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.

Can Writers be Made?

The question of whether artists of any kind – and writers in particular – can be ‘made’ through coaching and training, or whether you’re “either born with it or you’re not” has always fascinated me.

I do believe, to a large degree, that each person’s talent level is determined, more or less, by natural forces. But I also believe that there is far more creativity, storytelling ability, writing potential, in most people than they would think, and that it can be brought to the surface. I think a high percentage of people interested in becoming writers can do it, but it takes a weird combination of conscious effort and creating the right surroundings to unleash the words living inside each of us.

Perhaps the key ingredient is desire. If you want to be a writer you will put forth the effort it takes to see if you really have it in you. Combine that with coaching that can tap your voice and you have a powerful combination. Yes, there are technical aspects to the craft, but that’s the easy stuff. The real emphasis should always be on getting at the quality. If you can mine your own creativity, learn to put yourself in a time and place where you work best, it’s amazing what comes from that. It’s the essence of the training I have developed for those who want to be outdoor writers, or who are already outdoor writers but want to be better writers. Helping people discover their voice and bring out the writer they can be is extremely rewarding to me, and that’s why I created the Emerging Outdoor Voices writing course. If you dream about being a writer, or improving your writing, let’s work together, one on one, and make it happen for you.

Let’s Paint the Next Sunrise for Hunting and Fishing

During my career as an outdoor writer and photographer – which started back in 1977 – the traditional outdoor sports of fishing, hunting, and shooting have seen alarming declines in participation. I’ve been reading participation studies for many years, and observing programs aimed at getting more beginners started, and/or keeping people in the fold… and wishing that gloomy stories about the future would be replaced by news that more people are becoming actual, active participants.

So far, trends of decline continue.

For the past 10 years or so, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I grew up in a family headed by what we would call an outdoor generalist. My dad loved to hunt, fish, shoot, camp… anything outdoors, especially if it had to do with pursuit and capture. Friends and acquaintances would sometimes ask, “do you have any pictures of your dad where he’s not holding something up that he just caught or shot?”

As the seasons changed, we would switch from fly fishing for bluegills to casting for muskies to jigging for walleyes to grouse hunting to deer hunting to pheasant hunting to ice fishing to turkey hunting, and the cycle continued. There was always something in season.

Since my dad passed away in 2002, I have spent a lot of time looking at old photos and 8 mm movies (both Super 8 and Regular 8, if you remember those) of our family fishing and hunting adventures. Comparing the world we live in now to those days makes me worry more about the future of the traditional outdoor sports. Those images remind me of how much fun we always had out there, and they cause me to look at the world we have ‘developed’ and think that too many people are missin’ the boat.

Too many people spend too much time insulated from the natural world.

It’s harder, for many people, to find a good place to go fishing, hunting, or shooting. And it’s harder, for almost everybody, to find someone who can teach them the basics of whatever they want to try. Success–defined as catching fish on purpose, creating shooting opportunities when you go hunting, and hitting what you’re aiming at when shooting–is what helps beginners form a lasting attachment to the outdoors, and the traditional outdoor sports.

I have decided to dedicate the rest of my career to helping reverse the trend of declining participation in my favorite activities.

More details to come…

– Mark