A few weeks ago I made this post which was sort of spurred by an old article about doing a crapton of reading instead of NaNoWriMo. Not that I disagree with the article, in fact if you go read the post I linked above, I sort of agree with it, buy why only pick one or the other? It’s not like reading and writing are mutually exclusive, and on the contrary I would argue that in order to put out writing of any quality, one must do a lot of reading.
At one point in the article it mentions people coming up to a writer at parties and basically saying “I don’t have time to read, I just focus on my writing.” I actually don’t call bullshit on this, because I know folks who effectively say and do this. Supposedly Aquinas said “hominem unius libri timeo,” which translates to “I fear the man of one book,” which basically means, “If you only have one thing to talk about, you suck and should go outside once in a while.”
In regards to the above quote, let’s equate experience / observation with books. It’s not a far reach – books are sort of our windows into other worlds and other people. How good of a story do you think you could write if you’d only had one experience? Sure, imagination is an important factor, but without some sort of reality to ground it in, it’s likely to spin off into acid trip land (which would be interesting on an entirely different level, I’m sure). Reading gives you an idea of how other authors did it and helps you wrap your brain around the conventions of your genre.
Let’s switch the medium from writing to food. People say to “never trust a chef who isn’t fat,” which isn’t as much of a statement about body type and portion control as it is about passion for food. If you’re not passionate about food, why would you become chef? If you could choose between two meals, one cooked by a chef who had a healthy desire for good food, and the other who just wanted a job, which would you honestly think would be better?
The idea is that when it comes to your chosen art form, you don’t limit yourself to creation alone. Great musicians listen to a lot of music, great choreographers and dancers watch a lot of dance performances, great actors (I mean the kind with talent, not the kind people like just because they’re “cute”) watch a lot of other great actors, etc. I would wager this is largely due to their own enthusiasm for their chosen craft, and it adds a measure of credibility – people who actually LIKE what they’re doing tend to be better at whatever that thing is.
I have this list of loose “rules” which I call “My Own Personal Kerouac,” and #19 on that list is “Throw yourself at the story or don’t tell it.” The idea can be applied to the craft (and to some extent life) as a whole – throw yourself at your craft or find something else to do. If you’re serious about producing writing of any real quality, read, and read a damn lot.