Be a Reader if You Want to Be a Writer

I know I’ve covered this topic before, but if I can determine anything from the submissions I’ve been seeing lately, it’s that my advice is NOT sinking in, so I’ll say it again:

If you want to be a writer, you need to be a reader first.

I always tell my writers that if they don’t read—in nearly every spare moment, to the exclusion of hobbies, socializing, even sleep—they have no business writing.

Everybody thinks they have a great story, and sure, plenty of us DO have excellent tales to tell. But not all of us should be putting our stories into print. Frankly, not all of us deserve that privilege. Why? Because not all of us are readers.

Lots of people ask me: What difference does it make?

The answer: all the difference in the world.

I’m a professional editor with over 22 years of experience reading the words of people who hope to get published. I can tell at a glance if the person doing the writing is a reader or not.

But the thing is, being able to spot the work of a non-reader has nothing to do with my skill or background. If you’re a reader, I guarantee that you’d be able to spot the non-reader’s writing, too.

How? It’s easy.

Readers know what writing—and the real-life dialogue and rhythms of language it’s based on—SOUNDS like.

People who think they can write brilliantly even though they haven’t finished a book since they faked their way through Moby Dick in high school? Do not.

Non-readers produce awkward, stilted prose with dialogue that’s more painful than a root canal. They can’t write well because they don’t even know what they’re TRYING to create in the first place.

Readers, on the other hand, have a leg up. Believe me, I’ve seen thousands of manuscripts written by both readers and non-readers, so I know. Even a bad writer who’s a good reader has a chance of writing something other people will want to read.

Long story short: I can FIX the writing of a reader, but the work of a non-reader is hopeless.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: You need to be a reader first. If you refuse to follow that one simple rule, then get out of the game. You don’t belong here.

Share on