Is reading a prerequisite for writing?

Writing About Writing May 25, 2020

I wasn’t born with a book in my hands. In my formative years, reading was a rather engaging activity and the availability of time was the icing on the cake.

A common expression would be that if you ever wanted to write, you most certainly need to be a reader, if not an avid one. It seems almost sacrilegious for someone who wants to write to try and circumvent the whole idea of reading.

Not really.

That viewpoint is rather absolute in the world of writing, yes. But as I also mentioned earlier, I wasn’t born with a book in my hands. And as I entered a highly competitive academic world, the habit of reading began to fade and has fallen in my order of precedence. Ironically, I found time for a lot of other interests amid this scenario but not so much for reading. And therefore, unlike those formative years, I tend to be very selective about the notion of reading. When I do, it’s mostly a one-sitting affair.

To put in raw and simple terms, if you want to write, you’ve got to consume stories. There isn’t an alternative to that. Wannabe writers need to “ingest” stories the same way a lot of wannabes in almost all fields in our country end up in technical institutions irrespective of what their aspirations are (I’m certain you’re taking that with a pinch of salt).

Don’t just take my word for it.

Stephen King:

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut....

It’s hard for me to believe that people who read very little (or not at all in some cases) should presume to write and expect people to like what they have written, but I know it’s true. If I had a nickel for every person who ever told me he/she wanted to become a writer but didn’t have time to read, I could buy myself a pretty good steak dinner. Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

J.K. Rowling:

“The most important thing is to read as much as you can, like I did. It will give you an understanding of what makes good writing and it will enlarge your vocabulary.”

All of that said, I’m going to let my bias try to help in addressing this question.

Of course you can write, even if you’re not so much of a reader. Just flash out a notebook, a pen and start forming letters and build them into sentences. Or if your convenience so requires, fire up your computer and start typing.

Some people needn’t be readers, they can be natural storytellers. You can often identify their kind. They’re the ones who wind up with a crowd wherever they go. All they need to do is start talking and lo and behold, they’ve got an immersed audience. Maybe you’re one of them. I’d like to believe that I am.

I do not often absorb stories in the most preferred method, that is, reading. Therefore, I’m unlikely to ever be the kind of writer that a lot of people read. If that’s your goal, then you can merely be a consumer of stories.

I reckon that is a necessity, irrespective of whether or not you are a natural storyteller.

Let’s just put the minimum bar at watching movies and television, which basically tantamounts to taking in the end result of someone else’s writing.

Even if you aspire to be such a writer, you best hope that there exist people out there who like reading more than you do. And yes, you need to appeal to those folks. To do that, you’ve got to write well and learn from other writers.

I’ve come across friends and people who were turned off of reading completely by early years of being forced to read books. I also know others who finally found a book that filled them up and voila! That was all it took. Once they found the book that broke through the wall built by compulsory reading, they became capital-R readers.

There’s that kind of people, and then there’s me. But one little thing is clear – there’s no way around being a consumer of stories. I could suggest a few things in this regard.

Absorb stories by watching them

As I said earlier, this is the most ubiquitous method that exists apart from reading. I’m certain that you’re already doing this. So if you’re a movie buff or if you’ve got a thing for television — keep that up. Start paying more attention to detail in what you’re watching. If I may say so, watch like a writer. Notice things like character development and story arcs.

You could simply try and find a book

You could turn a blind eye to anyone who’s telling you what you should be reading; critics, friends or family alike. Highly unlike me to say this, for I probably haven’t enough in terms of patience to make this happen, but go ahead and find yourself a book that you enjoy reading, and read it.

Everything counts

You could read or consume things that aren’t books. You could read essays, short stories, news articles, reviews etc. Or you could keep up with the help of listening to audiobooks and other readings and so on. These are each individually a great place to start, if becoming a consumer (so you can be a better writer) is your goal.

You could view reading as an acquired skill

Again, highly unlike myself to view it this way, but even so. Nobody is born a good reader. If you haven’t exercised your reading muscles, then it’s unreasonable to expect to have instant mastery. The more you read, the better you’re likely to be at it, all in due course of time. It is afterall, natural for any of us to enjoy doing things we’re good at.

Irrespective of all this, I hope you’re having a fruitful time during this rather unforseen period of total shutdown. Having said that, this might very well be a good time to give the idea of reading or writing a fair thought.

Not for me though, not just yet.


N Krishna

You may know me as the guy who talks and writes like a sergeant, is an av-geek and works out obsessively, but not as one who laughs with a full heart and cooks like it’s an experiment.