Today’s quotation on @Quotes4Writers on Twitter is from John Birmingham, author of the wonderfully-titled He Died With a Felafel in his Hand:
“If you can’t be bothered reading, do not bother trying to write. You’ll fail.” John Birmingham (@JohnBirmingham) http://bit.ly/JoBirm
The quotation is from an interview Birmingham did with Australian book blog ‘Booktopia’ in 2010. The interviewer commented “we live in a world where this advice has to be given!?” Like the interviewer, I find it hard to understand. I was a ‘reading child’ and reading may be the greatest constant in my life. I read every day at an average rate of about 50,000 words a day. In CVs and interviews the expression “I like reading” seems woefully inadequate. I *have* to read. After the air I breathe and the felafels I eat it’s the next essential.
My friends are also readers. Many are writers but even those who don’t write, read. Book recommendations, diatribes and discussions form a major tranche of our conversation. Local friends belong to a book group. (More distant friends do too: but a different group.) And it’s reading that has made the writers want to write. In the last couple of weeks I’ve read about so many professional authors who were inspired by the late Diana Wynne Jones.
Still there are writers who don’t read. I’ve met only a few of them over the years so they obviously move in different (less book-lined) circles, but they do exist. “Oh I don’t have time to read, I’m too busy writing” is one explanation I’ve heard. Also “I don’t want to be influenced”. Weirdly, I’ve heard it from fanfiction authors, people definitely inspired to write by someone else’s work, whose multiple chapter epics “don’t leave time to read”. What’s with that?
What advantages are there really for the writer who doesn’t read? Yes, you do have more time. That’s got to be true. But will you use that time as well as the writer with a head stuffed full of stories? Not wanting to be influenced I can understand and I won’t read a book too close to the subject of one I am currently writing. But that’s about unintentional plagiarism for me. Influence in the wider sense of being inspired by someone else’s work is a good thing. Being a non-reading writer seems to me like doing your work in the bottom of a well.