Writers Are Readers Who Write, Right?

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I’ve caught a couple articles via Twitter links advising writers of the need to cultivate readers in our genre, or be active on venues that are heavily used by readers alone. And hey, of course I understand the reasoning behind this instruction: Readers buy books.

I hadn’t intended for it to be so, but it turns out my blog is mainly targeted to my fellow writers. Probably because I haunt the Twitter halls and follower mostly authors who are also active on that social media platform. But I’m a bit confused. My new family of writers, can I get a witness here? Aren’t we readers, as well?

I don’t know about you, but as a kid I hid under the covers with a book and a flashlight after lights out. I built a secret sheet-shrouded room in the attic where I could be alone to read. Every Friday, my mother ferried us to the College Avenue library, and as soon as I was able, I rode my bike the 10 blocks up on my own. My library card was a key that helped me access more than a card catalogue file. It opened my eyes and my heart.

Over the years, I’ve cried over Charlotte’s Web, sleuthed with Nancy Drew, was a hobbit thanks to Tolkien. I was in awe of Ayn Rand. I remember the day I turned the last page of Conroy’s Prince of Tides, the afternoon I finished Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres. Every completion was bittersweet. I knew the outcome but would miss the beloved characters I’d embraced through every magnificent story.

The truth is, I don’t remember ever wanting to be like them, those spinners of tales that moved the world. I only ever remember wanting to be the main character, the heroine – the wise one, the gal who saved the day. Well, my life didn’t turn out that way, but I still have my books.

Nowadays, my reads are mainly Kindle version e-books self-pubbed by my fellow writers. Books I’ve come across on Twitter. Releases from people I don’t know in person but have come to admire. They’re part of my exciting new tribe. My goal is to discover more about these authors by reading what they write, hearing what they have to share via the written word. Yes, it’s support, but it’s also research. I want to be familiar with what’s working in the self-publishing field. It’s like happy homework, don’t you agree?

The summer before last I attended a local event featuring San Diego literary agent Taylor Martindale. The venue was small, and we were able to ply her with questions throughout the hour. One attendee stood and spoke with excitement about a Twilight-style novel he was co-writing with his wife. He seemed proud to share the fact he’d never read the series. In fact, he hadn’t read any YA fiction. He hadn’t read a single book of any kind in years.

Taylor was clearly nonplussed, but quickly regained her poise and replied, “You must read. Read in your genre, read the great books. If you don’t, how will you recognize good writing? How will you understand the subtleties of language that move people, that make them think and feel?” Bravo, Ms. Martindale. How will we, indeed?

My life-long friend Lu Anne Kirst passed away in 2009. She was a reader, and she knew my taste in stories. Lu and I shared an affinity for books by author Barbara Kingsolver, and I depended on her for recommendations about what to read next. The last years of her life she set a goal to complete every one of the Top 100 Best Books Of All Time. I didn’t save the link to the list she followed, but here are a couple of places you can review similar lists if you’ve a mind to. I miss you, Lu.

The top 100 novels of all time. TIME critics Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo pick the 100 best English-Language novels from 1923 to the present.

• Random House hosts two lists here, one the “Board’s List” and another list chosen by readers.

In closing, I’d like to say that I feel my fellow writers are the perfect group to cultivate now that I’ve self-published my own first novel. Not that I’m going to beg you to buy it. You’ll do as you wish. But I do know that among you I’ve found beta readers and truthful feedback. I’ve received peer-generated critiques that helped me improve. I have cheerleaders who shout their support and hand me a hanky when things don’t progress as I’d hoped. Thanks to you all, I’m in the perfect place, and I know good things are on their way regardless of my future book sales.

Read on, writers. Read on!

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54 Responses to Writers Are Readers Who Write, Right?

  1. breeanaputtroff October 10, 2011 at 10:58 pm #

    Lovely post, Molly. I feel exactly the same way. Of course, most of us writers can’t afford to buy all of the books we’d like to. ;) It’s an amazing set of people, for sure. Thanks for all of the happy memories your post inspired, too … memories of reading those fantastic books. I love Barbara Kingsolver, too.

  2. Sarcasm Goddess October 10, 2011 at 11:15 pm #

    As a writer, I feel one of the best things I can do to read. Nothing cures writer’s block faster than reading someone else’s story. It makes me want to get back to my own. Best of luck in self publishing!

    • Molly Greene October 10, 2011 at 11:25 pm #

      So true and thank you my Goddess friend!

