If you’re not a reader, for Pete’s sake, stop trying to be a writer
Other than wondering what the hell they were doing in my classroom, it was clear to me that those who didn’t read the news would probably never learn how to write it. News and feature stories have a noticeable organization and style.
Long-time journalists can hear the cadence of a “properly written” news story inside their heads. Stands to reason, then, that reading—in this case, the news—will help you learn the fundamentals of reporting much faster in a classroom and on the job than being clueless about it.
Aspiring poets and novelists who don’t read poems and novels
Author and editor C. Hope Clark (“Lowcountry Bribe”) wrote in a February 28th post at read.learn.write that in her consulting and speaking work, she finds a lot of aspiring writers who seldom read:
The world abounds with writers. Everyone wants his name, photo and title on a bookstore shelf, as a minimum on Amazon. But amazingly enough, most of them are not voracious readers. They are spitting out words, but taking few in. It’s like using a shotgun instead of a high-powered rifle. The result isn’t very refined, the results less satisfactory.
Some years ago, when desktop publishing programs made it easier to create newsletters, brochures, and posters on a PC screen, a lot of big corporations cut the writers from their staffs because—the bean counters seasoned—anyone could use the software and create something that looked like a newsletter, brochure or poster. Who needed actual writers? The results were a mess, and since the bean counters never read anything anyway, they didn’t know the results were a mess.
The Internet is (perhaps) today’s desktop publishing
The Internet has not only reduced our attention spans, it’s given all of us the power to create materials that look like e-zines, blogs, books, magazine articles and poems. No experience necessary. Simply log on and create. Clark says that “The slogan ‘reading is fundamental’ is remarkably accurate. Somewhere along the line, however, between elementary school and college, reading falls by the wayside. Teaching to tests, however, and not enticing children to fall in love with words, has stolen their ability to perform later in life.”
As a writer, I’m biased: I think all of us need to learn how to read and then not let the skill get away from us. And, we’re talking novels, essays, commentaries, features and criticism here, not just the back of the cereal box or the “Trending Now” links on the Yahoo screen. Having worked in corporate America, I can testify to the fact that a lot of stuff got screwed up because the people reading the reports and white papers and trade magazine article weren’t really getting it. They skimmed and/or couldn’t follow a logical argument in print.
What do I have to do to become a writer?
The Internet, and that includes a few well-known print-on-demand book publishers, gives the impression the answer is nothing. Just put one word after another until you reach the required word count for a short story or a book, format it, and you’re done. And when nobody reads it, the first thing you’ll hear from “the writer” is the accusation that there’s a conspiracy out there. Amazon, BIG PUBLISHING, the government, the search engines, the service providers and the reviewers had nothing better to do that get together in a bar and decide to stomp down some a book that otherwise would have won the Booker, Nobel, and Pulitzer prizes.
The speculation about “What the hell happened to my book?” seldom includes any need to learn the art and craft of writing first. And this goes back to something very fundamental: Reading. That’s where becoming a writer starts, and it never stops.