Can you be a writer without being a reader?

The short answer to this question is yes, of course, you can be a writer without doing a lot of reading. But the complete answer is that you will be a better writer if you are also a reader.

Think of it this way: can you be an athlete without practicing? Sure. You can get by (even fairly well), if you’re blessed with talent. But you can never be the athlete you could be unless you eat well, train, stretch, rest, and learn everything you can about the sport you play.

If you are or want to be a writer, reading should be part of your practice schedule. There is great learning that takes place when you read. Your mind is naturally drawn to certain writers, because you like their style, their voice. Reading what they write makes you want to write, and can put you in the mood to start writing before you even finish the reading.

Think about what you enjoy reading most, because it can often be an indicator of what you should probably write. In other words, if you subscribe to In-Fisherman and devour the meaty how-to stuff, that might be a good place for you as a writer. If you subscribe to Sporting Classics and love getting lost in good adventure writing, that could be your place.

A perfect world would have you reading what you love to read, and writing what you would love to read. Follow that path as much as circumstances allow, but as a practical matter, writers who come to depend on paychecks from it have to pay attention to what sells best, too. In order to write well outside your primary areas of interest, reading others who excel in popular categories can be a difference maker.

Reading is fuel for your writing. It’s hard to go to the well of words day after day without pouring a few gallons of fresh treatments in the tank. Find writers that you like. Read what they have to say. Your own work will be better for it.

4 thoughts on “Can you be a writer without being a reader?

  1. I guess that as a writer, you can’t help but read a little differently than you might read strictly to be entertained or enlightened by the subject matter. At least for me, when something works, I have to ask myself, “How did he do that?” Then I start analyzing the construction and the style, to get a feel for why something was so effective. It makes reading a little slower, for sure. But at least for a writer, a whole lot more satisfying.

    • You are so right about this, Rich! As a matter of fact, I have to try hard to shut off that “let’s analyze this writing” filter by forcing myself, in order to fully engage with things I read. It’s like trying to watch a film without picturing the crew, the lighting, the cameras, the direction, etc. But I supposed you’re right, that it’s part of the enjoyment.
      Jessica Continenza, my partner in Selective Focus Films, has said that she can tell when a film has been made really well, because she’ll be watching and suddenly realize she isn’t thinking about how they made it. I think the same can be true of writing. When you really get sucked in, you tend not to be thinking so much about the amazing writing, and you’re just pulled all the way into it.

  2. Great advice, Mark. Reading ANYTHING helps exercise the same mental muscles we need to write fluently. I devour crime fiction as much as I feast on the type of heavy how-to fishing info that’s been my staple. I know that when I use dialog instead of narrative to set up the article in the first couple paragraphs, it’s my inner Elmore Leonard directing my efforts.

    • Hello Rich, and thanks for your input. Like the way you put it… flexing mental muscles. That’s what you’re doing as you read, and it sure seems to feed creativity.
      By the way, Rich is one of the veteran voices of American fishing. His work has appeared many publications, including In-Fisherman and the original Fishing Facts. When he’s not reading crime fiction or fishing himself, he’s turning out top-notch pieces on the sport. HIs blog is found at http://www.richz.com/fishing/blog/

Leave a Reply