Once upon a time reading was the fertile bed for emerging writers. The two were inexorably linked and their natural habitats were public libraries and bookstores. Many came from homes where reading was a priority. Others had teachers or librarians who knew how books could release the imagination. Life is different now. So are the folks who want to write. Unfortunately, today it's all too common to hear writers admit they don't read. Frankly, I find this wrong on so many levels.
The idea of a writer not being a reader is such a contradiction. It goes to the heart of why someone would want to become a writer. At its most basic, a person who writes wants to capture their thoughts, feelings, expressions, and ideas. Journal writing fulfills that need. After that most writing ultimately requires a reader in order to achieve its fullness of expression. At their core, writers have a need and/or desire to communicate and these storytellers require an audience to complete the circle. If a writer doesn't read, doesn't like to read, why on earth would he or she want to work in a medium that requires readers? Why would they expect anyone else to read what they write? And how do they support their industry if they don't read and if they don't buy books?
Today the visual reigns supreme in movies, videos, games, etc. Illiteracy rates continue to climb and the culture seems less and less intent on prizing the skill of knowing how to read. The classics have fallen away or have been dumbed down to the point where the few young readers who make the effort fail to gain their full import. Learning how to read has been reduced to recognizing a group of letters without gaining an understanding of the more advanced reading skills dealing with comprehension, context, subtext, and other subtleties.
Writers who don't read come to the table empty-handed. They have no idea of the conversations that exist between writers and their readers and amongst writers from one generation to the next. That loss can lead writers to make mistakes and wrong assumptions in their pursuit of the craft. How can they weigh their ideas for originality when they're clueless as to what's gone on before? How can they identify clichés? How can they participate in the ongoing conversation when they aren't privy to it?
Writers who do read come with embedded knowledge gained from years of reading. They've been engaged with authors who sought to communicate ideas and create worlds built on words, sentences, and paragraphs. They understand the dance of white space. They take in the natural rhythms and inhabit a variety of worlds, hear different voices. They've soaked in craft without realizing it. They have an innate understanding of what a reader wants because they've been one. When they take up their walking stick, they start much further down the writing path toward their goal.
Movies are high value in the culture today. I understand that even though I seldom watch them. If I see any, they're at least 2-3 years old and on cable. It's been eight years since I've gone to see a movie. While I have enjoyed the experience, it's not one I tend to want to repeat. I am a book person. I love being surrounded by books, revel in experiencing them and having my imagination fully engaged in the way only books can do. I willingly return to books to repeat the experience. That said, I spent two years studying screenplays and analyzing films, and I continue to keep up with the form. We are, after all, a visual culture and my readership has been imprinted with those storytelling techniques. So why are writers neglecting the very foundation of their craft?
Most writers are not as skilled in reading as they were when I was young and, unfortunately, either they don't understand the need or don't have the desire to develop their reading skills. They don't know or don't care that their lack of reading has an impact on their development as a writer and on the stories they create. If you fall into one of those categories, perhaps you'd like to give this reading thing a try. There are books that can guide you and offer suggestions on where to start. Why not create a New Year's resolution to take up reading but do it with a defined purpose: Read to learn your craft.