Writers are a generous sort. They share their experience, giving enlightened counsel, each with their rules of the road to success, golden nuggets to aid and abet aspiring writers.
But there is one rule successful writers share that shines like a golden nugget, but may be fool’s gold. It seems sensible when you think about it, and being a writer, you like the rule to begin with, but something about it makes me sit and ponder. The rule is that all writers should read books and read a lot of them. Preferably theirs I am sure.
It makes sense. Jerry Lewis said if you want to be a good filmmaker watch a lot of bad movies because you will see what doesn’t work, therefore you will take many notes and avoid those pitfalls, whereas if you watch great movies, you become so wrapped up in the story you don’t notice the how and why of good filmmaking. I suppose that could translate to writing, but I would rather watch a bad movie than read a bad book.
But should writers read many books at all?
I can break down why I think a movie is good, but I can’t make a movie. I could have written I know the rules of writing, but every writer after giving his rules says don’t follow all the rules. And that may be the best advice in the long run. And besides I forget the rules when I write because I can’t fit my creativity, for lack of a better word, into rules.
I think the real reason writers want you to read, is that the more time you spend reading, the less time you have for writing, and the less time you have for writing, the less chance you will finish your story, thus decreasing competition for writers already making money and finding more readers. Yes, they want you to read as a delaying tactic, to slow down emerging new writers, if not hoping you will give up entirely because you find reading more fun than writing. It is certainly easier.
I guess writers aren’t so generous after all.