I don’t know if the esteemed Mr. Ellison was the first person to make this observation, but I had a killer (but good) weekend, so I’m not feeling terribly inclined to do my research right now. Besides, this quote feels extremely appropriate for Harlan Ellison, who is a master of both writing and blunt speech.
The quote came to mind after reading this article about the phenomenon of aspiring writers who avoid reading. I’ve known a few would-be writers who are of this mindset, and it never fails to baffle me why any writer would close his or her mind off to reading — perhaps the most important thing any writer can do to improve his craft.
It seemed like a major point of pride for one aspiring (and I stress aspiring, as opposed to published) writer, whose rationale was this: if he didn’t read, he would maintain the purity of his ideas; his concepts would not be derivatives of ideas he picked up from other writers, but wholly original.
By that deeply flawed theory, he’d also have to avoid watching TV, going to movies, listening to music, and having a life because everything is a source of inspiration, which is as it should be. I’m not the sort who believes that a person has to go traveling the world to have adventures in order to become writer — that philosophy only applies to wannabe writer characters in (ironically enough) poorly written fiction — but I do believe that writers should actively seek inspiration in other creative works.
And not just for the stories themselves. There are countless ways to tell a story, and I’m not shy to say some of these ways I never would have figured out for myself…or, at least, I never would have considered them viable storytelling methods had I not seen them executed effectively by another author.
So, the lesson for today: read, read, and read some more. And if you make the conscious choice to never read anything in the name of making your own writing stronger and more original? Expect to have a nice long career in whatever non-writing field you’re stuck in now.