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Writing Without Reading

"QUESTION - RÉPONSE" by Daniel Mar

Thanks to friend, librarian, and fellow Messiah College 1996 alum, Aaron Bert for pointing out this interesting article by Buzz Poole about the art of writing. Interestingly, the article discusses the (odd) notion of writers/authors who don’t want to read. Here is the introduction:

At the New Yorker Book Bench Macy Halford recently posed an important question: “What is wanting to write without wanting to read like? It’s imperative that we figure it out, because Giraldi’s right: It’s both crazy and prevalent among budding writers.” She was echoing a question asked by debut novelist William Giraldi who in the course of teaching writing at Boston University has noticed a growing number of aspiring writers disinclined to read. This unfortunate trend inspired an open-ended analogy:

Wanting to write without wanting to read is like wanting to ____ without wanting to ____.

The New Yorker commenterati — unsurprisingly, a clever bunch — came up with some great analogies but none of them touched on the bigger question: How can anyone claim to be interested in writing without being serious about reading? If Giraldi’s observation rings true across teenagers and 20-somethings then what does this say about culture at large?

What?! How can you improve at your craft without getting to know the best at it? Even reading poor writers would, I would think, teach you something about what not to do. I don’t fancy myself a very good writer, despite my attempts to pretend to be one in this space. Still, I love to read non-fiction works. That is what I tend to write, so it makes sense that it is my preferred reading topic. I especially like to read theology and books about living like Christ. This includes books by physicist and theologian John Polkinghorne as well as books by Donald Miller, Francis Chan, and others. Still, I also enjoy historical books and recently have read several books about statistics and real life. I’m a statistician, not an English major or a writer. How can a writer not like to read? This baffles me. Poole of this piece details their love of writing, of course, and discusses the popular media outlets that have developed, and the history of writers finding inspiration from their own reading. Poole concludes:

Yes, ambitious, talented writers will continue to exist and their writing will be great because they have read. And yes, there will remain people who have nary an interest in writing but luxuriate in an afternoon of reading. The devaluing of imagination as it departs on flights of fancy brought on by just being with yourself, this is what is changing us in profound, yet to be fully realized ways.

Wanting to write without wanting to read is like wanting to use your imagination without wanting to know how.

Well said.

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One comment on “Writing Without Reading

  1. Great post! I find myself baffled by the same question. I love the analogy at the end; it’s the perfect way to explain this problem.

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