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Networking With Writers: Don't Write if you Don't Like Reading

AeternisApr 23, 2021, 10:40:40 PM
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While previous episodes of this series are the expansion of something I wrote last year to explain why a writing group I was in seemed so inclusive to some new members but so hostile to others, this entry is new, based on more recent experience.

Click here to view the series index.

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As was mentioned in a recent Mad Genius Club article, you are what you read, at least in terms of the narratives you apply to life. If all the stories you read are dark, gritty, and nihilistic, then all the idea-space tools you have to give order to the situations in your life are probably dark, gritty, and nihilistic.

This series is not, however, about giving life lessons or delving into pop psychology. It's about the one situation in which I genuinely think someone should stop writing fiction and find some other form of creative expression. If you don't like reading fiction, you should not try to write it for others to enjoy.

For those of you who are familiar with The Weeb is Always Wrong, you might notice some similar themes here. This is a more general look at one of the several problems that is concentrated in, but not restricted to, weeb writers, but if you've never seen an anime in your life you can still be a biblical plague on your fellow writers because you are Hell-bent on writing the next breakout novel even though you hate reading personally.

Before I explain why you should not make yourself or any poor writing group miserable just to chase the phantom clout which resides in the title of "writer," I need to be specific about something. I don't count comics of any form as books for the purpose of this piece (in fact, if all you read is comics, you're probably less well equipped to write a novel than someone who reads neither novels nor comics). It's also important to note that I'm not talking about how you prefer to consume text fiction - paper book, ebook, audiobook, whatever. If you only listen to audiobooks, you're a reader for the purposes of this discussion, even if you're blind and can't physically read.

Now we're clear on what I mean by a reader and a non-reader, so if I get any "But Aeternis, what about-" comments, I'll know they come from extreme non-readers who couldn't even get to the fourth paragraph of a blog post.

Most people in any writing community have a policy of never telling anyone to stop writing and never humoring the attention-whoring of a so-called writer who's looking for excuses to quit writing and give up. I too tend to adopt this policy in the general case, but there are rare times when the only good-faith thing to tell someone is that writing clearly isn't for them.

It should be noted I've only actually given the advice to stop writing and find another creative outlet once, but it's always on the table, and you should keep it there as well, and understand that others will also have it on the table when dealing with you. Like any weapon of last resort, it should not be used often or lightly. If someone has a look at your writing and makes this recommendation based on that, it does not matter how bad your work is, they are in the wrong to do so.

As the title of this piece suggests, however, there are mindsets that will permanently and irrevocably destroy your writing endeavors and any relationship with the hapless victims of your attempt to network with proper writers. The most notorious of these is the one in the title, and the one we're focusing on here: if you never learned how reading fiction could be fun, you don't read fiction yourself, and you aren't willing to put effort into picking it up, you should not under any circumstances be trying to write and market fiction.

While I have only offered the "stop writing and seek alternatives" advice once, I have expressed this cautionary principle many times to people who (for some reason I can't fathom) have decided to write fiction though they can't stand to read fiction themselves. 

Usually when I make this observation to one of you, a point which should be obvious to the point of tautological to any functioning hominid, it is greeted with incredulity. The usual response is to ask why I want to exclude someone who lacks the patience to read even a short novella themselves from the successes of writing, as if simply by expressing the constraints of the known universe I'm the one acting as an arbitrary gatekeeper. 

Simply put, a writer who's never encountered a fun or engaging book themselves has about as much chance of writing one as a chimpanzee on a typewriter does, and to give the chimpanzee credit, at least he's not going around asking other busy people to waste time reading and offering feedback on his work only to reject that feedback with a snarky observation that those readers just don't get his artistic vision, or the dismissive quip that readers don't care about whatever it was the feedback found lacking.

As a fiction writer who doesn't read fiction, you are throwing darts blindfolded without ever having seen the room the target is in, much less the target itself. You might have some vague hints pointing you in the right direction from other forms of entertainment - video games, comics, television shows, tabletop games, or movies to name a few - but you have no idea which techniques, concepts, and structures used in these arenas work in written fiction and which don't.

One can make the case, and with some merit, that this is at least a valid starting point, but how are you supposed to go anywhere from it if "reading and enjoying actual books" is off the table? You'll be forever stuck at an uncertain starting point unless you have someone (someone not self-handicapped by their contradictory choice of interests) going over your work with a fine-toothed comb for you and making a lot of comments. Even if you have that in a person or group, you have to take their word for everything they say, since they're referring to a body of work alien to your understanding.

And this necessity for readers and feedback brings us back to why I refer to you, the non-reader writer, as a biblical plague on writing groups. In my experience, if you are the sort of person who thinks writing a novel despite not reading novels is a fine idea, you probably are clever enough at least to realize you need a reader to have a look. You're probably only too happy to foist your writing on whoever will take it, and you probably expect a mix of positive feedback and constructive criticism (except for the vocal minority of you will inevitably expect to be hailed as the champion of all literary endeavors despite not even having the same verb tense from sentence to sentence).

So far (except for the would-be champions), so good, you might think. And again, you'd be correct to a point, but it's a point very few non-reader writers ever build on. Inevitably, some piece of advice you get, some criticism, some bit of negative feedback, is going to annoy you in some way. I know this, because this happens to me, it happens to famous authors, it happens to everyone who writes something and gets feedback. It might be the first criticism, or it might be the fiftieth, but in my experience with you lot it's one of the first few, specifically the first one that involves a lot of work to address.

When that happens you, the non-reader writer, will inevitably deploy the mother of all chutzpah-laden comebacks in order to deflect said criticism, and you will defend this bulwark of sheer, blinkered madness against all contrary reason, fighting any and all comers to defend it.

That position, as insane as it may be, is simply the assertion that whatever it is you don't want to do is something "readers don't care about" (alternately, something readers don't usually notice, or something "your target audience" doesn't care about for those of you who have researched a few buzzwords). 

The utter impossibility that you have any idea what readers, among whose numbers you are not counted and whose leisure activity you do not understand, care about and notice should be apparent if you got this far, and yet, almost without fail this is the hill you will choose to die on, as if it is a trump-card

When you are gently informed by your writing group that you have no idea in Hell what readers want or notice, and should probably do some market research (also known as: read a book) you will probably leave in a huff, and even if you don't, you will never stop whining about how the group who initially tried to help you is elitist, hostile to newcomers, and generally malicious, while contributing no feedback to other writers' projects. 

Non-reader writers aren't the only new writers who end up in this drain-circling end state (see Self-Fulfilling Attitudes), but the sheer face unreasonability of your position has a way of making you the most memorable occupants of this sorry social real estate.

Luckily, the cure for this whole series of negative experiences is simple. If you really want to write, start reading, especially in the genre you want to write in. Paper book, ebook, audiobook, it doesn't matter (just don't pretend graphic novels are at all the same thing). Find the books in that genre you enjoy most, and find out why you enjoy them, and apply those things to your own work. I promise, it really is not that hard.