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Author Topic: Do you need to read, to be a writer?  (Read 6930 times)
Ploe
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« on: October 23, 2008, 06:29:50 AM »

Do you need to be an avid acquirer to write more poetic poetry? Or can you be a philistine and still cough out a page of utter beauty?

Personally I don't read much. All I've read is the Harry Potter books, a handful of Bukowski's novels, short stories and poems, 1984 and Animal Farm, Roald Dahl and A Clockwork Orange. But I still feel the intense need to write. Am I a fish out of water? Should I really learn from the pros? Or by indulging, am I free from picking up other artists' bad habits?

Let's discuss.
« Last Edit: October 23, 2008, 07:13:26 AM by Ploe » Logged
Will
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« Reply #1 on: October 23, 2008, 02:06:05 PM »

I don't think reading is a prerequisite, but it sure helps IMO.  Maybe not for poetry as much as a narrative.  I guess it depends on what you enjoy writing.  Whenever I read my poetry I don't think any of it is very poetic, but I still enjoy writing it for some reason.     
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Mr. Goldberg
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« Reply #2 on: October 23, 2008, 04:13:40 PM »

YES YES YES and more YES. I don't think you can write in isolation and s much s you can express things without having read much you can only gain from what others have tried to do before you. Its oaso only natural to subcionsciouly plagiarise your first loves - Bukowski in your case - but i think expanding your catalogue of influences gives you more poentioal to direct your telescope onm the planet you're headed for.

You may not even like much of what you come across but I think it's al grist to the mill in ultimately finding your own voice.
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Vix0r
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« Reply #3 on: October 23, 2008, 04:28:49 PM »

The cave men drew before all else so had no art to look upon first, inventions are created without studying the processes of invention and yet can change the world- why do you need to read to write? Apart from perhaps to glean influences and styles as yet unknown, but it is not a requirement.
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Ploe
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« Reply #4 on: October 23, 2008, 08:37:15 PM »

YES YES YES and more YES. I don't think you can write in isolation and s much s you can express things without having read much you can only gain from what others have tried to do before you. Its oaso only natural to subcionsciouly plagiarise your first loves - Bukowski in your case - but i think expanding your catalogue of influences gives you more poentioal to direct your telescope onm the planet you're headed for.

You may not even like much of what you come across but I think it's al grist to the mill in ultimately finding your own voice.

Now this is something that's starting to annoy me. How the fuck am I ripping Bukowski off?
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Vix0r
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« Reply #5 on: October 23, 2008, 09:16:03 PM »

You're not. You're both similar sort of writers but you can hear you in your work. Also, I hate Bukowski's work and I love yours- I wouldn't if you were just copying him.
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Jay
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« Reply #6 on: October 24, 2008, 10:10:10 AM »

At one time, I would've agreed with ol' Nat, but I've gone off the idea of emulating anyone recently. Sure, when you're like fourteen and you want to be like the first writer you come across, your first love as it were, but I find now though that if I have a writer in mind when I write, the harder it is to create. I've had that quite recently, I had to scrap the start of something because it read too much like someone elses writing. James Joyce, if you're asking.

At the risk of sounding like some terrible motivational speaker, a good writer should focus on what they writing about rather than who they're writing like.
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Mr. Goldberg
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« Reply #7 on: October 24, 2008, 12:58:58 PM »

Look children. Imagine this: you're born on a bleeding desert island and have nothing to read but coconut husks. How in God's Earth would you come away twenty years later having written the great Island novel ? Your time would be better spent plaiting piss as Mr. Nemeth has so often said. Now at your less than tender years Janus, Ploeman et al having read a bit and dabbled with the life experience not to mention the delightful encounter of engaging with my amazing self blardy blah yes I see you now like Nasturtium seeds sprouting forth your shoots. But. Fact is. You ain't lived long enough nor yet read enough for those leaves and flowerheads to truly flourish and cascade into multicoloured rhapsody let alone had your roots delve deep enough into the crusty earth to give your writing sustenance. You're still in the allotment not the Glade. If you want the pollen whores buzzing all around you and sapping on your nectar - have a look at what others have written. But not James Joyce. He were just bloody mad.