  3. Jo VonBargen (@jvonbargen) October 10, 2011 at 11:21 pm #

    Great write, Molly, and spot on! I agree, writers are also readers! I’ve learned so much from my contact tweeps. This is all a big learning process and there’s a world of info on Twitter just waiting to be tapped! For instance, your blog. I get so excited when I see you’ve posted something new, as there is always something here that I hadn’t thought of. Your commentaries are always concise and intelligent, newsy and down-to-earth. Never an iota of pretense, which I abhor. Write on, sister girl! The world needs more writers like you!!

    • Molly Greene October 10, 2011 at 11:25 pm #

      JO!! High praise from my new twitter sister – thank you so, so much my friend! It’s people like you that make twitter an obsession I don’t want to shake!

  4. Phantomimic October 11, 2011 at 2:57 am #

    I had many of those magic reading moments too, like when I read the Lord of the Rings, the Hyperion series, Harry Potter or the poetry of Neruda. I even had one traumatic one. My mother had bought William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist and was concerned about me reading it, so she made me promise that I would not read it. Needless to say that as soon as she left the house I made a bee-line for the book. I was so shocked by what I read that I couldn’t sleep well for the next few nights and I couldn’t tell my mother because then she would know I broke my promise!

    I agree that writers are readers but I think there is a caveat here. I have always heard that the best way to improve your writing is to read more. I disagree. I think it is not enough to merely read. You have to read paying attention not only to the story but also to the structure of the story. That is what will make you a better writer. Some people intuitively do this but many do not.

    • Molly Greene October 11, 2011 at 2:04 pm #

      I agree, Phanto, about paying attention while we read. That’s why I like to own print versions of my favorites, so I can mark passages and study them. Thanks so much for your comment!

  5. Jodi Aman October 11, 2011 at 11:24 am #

    Great authors invite us readers on the narrative train. I grab their extended hand and climb aboard. I go to the library three times a week. I know my fellow authors would rather me buy their books and so I have started to do this, too. Woot woot for reading! Love, Jodi

    • Molly Greene October 11, 2011 at 2:36 pm #

      Yaaay for books! And thanks, Jodi, for your lovely comment.

  6. Michele Drier October 11, 2011 at 3:31 pm #

    With a limited budget, my library card is still my access to a wide, wide world. To read is to live!

  7. Isabel Costello October 11, 2011 at 5:19 pm #

    Couldn’t agree more, Molly, and what’s more it’s wisdom that’s often passed on in creative writing classes, that ‘good readers make good writers’. I agree with Phantomimic though, that reading in a perceptive, active frame of mind is where you can really learn from other writers. I’ve always been a real bookworm and if I don’t have a book on the go I feel like I’m missing something (like when you put down a half drunk cup of coffee around the house and can’t find it!) and I have kept reading through having babies, crises, everything. Some writers say they can’t read others’ work when writing their own and all I can say is, I’m glad that’s not me as I would find that too big a sacrifice for too long.
    PS Many, many of my favourite authors are American or Canadian… (I’m British)

    • Molly Greene October 11, 2011 at 9:47 pm #

      I often read a great author and wonder if I will EVER approach that kind of gift. Probably not, lol, but so inspiring!

    • cindy January 11, 2012 at 8:13 am #

      Isabel, many of my favorite writers are Canadian or British. Just finished Penelope Lively’s newest, love Margaret Atwood, Carol Shields, Alice Munro, Iris Murdoch, Margaret Drabble. Also the chick lit stuff from Helen Fielding and Marian Keyes.

  8. Pamela Beason October 11, 2011 at 8:21 pm #

    Writers who don’t read? It’s hard for me to believe that such a creature exists. I think most of us are addicted to the written word and would live inside books if we could. I know that I look to books for knowledge, for escape, and to help me with problems as I write. I often pull down an old favorite from the shelf and start outlining the plot and then see–aha!–where I went wrong in my own story.
    I can’t wait to read your book, Molly!

    • Molly Greene October 11, 2011 at 9:45 pm #

      Oh, Pam! I have so much to learn from you. And will you teach me to ocean kayak someday?

  9. Frederick Brooke October 12, 2011 at 1:10 pm #

    Molly, I’ll read your book! I can relate to everything you wrote and YES, writers are readers if they’re anything like me. I love reading. The only thing I love more is writing my own stuff. That’s the sickness that we share.

