is as a counterpart to writing. Check out the whole thing, but a nice point:

“One of the biggest problems I see with the world is that everyone out there is trying to be a writer.  Everyone’s got an agenda; they’re trying to use their words and take up mental real estate and get people to listen to what they have to say.  The problem is, very few people out there put effort into Reading-with-a-capital-R….In the end, Nash’s speech came down to one important point: “Writing and reading are behaviors.  Most people do both.”  I agree completely and would add only one thing:  To change the world, we need to do both and do them responsibly.”

I especially like the reminder that reading should be an active response to writing. Without reading, we’re writers shoving letters into the void. And as readers, we are more conscious of our connection with humanity, which will in turn make us better and more responsible writers.

Not sure what McCarthy is up to, but for now I’ll stick to reading.

0 thoughts on “Writers Reading

  1. Deborah the Closet Monster says:

    Without reading, we’re writers shoving letters into the void.
    Such a stunning, perfect encapsulation of this idea!

    And as readers, we are more conscious of our connection with humanity, which will in turn make us better and more responsible writers.
    When I started my blog about a year ago, I remember being irritated by the suggestion I’d probably have to read–and comment on!–other folks’ blogs to get any kind of readership at my own. I wanted other people to read my words, not waste my time on theirs.

    Fortunately, heeding this advice (off the AbsoluteWrite forums) moved me toward a place where I wasn’t just reading because I “had” to. After a month or two, I was almost enjoying it. Another month or two after that, I was hooked. So much more of the world was illuminated to me by taking the time out to read and understand the world as seen by others.

    Fiction can be almost better for this, in a way, because writers have a chance to show the world as they see it without having, in most cases, to own the story as their own. There’s so much illumination in that, and that illumination shines on all pages written by the reader in the future.

    • anniecardi says:

      Very well said! I like your mention of commenting on blogs too–the idea of commenting elsewhere can seem like a chore, but once you’re involved in the larger conversation, it’s more fun and inspiring.

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