Read More (Or Alternatively: Open Up That Thing You Idolize So Much)

I was once asked in an interview, “What would be your advice to young writers on how they could improve their writing?”

I replied quickly, “Read more.”

Reflecting back, I’m sure some probably felt it was a simplistic answer.

However, that’s because, frankly, it’s quite a simple issue. At least, far simpler than many seem to be lead to believe.

Stephen King phrased it best in a candid video on YouTube, “I have no patience for those who say they want to write but have no time to read.”

So many writers, especially those who are young (whether in age or experience) are convinced that they need to spend most of their time working on honing their grammar skills.

“Write every day.” They hear the voice in their head repeat the words of some author or blogger. With honest sincerity, they believe that if they can just keep typing on the keyboard they will in theory, get better.

The problem is, that though they’ll improve, it will only be in one aspect.

The error in only giving a recommendation of attempting to write every day is the same misplaced logic as telling someone to “exercise every day” to improve their health.

What the latter forgot to mention is that if the person doesn’t improve their diet as well, the body will still not truly be healthy.

The same is true for writing.

Cranking out a number of words each day is very good, in fact, I dare say it deserves a round of applause, but without reading, well, it feels a bit hollow.

What we write is a direct result as to what we put in us. Our ideas, our stories, our characters, our worlds we create, all of it, is made up by a combination of our own original thoughts and those by which we took in from others.

If all we ever do is take up our time writing, especially in the early years of a writer’s hopeful new career, his own ideas will be inhibited by the lack of imagination he possesses.

Let’s put it a different way, did Harry Potter become popular because it was well written or because it was imaginative? Sure, both played a role, but what part was the one that it could not have become popular without? The latter, obviously. Just because something is well written does not mean it will become popular.

So how can a new or experienced writer ever expect to pen the next bestselling novel if they aren’t reading new material often and exposing their mind to new ideas? Simple answer: they can’t.

And it shows.

Simply look at book trends for evidence of authors with a lack of imagination.

After all, how many copies of Twilight exist with only minor differences made to the characters and setting?

But did any of them ever reach the same popularity as the original? No. Some came close, however, most never were remembered.

Do you want your own novel to turn out like that? I highly doubt it. It’s your prize, your dream.

So then you might ask, “What should I read?”

Again, I quote Mr. King: “Read Everything.”

But of course, people don’t always realize just how big “everything” really is.

Sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that “everything” there is, can be found in your home country.

So here’s my expansion on King’s advice: READ NOVELS FROM OTHER COUNTRIES.

After you’ve read a number of titles from America and Britain, turn your eyes to a far away land and explore their collection of English translated YA. Exposing yourself to a wide range of ideas, especially ideas that aren’t common place in the West, can really broaden your range of possibilities and may just give you that spark of creativity you have been searching for.

For me, that foreign country was Japan. Without that nation and it’s bustling YA industry and pop culture, well, I would probably never have gotten the inspiration to have the stories that I do.

To sum it all up: when you take the time to read other people’s ideas, it only helps to feed your own.

So do yourself a favor and go read a book.

The King demands it.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Ladonna says:

    I agree. Thanks for sharing.

  2. kafkafuura says:

    I definitely agree, but I have to take the other side as well.

    Like you said, diet and exercise.

    As much as there are books out there with stunted creativity, there are books (and take any other media you like) that have found this great idea, but do a poor job of executing it.

    (I’ve heard many argue that Twilight was largely successful because of how it was written – technically – more than anything else.)

    I was reminded by a graduate student in creative writing that, “Though you may all be (or may not be I don’t know) readers, you have to be a writer as well. There’s a difference.”

    But yes, who could say it better? Read More. Read Everything.

    I think there are two main aspects to that “read everything”. Read beyond your usual medium, be it your favorite genre or reading plays or poetry instead of novels, or giving YA a try. Read beyond your country’s or language’s boundaries, and maybe take a step into the past. Because when you start crossing those lines, you start crossing cultures and mindsets. You end up running into people who’ll think things you’ve never thought (or maybe always thought); who are masters of writing techniques you are not familiar with.

    Biased as I am towards Japanese literature I have to point to unreliable narration, dual narration, the surreal, using nonsense and noise to describe things far better than addressing them directly (I’m looking at you Nisioisin), and an insatiable drive for layered references.

    But if you’re going to stretch your arm out to Japan, give Akutagawa a try too.

  3. The Kind demands it! (Ha!) I love the idea of expanding my horizons, but sometimes I feel like I can barely keep my little raft afloat. Working on it, though. Just exploring was an expansive experience. 🙂

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