Ploe I'm not saying you're ripping off Bukowski I'm just saying it is one of the ingredients of your ever rising cake as t'were, just as Salinger & Pinter were mine for a bit. Nothing wrong with that ...you pick things up along the way as you go along whether its narrative style or syphillis, writers, artists in general do feed off each other regardless. With the exception of the odd Bible writer I can't think of any who've done it in total isolation even though they may claim to have done. Wilde kicked out a few good beats from his Reading prison cell but only after a lifetime of writing and reading others.

Nothing but nothing on the printed page is truly original going as far back as Bill the Bard who lifted every one of those 37 plays from folk tales and historical records of Plutarch and Holinshed. What was original was his treatment of themes and characters within those frameworks. A little more humility to the craft and a little less ego extension may be a step in the right direction.

I may be little more than plant food for you lot but you'll thank me one day when I'm compost. 
« Last Edit: October 24, 2008, 01:17:48 PM by Mr. Goldberg » Logged
sinister_miss_nancy
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« Reply #8 on: October 24, 2008, 10:04:05 PM »

Goldberg, I usually love listening to your points of view on varied subjects but I can't help but disagree and speak up with some points you put across on this one. You seem to feel as if young writers means incompetent writers in some way. By this I mean your ideas that anyone under a certain age hasn't read enough, seen enough of the world, felt enough emotion, pain, and love, or just plain lived enough. I agree, perhaps we have still yet to 'truly flourish' to borrow your terms, but that doesn't mean we haven't started to show our buds.
As someone who has posted a poem, and have you comment on how I could possibly write something like that at my 'tender age of 16', I can't help but notice you seem to spurn that the little time we have lived, has been exactly that. Lived.

For some reason, us young 'uns seems to be looked down on, like the little kid in the playground who had big ideas for his future, but all the parents laughed and joked about how he was 'such a little dreamer'. His probably working his way to Mars as we speak.
Perhaps you forget that at one stage you must have been a young writer, rather than the experienced person you are today.



But to put in my penny's worth on the topic itself, I don't think you need to read every minute of your waking life, but reading certainly helps, as does anything else that inspires you to do what you do. Reading can open up doorways, which in turn influences, in even the slightest way, the way you write. As can a certain band or musician, or whatever else comes to mind. I know I can say this for my own style of writing, anyway. If you write but don't read others work, what can you compare it to? What can help you improve your writing? And more importantly, you need to find your own voice above all the others shouting...

Just to point out Goldberg, I'm not trying to sound condescending here if thats the way it comes across, so I'll apologize in advance if thats the case... Wink
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Mr. Goldberg
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« Reply #9 on: October 27, 2008, 12:37:04 PM »

Thank you Miss nancy for that hearty lambast. Just the challenge I wanted. You may not know but I've spent half my professional life encouraging young writers like yourself to write and develop lecturing as I do in creative writing. So you're already barking up the wrong tree. I'm on your side. I've got teenage notebooks of mine which I salted away which do contain some gear I know I could never repeat now for pure creative energy - unbridled and often misguided as it may have been then - looking back on it now anyway - it was certainly heartfelt, stream of consciousness stuff with what was going on in in my mindset and circumstances at the time...both of which have since changed many times over in my  life.

Young in terms of writing definitely does not = incompetent. Far from it. One of the jewels in the crown of my home library is a collected series that WH Smith produced years back called Children as Writers collections by 11- 18 year olds and even now looking at some of the entries they are truly perceptive and extremely well expressed on all aspects of life. You're quite right to be suspicious of anyone over 30 but its best you develop your writers' muscles young ... be ready for it .. yes you'll have the p**s taken, the ridicule, the indifference, the put downs whatever you try to express (usually by those who can't). I've had it. We all have. Professional Writers actually do it to each other. Because they're big kids. That shouldn't stop you writing.
If you want a good enthuser booster read "On Writing " by Stephen King ...evn if you're not a fan of his (as I'm not) it's a very good book by himself on what made hime become and continue being a writer regardless of anything else happening around him. He talks a lot about  the single mindedness he needed to apply to get where he is now.