    • Molly Greene October 12, 2011 at 2:28 pm #

      Ha! Reading/writing is a sickness we can all embrace. Thanks so much, Frederick!

  10. Pam Parker October 12, 2011 at 3:00 pm #

    Thanks for this post, Molly. I’m absolutely with you — my writing friends are my book-recommending friends and my most well-read friends. Of course writers are readers — and, no what? – they tend to know lots of readers who aren’t writers — they associate with readers in other areas of their life. Thanks again, great post.

    • Molly Greene October 12, 2011 at 3:07 pm #

      Thank you Pam! I have friends who aren’t big readers, and I ask them to review my mss to get a non-reader’s POV. If it flies w/them, I figure I’m on the right track!

  11. Kriston Johnson October 12, 2011 at 4:25 pm #

    I could not agree more. I was beginning to think I was the only one who thought that. Even though I write, when I find a good book I tell everyone I know about it. I was feeling really down about my blog because I blog about writing and certain industry experts say we shouldn’t. I’m not trying to ignore them but I can only write what I’m passionate about.

    • Molly Greene October 12, 2011 at 4:37 pm #

      Hang in there Kristen! I say blog about whatever moves you. Thanks so much for the read and comment!

  12. Debbie Johansson October 13, 2011 at 3:03 am #

    I think we’ve been reading the same things Molly, because I’ve also been trying to get my head around this too. I also understand the advice for writers to cultivate readers in their genre, yet because I’m a writer, I like to read how other authors deal with the writing process, rejections, etc. Making friends with other writers would be in my own best interests, not only helping out in the writing process, but they would be my first port of call as readers. If they thought my writing good enough, this would then help spread the word about my books/work to encourage my future (non-writing) readers. Well, this is the conclusion I’ve come to anyway. Thanks for your post – I enjoyed reading it and best of luck with your self-publishing venture! :)

    • Molly Greene October 13, 2011 at 1:51 pm #

      Nice to hear that other writers have the same thoughts. I think we’ll probably need to cultivate readers on Goodreads and be sure NOT to spam our fellow writers on twitter with requests to buy our books. Thanks so much for your comment!

  13. Jolyse Barnett October 15, 2011 at 6:53 pm #

    Well said, Molly! Keep on writing AND reading. :)

  14. workmomad October 19, 2011 at 12:57 am #

    Yes! Writers are readers, too. If they’re not, they should be. ‘Nuff said.

  15. ttthomas (@ttthomas1) October 22, 2011 at 1:28 am #

    I’m a bit late to this party, but you have beautifully articulated what I’ve thought about my fellow writers for ages. Sometimes I even say ‘How am I gonna get any writing done and make a living if I keep buying and reading and reviewing y’alls’ books?’ But…I keep doing it, and not only does it make me happy, I think it’s making me a better writer!

    Sorry about your dear friend…but she’s got to be looking down and feeling proud about you!

    tarra

    • Molly Greene October 22, 2011 at 1:33 am #

      Hi Tarra – this party is ongoing and it’s never too late to join! I wonder how I’m gonna do it all, too, but I’ve decided to trust it will take me where I need to go. As for Lu, well, you would have adored her.

  16. cindy January 11, 2012 at 7:16 am #

    Great post Molly. I’ve taught creative writing for a number of years and am always amazed at the “poets” who have never read a word of poetry, the “screenwriters” who have never opened a script, and the “novelists” who don’t have time to read novels. I would put this down to youth, but readers like us read all the time even back then. There have been several well-known authors who have blogged about “not having time to read” or “I don’t really read much” and this floors me.

    • Molly Greene January 11, 2012 at 4:51 pm #

      I go through phases where I can’t concentrate on a story and other times I have 3 books going at once. Ah, where is the balance?

  17. Anne Lewington January 22, 2012 at 10:30 pm #

    Sorry, Molly, but I have to disagree. Not all writers are readers. I am ashamed to admit (and rarely talk about it) that I find it almost impossible to finish a novel. Perhaps this is because since early childhood I had a sketchbook in my hand rather than a reading book. My primary teacher told my parents that she had no idea how I had learned to read. So, one cannot safely assume that all writers are readers.

