Friday, February 07, 2020

How Is This an Unpopular Take?

Over on Twitter (yes, I know, we're doomed already), Sarah Nicholas put forth what ought to be a commonplace opinion: if you want to be a writer, you should be reading current fiction.

That's not an outlandish idea. In fact, it's one I spend at least ten minutes of every writing workshop trying to get my newbie writers to understand. I can't tell you how many times I've had a writer who is trying to write a science fiction novel who has literally not read a single science fiction novel. Ditto for literary fiction (they haven't read a novel published in the last century), ditto for mystery novels, and so on.

You have to read -- and read a lot -- if you're going to write. And you have to read current books, things being written now. Mind you, I love Jane Austen and George Eliot as much as anyone. But what they're doing in their books and what (say) Ann Patchett or Naomi Kritzer is doing -- those are centuries apart.

I can't tell you how many science fiction recommendation threads I've been on where writers recommend nothing but books written in 1960 or before. As if Asimov or Heinlein were the sole source available. Sometimes they'll mention Le Guin as well -- rarely, but sometimes. Now mind you I like Le Guin and I've read everything Heinlein ever wrote. But come on. The field has moved on since then. If you don't know that, your writing is going to be...odd, to say the least.

And of course there are "writers" who don't want to read at all. Anything. They play video games or watch movies instead. Nothing wrong with video games, but they're giving you the background to write games, not books.

If you're going to write, (1) read a lot -- and feel free to read older books as well as the new stuff. But (2) you have to read the new stuff.

I mean, this is not a hot take. This is obvious stuff. You would expect, then, Sarah Nicholas's tweet to have attracted no attention what so ever, given it's a commonplace.

But no!

So much outrage!

Sexual harassment and death threats, obviously -- that's what she gets for being a woman on the internet -- but also comments such as, "Well I only read the classics," and "Don't tell me what you read, you SNOB," and "Well I won't compromise my vision to be trendy," and "that's creative bankruptcy," or "that's a corporatized mentality" and "But I want to create aaaart, not best sellers."

I mean, God save us.


Athena Andreadis said...

Reading for pleasure versus reading for instruction are two entirely different mindsets. For the former, people become increasingly eclectic and judgmental over time if they've been lifelong readers. It's hard to have orgasms over yet another re-invention of the wheel, and the DNF instances increase. For the latter, it's important to keep track of evolving tastes and styles, but that doesn't mean wide reading. It goes without saying that harassment has no place in this discussion, but I suspect that reading of long works has suffered overall as social media have shortened attention spans -- with the exception of the endless sequels that have a built-in readership base.

delagar said...

I'm certainly quicker to DNF than I was ten years ago. That much is true.

Especially when it comes to so-called literary fiction. Argh, another story about whether or not a 40 year old straight guy should have an affair, kill me now.

Bardiac said...

It really irritates me when people who say they want to be writers don't read other people's work. It's like they don't want to have a conversation with the world, but just want to do all the "talking" and have everyone else just listen...

delagar said...

"It's like they don't want to have a conversation with the world..."

Yes! This is it exactly.