August 26, 2016 by Petrea
How Can You Do the Thing if You Don’t Know How to Do the Thing?
I came across a quote from Stephen King, something he probably tossed off in an interview:
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or tools) to write. Simple as that.”
It’s true and it’s necessary. If you want to write, you’ve got to read.
Here’s why (though I shouldn’t have to explain): if you don’t read you won’t know language, grammar, punctuation or, most fundamentally, story itself.
I teach story structure, and I once had a student who struggled with an ambitious adventure story. Beyond what we were doing in class, I recommended that he read other adventure stories to get an idea of how they work, or don’t work. Ludlum. Le Carre. Even real-life adventures, or mysteries.
“I don’t like to read,” he said.
I’m sure I remained calm on the outside but my inner jaw dropped. (Let’s pause to picture that.) Why would you want to write if you don’t want to read?
Yet I’ve heard this more than once. Some people want to be writers without being readers. Could you be a movie actor without ever having seen a film? Could you play in an orchestra without ever having heard a symphony? You might become a TV writer without reading classic novels, but you’ll still have to read piles of scripts, watch a lot of shows, dissect the structure of their stories, and understand the medium.
It is fundamentally human to want stories to deliver certain things. How will you know what those things are if you don’t read stories that have them?
There are a million writing courses, and you should take as many as you can. Your results will vary, and you’ll pick and choose from each teacher. But no matter what you learn in class, you have got to read whatever you can get your hands on.