26 July, 2008

Writers Who Don't Read

5th May 2007

Today I want to discuss that strange species of humans who call themselves writers - it's very important to them - and yet never read. I have met many of them, and they are invariably annoying, despicable idiots full of themselves. If I sound harsh, it is because I am.

The writer who does not read typically replies "Stephen King" to the question: "who is your favourite author?" and that does not mean that King really is their favourite author, it means they read one book of his, and little else. Why such a disinterest in general literature? Have you ever heard of musicians who do not listen to music? Can you name any band whose members do not listen to other bands? A writer who does not read other writers should be as plainly weird to you as the above examples.

Why do they not read? That one is easy. But before I explain it, let me tell you that the writer who does not read is in fact proud of not reading. They think that reading is akin to cheating, and moreover, that maybe they will reading something they will feel they wish they had never read, so they would be able to "discover" the idea on their own and write it. This is typical of the writer who does not read: he or she thinks that writing is mostly about proving to the world that one is a genius. They think it's about "being good"; they think it's about them. That is why they are proud of not reading; to them, it is the proof that they are worthy writers. "Look, I can write without reading!"

The problem in that is that the people who are most likely to read them - readers - those do in fact read, and thus care little about whether the author is capable of writing without reading. Nobody reads to see whether someone is able to write; when you read a book you're far beyond that stage of expectation. Being able to write is one thing, having something to say is quite another.

The writer who does not read is full of himself. He doesn't care about literature at all, he cares about himself first and foremost. It's an ego trip, nothing else. You've never heard of a musician who doesn't truly love music, and no real writer doesn't love literature, and reading. Whether you listen to music, or make your own, your love of it is sensibly the same. Not so for writers who do not read. Why? Because "literature" is only worthwhile to them insofar as they wrote it. That is why I say it is mostly an ego trip. It is little more than mental masturbation.

The bright side of this is that writers who do not read are very poor writers, and thus you will almost never face one of their works in any respectable bookshop. So no worries.

This being said, I have no anger towards people who write for themselves and are lucid about what they do; i.e. people who know they are not going for a Nobel Prize but do enjoy writing for itself. The category I discuss in this entry is the type that actually believes they are amazing writers and that everyone should read them because they think others will be as amazed as they are by the writing in question. The writer who doesn't read suffers from an enormous lack of references, standards, and means of comparison. He could write something completely ridiculous, or cliché, and never know it.

What upsets me about them too is this idea that they should not read because it may spoil them. That is a fact, they fear reading because they may come across an idea they would have loved to find themselves, on their own. Once again, whether they're aware of it or not, the "idea" is already written, and thus exists in the world outside their lives. That is the point they miss, they think it makes a difference whether they write something that already exists if they're not aware of it. Their focus is entirely on themselves; they utterly fail to see things from the reader's point of view, or anyone else's point of view altogether. They see writing as an act of making oneself special, or above the rest. I hate that. This is not what literature is about, or any art. This is what prideful idiots are about.

I will end this entry on the fact that the writer who doesn't read spends infinitely more time about telling others of their being a writer than on writing per se. They typically think that whatever they do, they do as a writer, or poet, because everything I said here about writers applies to poets too. If they cook, they do so as a writer/poet, if they take a dump, they do so as a scatological Shakespeare. They don't think that being a writer means you write, or research for a story, poem, novel, etc. It's a state of being to them; it has little to do with actual writing. It's just a means to transcend themselves into something Romantic and ideal to feed their hungry egos.


Steven Wales said...

Excellent insight. Tough, but not entirely unfair.

Anonymous said...

You sound like a disgruntled asshole who doesn't understand the world of art. Each person is different, and while I love to read, I have met amazing writers who don't. Get over yourself. Some writers are actually story tellers who are trying to make it out there without coming off like the snob you are. Others have not had the opportunity to achieve higher learning and often find that reading another writer's work actually muddles their own voices. You claimed that writers who do not read are annoying. Well, so are pompous assholes like you, who think you've got it all figured out. I'm a highly educated person but I've seen all walks of life. There is merit in a lot of work that the world will never be privy to.

Anonymous said...

Ad hominem attacks instead of arguments. Stop assuming having an opinion on something means one has a huge ego; and stop assuming that whenever someone has an opinion that differs from yours they are wrong.

For a "highly educated person", you sound just like the pompous asshole you describe. You are the snob. You should get over yourself. I don't go around insulting people I never met just because my opinions aren't the same.

Writers who don't read are more interested in themselves than they are in literature, fact. I've never heard of a musician who did not love music, fact.

Next time you want to insult me, have the courage to have a name, or remain silent.

(As to the opportunity to achieve higher learning, anyone can go to a library and read there; that's not an uncommon opportunity, is it. Stop trying to justify laziness: writing is work. Now go back to writing insults to random people on the internet.)

Anonymous said...

While "Anonymous" does sound like a troll looking to get you all worked up (and he/she succeeded, judging by your reaction), I think the counterpoint to your blog post should be made.

First of all, I do agree with you that writers who do not read aren't, generally speaking, very good. How could they be? They have no referential point. They can't improve on their work because anything they finish they automatically think is God’s gift to literature. Generally speaking. However, I do find merit in the act of “just doing it” without the interference or distraction of assimilation. It’s easier for people to break the rules if they don’t know what they are. How many times have you been paralyzed from writing something (a story, a poem, an essay, whatever) because you thought it wasn’t a good idea based on the many books that you might have read?

And while it might be ego that drives the non-reader writer into thinking Mount Everest is climbable without the benefit of a map, it is more often than not the intrepid explorer who discovers new worlds.

I can think of a couple of examples off the top of my head: Jackson Pollack couldn’t draw for shit. He has obvious contempt for any kind of structure and because of this he became one of the pioneers of the expressionism. Margaret Atwood does not read fantasy or science fiction but that didn’t stop her from writing the Handmaid’s Tale (which is a very fine sci-fi novel even though she insists it’s not).

Sure, it might offend our sensibilities as readers to hear people claim that they can write without the benefit of reading but that’s just OUR OWN ego talking. Writing, good writing, can come from anywhere. Like you said, writing is hard work. But what that just means is that anyone can be a writer as long as they work hard to become one. And writing is in the actual act of combining any of the twenty-six letters of the alphabet to form words, using those words to create sentences, sentences into paragraphs, paragraphs into pages. Nothing in the job description says “must read books.”

Victoria said...

Agree wholeheartedly with the previous comment. From what I can see, there are plenty of Ad hominem criticisms in the original blog post. Very little of it is directed towards the words of "writers who don't read"; it's a character assassination.

Perhaps when you're published, your opinion will be regarded as more authoritative. In the meantime, if you encounter something you don't enjoy reading perhaps you should just stop, instead of launching attacks like these on people who have dared to put themselves and their creative work out there.

Anonymous said...

You come across like a bitter jerk

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Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you. My brother wants to be a writer, and I tell him over and over again that he needs to read. No, he tells me. All I need is a bit of determination and a dream. And why do I need to read? I want to be a screenwriter. I want to rip out my eyeballs when he says that to me.

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