Friday, August 27, 2010

Why Do We Read?

Sometime back I was asked a question “ As a writer you must be reading a lot?” My answer was “Yes,” but, before I could say anything more, the guy smiled and said “ I guessed so, writers read to get ideas from other writers.” Initially I  decided not to dignify his comment by reacting to it. But his smirk was irritating. I was disgusted with his view that we read to get ideas, or, copy other writers.  “ If that was the case, anyone who reads books  can  start writing,” I replied. If only it was that easy!

Reading and writing are often clubbed together. We writers love reading as much as we love writing. Perhaps it goes with the territory.

Reading like my writing friend Elizabeth Varadan says is homework for us writers. Homework that we love doing everyday and look forward to when its not there.  Reading other writers is like learning from a teacher/text book.  We not only hone our craft when we read extensively, we also learn from other writers’ success and failures. The more we read the more critical we become. I love to read: every genre;  both fiction as well as non- fiction.  When I am writing the first draft  I am scared to read Middle Grade Fantasy Fiction, as I  worry about subtle sub- conscious  influences creeping in and I may  be accused of copying or getting influenced by other writers. But I make up for it after my first drafts are written. Then I devour those books like a Book Monster.

One piece of advice  writers often get,  I have  been told  by my publisher several times  that  to write well,  we  must read a LOT. Not just the genres we write, but other genres too. “For every word  we  write, we must  read atleast a  thousand and more,” she tells me. Then and only then will our words make a difference. I agree.

I have noticed that all great writers are voracious readers. No, they are not sizing up the competition, but expanding their literary horizons and improving their literary flexibility. The more we read, the more familiar we get with words and plots and story arcs. Reading  grooms us into better writers. It adds to our vocabulary, enhances our skills and ofcourse not just educates  us, but  entertains us as well.

We read not to lift ideas, or to get  creatively inspired by  other writers. We read books because we  crave new experiences, because we want  to soak in new cultures, learn about different people. We read because we love stories. We love to get involved in a fictional character’s life and worry about them.

 We  enjoy reading  like  we would enjoy a seven course  meal. We savour each  course ( like  we savour each chapter) each course/book brings new flavours, tantalizes  our taste buds, creates images in our minds, triggers memories. Some tastes/characters linger longer  than others. Reading for us is a sensory experience.

For me a day is incomplete without reading atleast a few pages of a book. I can even be accused of grumpiness if I haven’t read a book for  few days.  Even If  I hadn’t chosen the writing path, I would still be a pilgrim on the  Reading Road.  I just cannot imagine a life without  my daily dose of reading. For me reading is a form of entertainment and  education that I have chosen over other forms.

What about you all?  Why do you all read books? Do you believe that it is important for us writers to read?


  1. Rachna, I have read your first few books and loved them. You are original and have a ardent fan in me. Thanks for this lovely post. Have a wonderful weekend!

  2. I think it's crucial writers read a lot. And not just in the genre we are writing in. Like you said, it expands our skills -- and we have fun doing it too. :)

  3. I went through a spell where I wasn't reading as much as I used to. When I finally started making time to read, I could feel my love return and my writing improve!

  4. I read for enjoyment but it's also a little work. Fun work though! I want to learn from good writers and see how they've crafted their stories. So it's a bit of both for me, but all a good thing.

  5. I read for enjoyment and am literally "hooked" on books. Like Rachna, I need my daily dose or I feel I've really missed something in my day. I notice, too, that the more I write, the more I notice writerly issues when I read, as in, "Ah, what a lovely way to say that!" or, "How cool the way the author pulled that off!" I guess it's inevitable for a writer to end up reading that way. :-)

  6. I read books because I like to be transported. Reading is The Best way to have an out of body experience or know what its like to be someone else. When we read, we don't watch the story, we feel it. I try to just read the story and not worry about analyzing it. The analyzing comes naturally. I notice what I think works and what I think doesn't but I try not to let my critic get in the way of the fun. When I'm done with a book, I take a step back to think about whether or not the characters impacted me and also to name the elements of fiction that were strong in the book and those that were weak to me.

  7. Anonymous, thanks for the warm words.

    Lynda...I agree with you that we writers must and should read a lot. Not only is it fun, but it also expands our writing skills.

    Terri..the more we read the better we write. I think it just happens naturally.

    Lydia...For me reading is nowadays a lot about learning the craft of telling a good story. I love to see the way certain characters have been introduced, how the back story has been added, what are the twists and turns the plot has taken.

    Elizabeth..the two of us are similar. I too end up noticing the writerly issues when I read.

    Dayana...I completely agree that when we read, we don't watch the story, we feel it. Yes..analysing someone else's story comes naturally to us ( writers). I often see what worked and what didn't in a particular story.

  8. Hi Rachna, I came across your blog and found it quite interesting.

    I think reading is one thing I would do even if were not a writer. But as writers we must read books analytically, which I find is the tough part. I much prefer to immerse myself in a book than dissect its finer points for later learning.

  9. I love to read and I think it helps us learn about so many things. Not just for basic info's sake but also to learn about tone and style and so many other things. Those who think us writers are running around copying each other may not be reading enough. Just a thought:)
    Happy weekend,

  10. I love reading! I love writing. In fact I am addicted to words, whether they be my own or someone else's. I read and I write because these are my survival tools in the world. I read to disappear into another world for a few moments. I write to make sense of my own world. I am with you on being grumpy if I don't read. I am a very fast reader so I always have 4 or 5 reading books on the go at any given moment. Everyone who knows me, knows that I always have at least 1 book with me wherever I go somewhere. I think it is important to read as a writer. I agree that it should also be all genres. I think reading opens your literary mind. Thanks for the post. Enjoyed it!

  11. Even if I wasn't writing, I'd be reading like a maniac. As a matter of fact, I read a little less now that I'm writing, just because of the time issue. But I love a great story, that's all there is to it.

    Now that I'm writing, I read like a writer. I look for what works and what doesn't. I study why I care about certain characters, why I don't care about others. Like you said, it's a way to learn!

  12. I've always read. I don't remember learning how, it's been so long. I cannot imagine a life without reading. The single best quote I can think of for WHY we read is from the movie, "Shadowlands." The quote is: "We read to know we're not alone." It covers a large number of reasons for why, actually.

  13. Love this, Rachna! I really don't have as much time to read as I'd like now that I'm under deadlines. And another problem I've noticed is that I have a harder time NOT being critical when I'm reading! And I have a harder time finishing books. I call it the writer's curse. It's hard to turn off the internal editor, even when reading. But I think your post is spot on. We learn so much from reading, just like we do when critiquing.

  14. Yes!!! Read, read, read. I don't believe in reading too many poorly written books but on occassion those are fun too. ;)

  15. Thanks for swinging by today, Rachna and encouraging me about my rewrites! It definitely feels good to be done! Just need to read it through one more time before turning it in!