Sunday, June 13, 2010

Reading and Writing

**As you're reading this, I'll be driving back from Chicago where I popped in for a day to visit the Printers Row Literary festival. I hope I had fun and this finds me well...

Dave mentioned last week that he was going through a slump in his reading and it got me thinking about the relationship between reading and writing. I'm on a decent reading streak right now, having changed up genres and read some supernatural stuff, but when I'm in a reading slump my writing really suffers. I always hear about those people who can't read while they're writing, or can't read in their genre when they're writing and I've never worked that way. If I'm writing a dark crime short story I like to be reading dark crime stories. When I was writing PI novels, all I read were PI novels. My reading serves as inspiration and fuel.

This also got me thinking about the future of publishing. Lots of talk has been going on about how new technology and new paradigms will allow many, many writers to find an audience who wouldn't have otherwise had an audience. Self publishers, and electronic publishers are sprouting up every day. Magazines, online classes, workshops, seminars, and advice blogs are everywhere for writers. Attendance at graduate creative writing programs has never been higher and new programs are being created every year. So yeah, there's lots of writers out there.

And yet reading is declining.

I find this both baffling and frightening.

First, from a craft point of view, how can you expect to be a good writer if you aren't reading good writers. Everything I've managed to learn about writing a novel has been learned by reading novels and thinking about the novels I've read and analyzing them. Whether they read while they're writing or not, every writer I know who has "made it" is an active reader. Now, from a professional perspective, how can people expect to be published, without supporting the industry they wish to be part of? I try to buy as many books as I can from independent bookstores, but even if I can't I'm buying them from Borders which gets money back to publishers so they can stay in business or I'm getting them from the library which sees that activity and buys more books which keeps the publisher in business, or I buy them used from independent bookstores which helps keep them in business as they help and support writers.

If everybody out there who wrote a novel or short story and wanted to have it published bought books or checked them out from a library, the publishing industry would be in much better shape than it is now.


Anonymous said...

I also must be reading in the genre I'm writing (or trying to write as the case may be), which might explain why I'm not getting anywhere with my crime/mystery story while reading 1984 for book club.

I also cannot understand "writers" who don't read. I have a friend who used to be that way. He wrote whole novels but never read any. He said he didn't have time, but I was always baffled by it.

Personally, my biggest problem with supporting indie bookstores, book chains, and indie used booksellers is that the books are taking over. I can't seem to find a good spot who accepts such an array of book types as donations (kids programs don't exactly want murder and mayhem stuff anymore than they want Stephen Pinker's latest work). Used bookshops are so specific in what they take and don't -- and several won't take back books you bought from them (it already even has their price in it, just give me a couple of pennies and sell it again, people!). It's summer in FL; I can't exactly just put a FREE-to-a-good-home box in front of my house.


Joanne Young Elliott said...

I write fiction and poetry. I've always read novels, but not enough poetry. I'm changing that because it really is important to read the type of things you want to write, it inspires you.

I think it's the younger generation of writers that doesn't read enough and I'm not sure why. I guess there are too many other distractions in the world...the Net, texting, video games, etc. I wish I knew how we can instill a love of the written word in everyone that doesn't read once out of school.

Maybe us writers need to be not only reading and writing, but finding ways to make our love of the word contagious.