  18. MRC January 23, 2012 at 2:08 am #

    I can’t even get comments on my short stories, emphasis on short! Inspiring article Molly! Thanks

  19. Jennifer March 22, 2012 at 12:32 pm #

    A writer who isn’t a reader? I don’t think I’ve heard of one. If I wasn’t a reader, I wouldn’t have wanted to be a writer. Now, not all readers are writers but I think that all writers are avid readers. I also think that writers who are avid readers relate really well to all readers (those who write and those who don’t).

    I also think that being an avid reader makes you a better writer. You learn so much. Although, I have heard of writers who don’t read too much, especially within the genre they write, because they don’t want their stories to be influenced by other books (I personally don’t agree with that line of thinking but I have seen it around a few times).

    Personally, other writers inspire me to keep on writing and I always like to read what my fellow writing friends write. I also like to show my support by buying their books when my budget allows me to.

    • Molly Greene March 22, 2012 at 12:46 pm #

      Wow, only a truly creative mind could have come up with that lovely and complicated comment – so proud I was the instigator! Thanks, Jennifer!

  20. A.M.Burns March 22, 2012 at 1:06 pm #

    Awesome post Molly,
    One thing that I have found since becoming more critical of my writing, and engaging in a critique group is I have harder time ignoring the mistakes made in the books I read. I am less forgiving in books that have achieved acclaim. I don’t read as much as I would like, but I still read a lot. You have to. Plus writers have some of the best personal libraries.

  21. Camille LaGuire April 9, 2012 at 7:52 pm #

    Finding your audience and demographic is a complicated thing.

    The thing about writers is that they are easy. They will follow and encourage the heck out of you and make you feel good and successful. They are an intelligent audience who has an idea of what you are trying to do.

    I do think, though, that we do give each other a false sense of security — or perhaps an inflated one. I wrote about this on my own blog in late Feb — we’ll buy books from each other that we don’t read or even like, just to be supportive. At the same time we may not have the time to read that we used to — we’ve got our own books to write and our own worlds to dance through. Writing is not a lucrative profession, so we do tend to be stingy with our reading budget.

    And let’s also remember the down side of all that reading “in genre” we do. Keeping up with the genre, and what’s the latest thing outside the genre, and also reading for research and re-reading the classics, AND critiquing manuscripts: all that does cut into our pleasure reading time.

    Yes, we are all readers — readers who have gone off the deep end, frankly — but our use to each other is more social and professional than it is a “platform” for selling books.

    • DWF July 28, 2013 at 5:23 am #

      I think this is the most thoughtful comment of the bunch and don’t know why the blogger hasn’t replied.

      I read, but I find I’ve gotten picky. Like the jazz drummer long ago who told me he had become unable to enjoy pop music because he would always separate out the drum line and analyze it, I find that the better writer I become, the more I demand of the books I read. I find fiction especially gives me that feeling. A lot of indie pubbed writers are relatively new to writing, and they have a mechanical approach to storytelling. I don’t see a lot of books with spark and joy; mostly earnestness and eagerness, which isn’t the same thing. The last book I read that had that spark was THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON by Saladin Ahmed.

      I just think fiction especially is wickedly difficult to master. I applaud everyone who is trying. I think it’s worthwhile.

      • Molly Greene July 28, 2013 at 11:36 am #

        Sorry DWF, this is an older post and I haven’t gotten back to reply to several comments. I agree, improving as a writer is a double-edged sword: huge satisfaction accompanies the growth, but at the same time increased skill stifles our ability to enjoy (some) other writers’ fiction. I think GREAT fiction is difficult to master, but I see a lot of writers approaching good. Thanks for the read, your lovely comment, and the reading suggestion!

  22. Ryan King April 10, 2012 at 4:13 am #

    I have to admit, up until Dec, I was a bad writer. I’d read one book (maybe) a year and most likely it wasn’t even fiction. Back in middle school and most of high school, I enjoyed reading. Somehow once I hit college, got a real job and real life intervened I lost passion for reading but not writing. I’ve always felt guilty about. Since Dec, I’ve resolved to get back into reading and I’ve actually made time to do so. I’m glad I did. I’ve read six books since then and I’ve started on my seventh. If you don’t make time for it or if the genre doesn’t capture you, you won’t enjoy reading. I didn’t. But now that I’m making time for it and I’ve found genres that I like, all is well.

    • Molly Greene April 10, 2012 at 6:39 am #

      Ryan, so glad to hear you’re back to reading and loving it!

