I admit to having a few impossible-to-shake notions about this or that. Much of my adult life has been about questioning my preconceived notions and testing them against new information.
As a reader who also writes, though, I have one hard and fast prejudice that I cannot shake.
Writers and authors who are not well-read really bother me. There’s naturally going to be a fuzzy line on where “well-read” actually is. One person’s “well-read” is another person’s “nuh-unh!!!”
Over the years I’ve softened on this a bit, but I think I’m here at 42 and establishing my Imaginot Line on the topic that grants latitude as far as scope and taste.
1. Have a familiarity with the foundational works in your genre.
This is the biggest one, and the one that I will not let go. In fact, I decided to come out on this post early this morning when reading a new-to-me blog by a romance author who spoke of “reading outside her comfort zone.” She talked about her goals for this summer. Those goals included reading Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. That author claims she’ll get to them as soon as she finishes writing her current romance novel. Really.
Here’s the thing. You do NOT have to like foundational books. I’m not crazy about Wuthering Heights and the whole world knows I hate Anna Karenina (Sorry, nm). But if you claim to want to make your living from crafting books you darn well ought to know what is considered classic and why. Not doing so is sort of like a beautician thinking she can be a plastic surgeon because she really knows a lot about makeup. You don’t have to mimic the stories. But knowing what is out there as well as what is considered a job well done is crucial to any craft.
2. Read as part of your daily habit
Marathoners do not wake up one Saturday morning in April and decide they’ll run all 26 miles of the Music City Marathon that very day without having run a single step in the last three months. They train, and as part of their training they do stretches and cool downs. Reading and writing are different in many ways, but reading is the stretch and the cool down for a writer–if that writer wants to make it through the race. I’ve read several (more than 15, fewer than 100) author and writer blogs in the last six months where they openly admit to “not having read a book in the last six months” because he or she is “so busy with my WIP I just don’t have the time.”
Bull. I understand not reading a day here and there. That’s normal. But if you expect to put out words worthy of other people’s time and attention, you owe it to those readers as well as yourself to stay tuned into the reading experience. Nobody likes the guy at the party who talks all the time and never lets anyone else get a word in edgewise. And if you’re a writer who doesn’t read regularly you are that guy.
3. Be very very very careful with declarative statements about books you have not read or finished reading.
This came up again last night, as another writer went into great detail about how s/he doesn’t like the Game Of Thrones series of novels. Not liking them is one thing–I know many people who don’t. Making detailed analyses of character and theme without having finishing the work is another. You can presume to know where a story is headed; you can loathe the style and structure. You cannot fully discuss the themes, character arcs and author skill without having read the entire work. You just can’t. Go ahead. Tell me how delicious that ten-course meal was when you only made it through the first three courses. You have no menu. You don’t know what the meat dish was or how it was prepared. You can say “I tried his soup and his salad and neither of them wowed me so I didn’t want to take the time to eat the rest of the meal.” That’s fine. But to say “this chef can’t cook a proper standing rib roast and his dessert is too sweet” is just…weird. There’s no other word for it.
When you lay claim to being an author you make presumptions upon people’s time and about people’s interests. To not do the same for other writers is the worst kind of narcissism in craftsmanship.