Posted by: Phil Anderson | October 7, 2013

Do Writers Read?

I’ve heard and read a lot of advice for aspiring writers, and one of the most consistent admonitions is to read a lot. It makes sense. If you want to be successful at something, it’s helpful to see how others have succeeded at it. You could learn some techniques. You might gain a new perspective. You can evaluate what you like and don’t like about what others have done, and incorporate your appraisal into your own process.

On the other hand, I recently listened to a couple of podcast interviews with successful authors. Both admitted during the course of conversation that they don’t have much time to read for pleasure. One explained that the only reading he has done lately is technical research into topics that relate to his fiction. So is it really important for writers to read?

As I have been pondering this dichotomy, there is one differentiating factor that is at first easy to miss: the difference between an aspiring writer and a successful author. The former is a student; he is well served by looking at examples, studying and dissecting to learn what distinguishes them. The latter has already passed that stage; he has a method that works and it might not be wise to try and repair something that isn’t broken.

I am not in that latter position yet (and may never be), but I would be wary of falling into complacency. There is a risk in making changes to a tried and true formula, but without experimentation there can be no growth or development or improvement. To be satisfied is to settle.

That brings up the question: Is it possible to maintain a consistent high level in any pursuit, or does consistency lead to stagnation and decline? Do changes lead more often to innovation or to deterioration? What do you think?

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