Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Smackdown: Reading vs. Writing

On Monday, there was a very lively discussion on Debra L. Schubert's nifty blog, Write On Target, about whether reading makes you a better writer.    WriteOnTarget

Many commenters felt it was essential--to be a better writer, you have to read. Reading improves your writing.

Debra had a slightly different take. She felt that the countless years she'd already spent reading are what helped her become a good writer, and that current and future reading, while important, wouldn't help her improve as much as more writing would. (Of course, don't let me put words into her mouth, go here to see what she has to say.)

I'm inclined to agree with her.

I think the biggest way to improve as a writer is to write. And write a lot.

Don't get me wrong--I love to read. And I do think reading in a wide range of genres will improve your writing. It's just that, on an hour-by-hour basis, I think you'll get more payoff by writing than by reading. (See: Law of Diminishing Returns.)

As with everything else, it becomes a matter of priorities. There's only so much day in each day.

Of course, you gotta like a "job" where it's easy to justify kicking back with a good book for the sake of improved performance.

 

Upcoming blog posts: In this Friday's post, I'll be opening up a small window into my sausage-making process (sometimes called revisions). Next week, I'm excited to have a two-part interview with Keith Raffel, author of DOT DEAD, and the recently released SMASHER. Should be fun!


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10 comments:

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I definitely agree...but only if it's a person who has grown up reading and has that basis to write from. I think most writers come from a reading background, though, so it shouldn't be much of an issue.

Elizabeth
Mystery Writing is Murder

Crystal Clear Proofing said...

Well, not being a writer but a reader, both recreationally and professionally, I would think you'd benefit from having read a lot - but I agree that as a writer you'd garner more benefit in writing.

Elizabeth said it very well - the background of reading experience is no doubt there for a writer...but once being IN that arena, keep writing...and writing...

Patricia Stoltey said...

I also agree, Alan. More writing is what improves our writing the most. Reading, I think, would be second. And observation (watching and listening) would come into the mix as well. We need the third to make our stories real.

Michele Emrath said...

Sometimes reading is an excuse not to write for me! I can always find a good book to snuggle into. But my computer isn't quite as cozy.

Looking forward to your planned posts for the week.

Michele
SouthernCityMysteries

DebraLSchubert said...

Alan, Why is it you said what I wanted to say better than I said it? ;-)

Alan Orloff said...

Elizabeth - I think you're right; most writers are also avid readers. Hard to conceive of one not being...

Crystal - When I was younger, I loved to read, but I wasn't that fond of writing. Go figure.

Patricia - Observing is key. I love to just sit back in a crowded place and watch the goings-on.

Michele - Reading IS a good excuse not to write. So is raking leaves, and blogging, and going to the dentist, and building the Taj Mahal out of popsicle sticks and...

Debra - Thanks for bringing up this topic on your blog. You said it quite eloquently and you got a very lively discussion going. Kudos!

Annette said...

I grew up reading AND writing and loving both. Reading a great book inspires me to become a better writer. I can't imagine having to choose one or the other.

Galen Kindley--Author said...

Agree with you. Reading is the foundation--but beware, you can pickup bad habits there as well. Then, write, write, write. It didn't work for me, but...it's a sound theory.

Galen.

Alan Orloff said...

Annette - Well, I guess we don't really have to choose. If something needs to get left out, why don't we leave out repainting the shed?

Galen - For you, I thought it was more like "write, write, delete, delete, write, delete."

Margot Kinberg said...

Alan - You've got a good point about writing getting better with practice. Just about anything one does improves the more one does it. There's research that suggests that the reason why is that when we first start writing, we focus on things such as, say, setting, characters and the like - the important basics - and put a lot of cognitive effort into those things. As we get better, our style improves because we've done some of those things so often that they're nearly automatic. Then we can turn our cognitive efforts to creativity - to making our characters really alive, or our dialogue authentic, etc...

That said, though, literacy research also shows that we improve our writing by seeing models of writing. The more we read, the more of those models we see. So it makes sense that reading supports writing, too.