  23. Leslie Einhaus April 18, 2012 at 9:07 pm #

    I love this post and think that beginning writers forget the importance of reading. They want to write! See their name on a book. But getting that fiundation is important, too. You must read variety. Stuff from way back. Current authors. Poetry, prose. Various genres. If you don’t read I think it shows. It is like back in school when you didn’t do your homework. Teachers could always tell. If you don’t read it shows. I find reading a hobby, something to look forward to every time I open a book. Each book can teach a writer something whether it’s voice, pacing, character, or the overall theme. Just as you are open to the story, you must be open to the lesson that is there. Books are the best teachers for writers. That’s truly how we learn our trade. Without ‘em, we don’t have much. Books truly fuel the process.

  24. Greg Lohr May 31, 2012 at 6:57 pm #

    To read, or not to read…hmmm…oh heck, it’s time to write!

    I’ll admit, I’m not a lover of reading a novel. Not all authors can hold my attention long enough for me to finish the book. When it comes to reading I have a little bit of a-d-d. I love to read short stuff. Probably because I have become accustomed to reading on the web where everything is quick and easy. If it’s long, I’ll speed read/skim it to see if I want to read it, if not, on to the next site.

    I do love to write though. I moderated a Christian forum for a couple of years and participated in lots of Bible Studies with others. We would post our various viewpoints and debate a bit about how we viewed certain topics. That was my first experience with writing and I got a lot of compliments on my writing style, which encouraged me to keep on writing.

    I learned about blogging by participating on a Realtor Blogging Network, and they taught members about better blogging techniques and breaking up our writing with bold, and with images and with titles so that even long articles didn’t appear to be a laborious read. That was an awesome experience, and again I received a lot of compliments on my writing style.

    Now I’m working on improving my writing and getting my points across without rambling on until next week. I’ve built a half dozen websites for myself and some for others, and I’ll be blogging on some of those and am really looking forward to it. While it is fun to write, it is also fun to make a blog posting more appealing to the eye of the reader.

    I enjoyed the read Molly! Great job! I’ll return for more. BTW…found you via twitter and the #blog hashtag (just in case you were wondering).

    • Annette - carinskarin June 16, 2012 at 8:24 pm #

      Have you read, ‘The Question of God’ about an imaginary debate based on both C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud writings and beliefs? It was written in 2002 by Dr. Armand M. Nicholi, Jr. If you like to debate, it’s a great read

  25. Tammy J. Palmer July 13, 2012 at 6:04 pm #

    Hi Molly, I found you through twitter and I must agree, most writers read, a lot, even though it cuts into our writing time. We can’t help ourselves. We also talk about what we read and support each other. It sounds like we share simliar tastes. The Poisonwood Bible is on my top ten list, and I still fondly remember The Prince of Tides though, I read it a very long time ago. I write romance, but I’m also working on a novel that I will probably self publish eventually. So good look with yours, I’ll be watching for it on twitter!

    • Molly Greene July 14, 2012 at 6:40 am #

      Hi Tammy! Nice to meet you and thanks so much for stopping by my blog and taking the time to comment. For me, reading is research, education and entertainment, so how could I not indulge in a great novel? My book, “Mark of the Loon,” is out now.

  26. Shannon Donnelly July 27, 2012 at 7:56 am #

    When I read someone’s manuscript for critiques, I can always tell the great readers — they’re the ones who have the best writing. They’ve read, they’ve studied, and they’ve learned story telling and writing with a whole lot of reading. I still am thrilled when I find a writer who makes me forget to take apart the words — who can make me stop reading like a writer and become a reader again.

    • Molly Greene July 27, 2012 at 10:04 am #

      Shannon, I love this comment. I once found an incorrect change of POV in a John Grisham novel and was both proud (that I noticed) and sad (that I noticed). When I find an author who pulls me into the story so deeply that I don’t care to edit in my head while I read, it’s pretty special. THANKS so much for stopping by my blog!

  27. Christina Papastathis March 4, 2013 at 11:40 am #

    I couldn’t agree more, I have never met a writer who wasn’t a reader. I would also never trust a skinny chef, but maybe that’s me.

  28. helena mallett August 12, 2013 at 11:17 am #

    I cannot conceive of a writer’s world that doesn’t include reading. To settle down with a good book is also my reward when i’ve done a good day’s writing!

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    […] (non-writing) readers.  I know I’d do the same for them.  As luck would have it, I read this post by fellow blogger, Molly Green, and was relieved to find that I was not the only one feeling this […]

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