Do you need to read to be a writer?

This is a response to the frequent appearance of the question Do you need to read to be a writer on Twitter. At least once a week, this question appears in my Twitter feed. The last variation – As a writer, do you feel obliged to read – really annoyed me. The use of the word obliged suggests that reading is a chore. If that is how you feel, I’d have to question why you’d want to be writer in the first place.

There are two reasons I find this question irritating. First of all, to me it seems absolutely natural that reading and writing go together. For me, both are essential to the smooth running of my psyche. It’s not only that. You learn from the one how to do the other. When I first started teaching, there was a fad for teaching reading and writing as separate things. It soon transpired that this was impossible. You need to read models of good writing to know how to do it yourself. This is still true if you are writing a novel and not a letter to an editor of a newspaper for your GCSE exam.

The second reason is I can think of no other medium where people would think they could just go ahead and do it without studying or gaining skills first. Would a musician say do you have to listen to music to know how to write music or a film director suggest you could just go ahead and direct without ever seeing a film. Of course they wouldn’t and people generally recognise that you have to practise and learn skills before you can be good at these things. For whatever reason, we don’t think about writing like this. People think that everybody has a book in them and that they can just sit down at their notebook or keyboard and magic will just happen. This is not the case.

Of course, it’s not for me to dictate how much someone should or shouldn’t read. No one should feel obliged to do anything they don’t want to. Equally, I don’t understand why you would be interested in creating something for someone else to read if you don’t enjoy reading. Furthermore, how could you possibly write a book that might make them think reading is amazing and fun if you don’t even like reading yourself?

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