Copyblogger has posted a list of 10 steps to becoming a better writer. Here’s the link, but never mind, the full list follows:
- Write more.
- Write even more.
- Write even more than that.
- Write when you don’t want to.
- Write when you do.
- Write when you have something to say.
- Write when you don’t.
- Write every day.
- Keep writing.
Well, fine. Just one problem — how is all that writing really making you a better writer, exactly? Where does reading fit into the picture?
This attitude (which derives from the Romantic poets’ cult of the self) reminds me of Barnstable Bear, a character in the great comic strip Pogo, who could write but not read. He would pen wonderful passages, but then he had to find someone else to read them for him. I have heard the complaint from writing workshop teachers that many of their students are avid writers of poetry (for example), but fail to develop because they never cultivate the ability to read it.
I submit that reading is equally important as writing if you want to refine your writing skills. And I further suggest that one should read not just the best-sellers of the day but classics, works from other times and places, works in translation, and works in other languages.
Sure writing’s important, but, as Ben Franklin said, the person who trains himself has a fool for a teacher.
UPDATE: Here is Michael Moorcock’s first rule of writing: “My first rule was given to me by TH White, author of The Sword in the Stone and other Arthurian fantasies and was: Read. Read everything you can lay hands on. I always advise people who want to write a fantasy or science fiction or romance to stop reading everything in those genres and start reading everything else from Bunyan to Byatt.”
UPDATE 2: From the same link, here is Ian Rankin’s first rule of writing: “Read lots.”
UPDATE 3: And Sarah Waters: “Read like mad.”