What Does ‘Well Read’ Mean?

First up, let’s agree on the definition. Here’s one from the dictionary:

Well read, adjective. Having a lot of knowledge from reading widely; knowledgeable. Synonyms: knowledgeable (about), well informed (about), well versed in, widely read; erudite, scholarly, literate, educated, cultured, literary, bookish, studious.
Example: “She was very well read in this field”. 
The key words that stand out for me there: knowledge, widely, well informed. 

Should you read? HELL YES

I work with writers every single day who profess they ‘don’t’ read, often because they ‘don’t have time’. And you know what? Contrary to popular belief, some of them are even good writers despite this. 

But guess what: the well-read writers are ALWAYS better. They have more understanding of the craft, not to mention a bigger pool of interests and influences to draw from. Not rocket science. As far as I’m concerned:

  • Screenwriters should read scripts (in their genre and not)
  • Novelists should read novels (in their genre and not)
  • It’s a great idea for all writers to look at ALL mediums
  • ALL writers should look for new ideas, new POVs, to challenge themselves (yes, even abhorrent ones, or positions that are called ‘problematic’ online by the likes of Twitter. The key question for a writer is always WHY?)

DO NOTE THOUGH – You don’t have to read ‘the classics’ or what you think you OUGHT to read. You can read whatever you like. Fiction. Non-Fiction. Screenplays. Articles. Whatever. Just read WIDELY, from many different sources, about many different things, about many different worldviews, POVs and VARIOUS STUFF.

On Stephen King

This is what veteran uber-writer Stephen King says about reading:

“You have to read widely, constantly refining (and redefining) your own work as you do so. It’s hard for me to believe that people who read very little (or not at all in some cases) should presume to write and expect people to like what they have written, but I know it’s true. If I had a nickel for every person who ever told me he/she wanted to become a writer but “didn’t have time to read,” I could buy myself a pretty good steak dinner. Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Needless to say, I totally agree with him. Yes, you can obviously get away with doing the minimum amount of reading, especially if you’re talented. But reading only serves to make you a BETTER WRITER. What’s not to like??

Finding The Time To Read

“Reading is the creative centre of a writer’s life. I take a book with me everywhere I go, and find there are all sorts of opportunities to dip in … Reading at meals is considered rude in polite society, but if you expect to succeed as a writer, rudeness should be the second-to-least of your concerns. The least of all should be polite society and what it expects. If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered anyway.”

Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

I love the idea of reading being a writer’s ‘creative centre’. Reading this, I realised I felt the same way too. Like King, I take a book everywhere I go. (In fact, I take two, plus my Kindle, since batteries might run down or I might not be able to access the Cloud. Eeek!!)

But in real terms, it’s never been easier to read stuff. There’s a gadget in your pocket that can beam ANY type of reading material to you in a matter of seconds, via apps and social media. A lot of it is 100% free, the rest for pennies. That’s right – YOUR PHONE!

Personally, I think 10 hours per week reading is do-able for most writers. You may need to have a strategy if you have something particular you want to do, like read more books. If time is at a mega premium for you, why not put aside time for reading:

  • On your commute
  • In-between appointments
  • For ten minutes at lunch break
  • Whilst your kid watches CBeebies for 15 minutes
  • Whilst you’re stirring the dinner
  • Instead of watching that re-run of The Simpsons for the umpteenth time
  • Instead of ‘debating’ stuff online (aka calling someone an arse)

You could even set a timer. I do. I ensure I have one hour per day to devote to a novel. I have radically increased my reading in the last three years because of this. I can usually read a 300 page novel in about four-six hours (depending how engaged I am), so that means I can usually read at least one book per week. Boom.

I also research and read about subjects that interest me. At the moment, I am interested in Search Engine Optimisation, Blogging techniques and The American Wild West, particularly the different tribes and languages of Native Americans. I’m also slightly obsessed with Hugh Glass (that’s the dude that got mauled by a bear and, it turns out, was also a pirate AND a prisoner of the Pawnee tribe! Wow!).

So, work and play. Combine what you can, read other stuff as and when you want. This doesn’t have to be difficult – it shouldn’t be!  Research can be fun, plus you can save it up for later:

  • Books
  • Scripts
  • Plays
  • Articles
  • Blogs
  • Maps and old artefacts
  • Interview transcripts
  • Threads and tweets (without responding)

AGAIN: READ ANYTHING YOU LIKE.

So DO IT! DO IT NOW!

I find it useful to take part in the Goodreads Reading Challenge. I managed to read and review a whopping 90 books last year, plus I made a reading pledge to ensure I read more books by marginalised voices. But why not come up with a pledge of your own? Friend me over there if you like.

Happy reading this weekend!

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8 Responses to Do You Need To Be Well Read, To Be A Good Writer?

  1. Pauline says:

    You inspire me to do more reading. Like in the evenings and late night. Whenever. I’m happy to do so.

  2. Ian says:

    My high school English teacher allowed me to write during reading sessions and could not understand just How I was able to write so well. I am an extremely slow reader and therefore avoid doing so. But when I do read something, I only need read it once to comprehend. After high school I went on to study Literature at University and received High Distinctions on my assignments. I avoid reading as much as possible but have found the need whilst researching my scripts. I actually hate even having to re-read what I have written. There is a positive to this however. I have a unique voice. Well, I assume so anyhow as I am not well read enough to reference anyone. I admit that I am currently struggling to write a script due to only having read a couple and therefore lacking the craft. It is personally disappointing to have been described as a creative genius by a director friend yet not feel confident to apply that genius to the craft of screenwriting.

  3. Christina P. says:

    S. King:”Rudeness should…..” Great. Awesome. I totally agree. As a German, we have oftentimes the reputation of beeing rude. Only because we say everything outright, blunt and frankly. I appreciate that very much. For most Germans it’s impolite in not doing so, because you waste others people time if you don’t talk straight. Positive acknowledgment of beeing real rude, watch out for Klopp, King of the Kop!

    • Lucy V Hay says:

      I think I was German in a former life, because I totally agree as well Christina and I am ALWAYS called rude by my fellow Brits! Well screw em, I say 😉

  4. Christina P. says:

    Ha, Ha. Lucy, in this case I agree with you.Sod that! Guess what, I’m called rude too because I’m merciless outspoken. And to be righteous, neither do I have mercy with me! I think that’s truly fair. Honesty does hurt. Sometimes. My personality doesn’t use flowery language. Except for writing poems.

  5. Christina P. says:

    Aaargh. Or is it my personality don’t use?

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