You Don’t Have to Read Books to Write Well

Wait … what?

I’ve come across writers in the past who don’t like to read.

It’s boring, books don’t hold their attention — whatever the reason, they don’t mind creating their own stories. But reading others’ tales is a task they’d rather not take on. Neither by demand or by choice.

I don’t think there’s a writer out there who isn’t fascinated by stories in some way. There are so many different kinds of stories out there that you’re bound to meet a fellow writer who can’t remember the last book they read … but they’ll gladly talk your ear off for hours about a story they’ve been following on the evening news.

That’s the thing about stories. They’re everywhere. And everyone collects them in different ways. While I have hundreds of books around me as I write this (well, technically packed in boxes, but whatever), someone down the street from me might be subscribed to 10 different magazines.

It’s not just about books. Some people just don’t prefer them.

Thankfully, there are plenty of alternatives for those who don’t find joy in reading (honestly, I can’t say I know what that’s like, but I respect your lifestyle choices). You can absorb a story through a book, or a television show or movie; you can listen to a serial podcast (or the Serial podcast, if you want) or a good old-fashioned audiobook. You can watch a web series. Or go see a stage play.

You have options. Too many options, it sometimes feels like. So there’s really no excuse for not consuming content as often as you create it. And I’ll admit, there’s also really no reason to judge anyone who doesn’t get that tingly feeling when surrounded by books. Stories are told in all kinds of ways. How you take them in is really a matter of personal preference.

But what’s important is that you DO spend time exploring a variety of stories, regardless of how you do it. Especially if you want to write your own stories. And while a mix of genres and styles is important, spending more time consuming stories similar to the ones you are interested in writing is a great way to become inspired and motivated to write.

If you want to write science fiction novels, pick up more science fiction. If you want to be Shonda Rhimes, watch a lot of TV dramas. If you want your very own niche column in the New York Times, read columns on those subjects in as many publications weekly as you have time for.

So while you might say, “I don’t have time to read,” you might have time — and really need to make the time — to listen, or watch, or read something on a screen and not in a physical book (!). It is essential, if you want to publish/produce your own stories. Only once you start studying stories similar to the kind you want to create do you start to gather the skills and confidence to mimic those stories, except in your own style, with your own unique spin on parallel ideas.

What are your favorite kinds of stories? How do you consume them? Do you write the kinds of stories you read, or do you like to take “breaks” from reading what you write and read something completely different?

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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