A Good Writer Must First be a Good Reader

I have to admit this post resulted because of  a discussion in one of my LinkedIn groups. One of the members of the groups posted a link to an article that states there are now more writers than readers and asked what members of the group thought. Certainly it brought up many comments, especially when one writer in the group claimed she writes fiction but doesn’t read anything but non-fiction. Her reasoning behind it? She is afraid if she reads fiction she will be open to a lawsuit for plagiarism!

After going back and forth with the writer who thinks she can write fiction while only reading non-fiction this question comes to mind: what makes her think she can plagiarise someone else’s work by reading fiction? After all, there are only so many plots available, and if you read any book on the market you will find similarities among them all. The key is being able to take a story others have told and put a new twist to it. You can only accomplish that if you read what the others have already written and draw from their experience.

The thing I find truly amazing about this writer is she said she writes Science Fiction. How in the world can you create plot and characterization for sci-fi by reading only non-fiction? You surely cannot take current events or even historical events and bring them into play in either science fiction or fantasy. While writers have developed plots for mystery, suspense, horror and even romance by using real life events, I have yet to hear of any science fiction books being developed in that way. Even the masters including Stephen King tell writers they must read, read and read some more.

Another factor this writer fails to understand is you cannot discover what is selling in the market by simply reading the synopsis’ on the books on the New York Best Sellers’ List–you have to read the books! It is also essential to read books in your genre. I am presently working on a romance novel and a short story that probably falls into the adult fiction genre. While I am currently reading most mystery and suspense, I have read enough romance to know what the masters are doing–I have read over 30 books by Danielle Steel and several by other popular romance authors including Nora Roberts.

My thoughts were if anyone is so worried about plagiarism they should not be a writer, but naturally the writer disagrees. She truly believes her research is enough to allow her to write genre fiction without reading it. Several of us tried to explain to her you cannot copyright ideas and that every book on the market begins from one central plot since there are more books than there are plot ideas.

Her next excuse? She doesn’t have time to read fiction! She had previously stated that she did watch science fiction on television, so I told her if she has time to watch television she has time to read–turn off the television like I do. I am lucky if I watch two hours of television per week; I would rather read a good book. I also told her I make it a point to read for one to two hours before I go to sleep for the night.

Perhaps we shall see what happens, but the bottom line is a good writer must first be a good reader, and he or she MUST read books and stories in their genre. If you write romance, you must read romance. That doesn’t mean you cannot read other types of fiction as well, but you certainly have to read in your genre if you expect to understand what is selling in the market. She tells us we will find out next year when she is a published writer: I say we shall see if that really happens given her comments and the way she is approaching her craft.

Writers Helping Writers

I don’t want anyone to take that title the wrong way. In reality the purpose of this post is to rant rather than be helpful. Why is that? As a writer trying to move in an upward direction in both income and prestige, it is very frustrating when other more experienced writers attempt to place more importance on their work than yours. While certainly they are in the know about the publishing world, it is frustrating when someone tells you that you are not a professional because you don’t make $100 an hour and/or are not published in a trade journal or other prestigious publication. These writers tend to place more emphasis on how much money you earn for your writing and seem to forget it takes time to reach the point when you can earn a nice wage as a writer.

I belong to several different writing lists and while most of the people on those lists are very helpful, I have to admit there are many others who feel that are better than I am because they have already “made it.” They have the impression that everyone who makes the effort can make $100 or more an hour. Hah! How I would love to make that kind of money–I would settle for making even a quarter of that. Of course, in the eyes of these “professionals” making $25 an hour is not enough. I thought everyone had to work their way to the top–at least that’s the way it was when I worked in the “real world” before my employer downsized my job and I chose to pursue my love of writing instead of trying to get back into the rat race.

I worked the 9-5 routine all my life until 2005 when my company decided to downsize. Since I was the newest person in the department, I was the first to go. At 53 years old I wasn’t looking forward to looking for another job, so I decided to build a freelance business. My hope was by the time my unemployment ran out I would be making the amount of money I needed to stay afloat financially. Unfortunately the recession hit and even writers took a beating in the process. I went from making between $300-500 a week to making the same amount in a month!

How does the recession affect those of us who have not yet made a showing in the world of major publishers and magazines? They don’t know our names, so it’s more difficult to get your foot into the door. The hope of myself and others in my position is that by joining writers groups that are infiltrated with “professional” writers we can learn some of the ways to get into the market. Instead what happens is many of these “professionals” tell us we are not professionals because we do not make the same amount of money they do. Those of us who have only been published online face even more negativity from these “professionals.”

Is there a place where new writers can go for help without facing the nasty comments from some of these other writers? We are looking for honest help because we don’t know where to start. Yes, there are online sources and there is the Writer’s Market Guide, but these sources don’t always tell us which publications are more likely to work with those who have only been published online. I want–and need–to find sources where I can make even $50 an hour or write a couple of columns a week and make enough to add a decent amount to the family income.