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Wednesday, October 2, 2019

IWSG October - Reading and Writing and "What if?"


It's IWSG Day. The goal of this blog hop is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds. IWSG is the brainchild of Alex Cavanaugh, our brilliant ninja leader. The awesome co-hosts for the October  posting of the IWSG are Ronel Janse van Vuuren, Mary Aalgaard, Madeline Mora-Summonte, and Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor.

This month’s optional question: It's been said that the benefits of becoming a writer who does not read is that all your ideas are new and original. Everything you do is an extension of yourself, instead of a mixture of you and another author. On the other hand, how can you expect other people to want your writing, if you don't enjoy reading? What are your thoughts?

This question brings to mind a quote from Mark Twain:

There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.

I struggle to imagine a writer who doesn’t enjoy reading. That said, I know some writers choose not to read while they are in the middle of a project. More power to them, I suppose. But I can say unequivocally that reading good writing was how I could become a writer, as it taught me how successful writers formulate the stories I can’t put down.  I read all the time, even when working on a new writing project. Do I worry about taking another writer’s ideas? No. Because my story is my story. It may have a similar theme or formula as another book. Someone reading the result may guess how it ends. But they’ll have no idea how I’ll get there. Per Mark Twain, my kaleidoscope fragments are different from other writers. My writing is based on all the influences in my life, what I know or have experienced, the combination of and impact of which remain unique to me. 

In my mind, we all have the ability to use our imaginations. Anyone can ask the question "What if?"  but to write our own "What if?" variation well, we need know how to get our story on the page in a way that’s readable, logical and intriguing. That means not only knowing the “rules” of writing but also by reading to understand what works for a reader and what doesn’t. 

Stephen King says "If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that."

I’m with Stephen. I truly believe that people who chose not to read and attempt to write are blocking themselves from learning and growing. If, while I’m reading, I encounter an unfamiliar style or one that surprises me, then all the better, because it teaches me a different way to consider my own tale. Would I have been able to get my own unique stories on the page in a way that compels readers if I hadn’t read my brains out beforehand? No way, Jose! It would have been like writing in a vacuum. I wouldn’t have had any idea what works.


What are your reading and writing habits?

25 comments:

lostinimaginaryworlds.blogspot.com said...

It was only on a recent creative writing course that I realised I’d neglected my reading, and I was hoping to be an author 🤭

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

Well said. Writing without reading would be like trying to build a bookcase without any tools. Or wood. :)

Joanne said...

I agree - hard to fathom writing without reading. That said...with my reading of so many good authors, I find it easy to say, "I"m not good enough. I can't write like that." The goal is to get out of my head in that regard and have faith in my writing skills. It can be tough.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I love that Twain quote! And the King one, too, of course.

If I don't read, I get cranky and that's not good for my writing or for anyone. Just ask the tortoises and my husband. :)

Jan Morrison said...

Eg-freaking-zactly! And furthermore - why would you want to write? Why would I want to teach if I didn't want to be taught? Why would I want to be an engineer if I stuck to wilderness paths and eschewed bridges? Why would I cook if I found eating a chore?
I cannot stop reading for anything. If someone told me I'd have to choose - I'm afraid reading would win over writing for me. Fortunately, like most of those sorts of choices, it will never be a choice demanded of me.

Tyrean Martinson said...

I love to read. And I agree with you on all points here. We need to read as writers.

Ronel Janse van Vuuren said...

Excellent answer! Happy IWSG day :-)

Ronel visiting on and co-hosting IWSG day Co-hosting, Flagship Content and Interesting Developments

Kristi said...

Choosing not to read while in the middle of a project sounds so strange to me. I'm always in the middle of one project or another. I don't think I've ever met a writer, even hobbyists, who don't say they've basically always got something cooking. If you take a specific break from writing for a while, maybe then...but if that's the only time you read, then you're either not reading much, or not writing much. I know I'm making some generalizations here, and I might sound like a snob. I don't mean to. But they do go hand-in-hand; I've learned that lesson recently.

Romance Book Haven said...

I read a lot. I'm a voracious reader and love reading!

Sarah Foster said...

I love that Mark Twain quote! I always think of it that way: that while there are no completely original ideas, there are so many different elements that you put into a story that will make it unique.

Denise Covey said...

Hello Liza. We're singing from the same hymn book. Love that quote of King's which I alluded to in my post. Bah. A writer who doesn't read? I don't want to read what they're writing.

Ella said...

Well said and I so, agree! I read every day...and love the mental kaleidoscope! I have a poetry blender-lol! Besides, I grew up not far from Stephen King's home in Bangor, Maine. His cousin Percy King was my Math teacher.

Lynda R Young said...

Yep, I totally agree! We need to read to hone our craft.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Stephen has so many good quotes about writing. I agree with your diagnosis.

Heather M. Gardner said...

I guess Mr. King really says it best!
Great post.
Heather

J.Q. Rose said...

What a well thought out blog post. Love the quotations. Was not familiar with Twain's and I love him! Going to swipe that one!! Looking forward to reading more of your writing.
JQ Rose

C.D. Gallant-King said...

I've been scanning IWSG posts looking for someone arguing that you don't need to read in order to write. Haven't found one yet. Maybe I should have written it myself just to be contrary.

Nick Wilford said...

Great quotes in your post. I knew the King one but not Twain's - I totally agree, there's always a different way of looking at things and our brains are constantly sifting through material, the books we read are a big part of that. Can't imagine not reading!

Fundy Blue said...

That Mark Twain quote is marvelous, Liza. I had not heard it before, but it is perfect. I'm guessing that you have read Stephen King's "On Writing." He said, "“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut.” I am not going to disagree with a master like him!

mshatch said...

I agree with King. I can't imagine being a writer and NOT reading!

Sussu said...

By imitating others, sometimes we lose what makes our writing unique. I am not saying "do not read" but sometimes going deep inside works wonders for our writing. Writing is not only about structure and style; it is about ideas and human experiences.

Liesbet said...

Yes! I agree with all you’re writing. It makes total sense. Despite having “reading” pretty low on my priority list these months (which doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy reading!) - and I mean reading books, there’s plenty of other reading happening - as I read your post, I realized just how I appreciate good writing and how, like you mention, reading has influenced and encouraged me to write. I only have experience with non-fiction writing, so the stories are always uniquely mine, but reading good travel writing (and other prose) can only improve my own creations.

Rebecca M. Douglass said...

Well said. Everything we’ve read or done goes into our kaleidoscopes, so even if we’re full of other peoples’ books, what comes out will be unique. I actually think that the people whose books are most derivative are those who don’t read much—they have a single book or style or series that they love and they are trying to write it over again. If you love a wide range of things, you’re less likely to be copying any one.

eric said...
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Steven Arellano Rose Jr. said...

Stephen King is really great at giving writing advice. I have copy of his On Writing and so far it's been onedited of the best books on the subject.