What I would encourage is for young writers to actively go out and sample a new mindset and differing sets of circumstances to enrich their output...still surprises me how conservative a lot of young folk are in the things they write about: THEMSELVES...bashing the establishment, yearning over lost love (infatuation/lust whatever). All that is valid and should be written about but I think much more gets overlooked and unexplored in what happens in the world around them. Your experiences I'm sure will be similar yet different to mine. As mine will be to  anybody else on here and so on.

I think what a true writer needs to do is truly focus and pay attention with a magnifying glass as it were on what others have done before them on the writing road and not seen the whole wealth of literature which has gone before them as some huge obstacle to be surmounted - rather a climb to be enjoyed. There will be writers which you come across which you don't like - of course there will - I myself can't abide James Joyce even though I've tried to read Ulysses seven times. JB Priestley ...probably now highly unfashionable and writing way before my time has a voice and a message  I think which is unsurpassable. World famous American Playwright Arthur Miller spent around seven years solidly reading  classic literature while working as a motor trade mechanic before writing his first plays. Inidentally apparently in later years even his own schoolteachers couldn't even remember who Arthur Miller was!


Yes there is no reason why a younger person shouldn't have equal if not more creative insight than a middle aged cardigan and a pipe. I've read loads of work by young writers and a lot of it has knocked my angora socks off. What I am trying to say is that in my experience of it younger people are vary wary of structures and the role they can play in building a  creative tower  which has a universal message and which lasts. It can render itself into  indulgent outbursts much of the time without a little more knowledge that whatever it is you are thinking feeling...someone has been there before you...and they have written about it and usually in a much better way. That's what i mean about humility to the craft before diving in feet first. If you are going to break the rules do so .. but learn to understand the rules first. See who's been there before.

To me the joy of Shakespeare is that he writes about every single aspect of the human condition in both public and private individuals and their dealings with another - love, lust, jealousy, avarice, egoism, power, greed, duplicity, racism, loneliness, injustice, insecurities, madness and even the paranormal in Macbeth and the Tempest. The fact that he was writing 400 years ago make no mistake young people still had pretty much the same hopes worries and uncertainties as you do now. Yet it still astonishes me how many young 'uns want to by pass him entirely and have stab at a fantasy novel because they've read a bit of Terry Pratchett, watched a bit of Red Dwarf and think that's enough to produce a life work. Shskp has subsequently influenced more modern day novelists, scriptwriters and poets than you think.

I've actually got this handout I devised called a Post College reading list which I've used with my students which i may post up here...about 60 good authors and why you should read them. I'm not saying ALL of them. I'm not saying EVERY book. But at least have a look in to see what they had to say and how they said it...about themselves, about humanity, about life scenarios. You may be pleasantly surprised at how readily you identify with a lot of the plots you encounter and characters you come across.

Finally I think it's only natural to plagiarise hero writers when you begin but I think blending the ingredients of other writers as influences will only help in developing your own unique individual writer's voice without detracting from anything which is uniquely YOU. I hope that makes sense in what I'm trying to say. Most people in most lives I think don't have such an unlimited amount to write about until they've been out there done a bit, read a bit, seen a bit more. The joy of plundering another writer's output besides entertainment is that one can absorb experiences - private and public  that otherwise one would not be familiar with. It also introduces you to different methods by which you might express yourself. I'm not saying substitute life itself for reading.


They say you can only write about what you know about. For example I have never faced the horrors of active military combat...but Wilfrid Owen and Siegfried Sassoon and a host of other poets did and thanks to them at least I can have a better idea of the realities of it thanks to them. I am privileged that I have never had to personally endure the ugliness of racism but "The Colour Purple" by Maya Angelou or "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee takes me pretty close to empathising as opposed to merely sympathising. Even Science Fiction is really only a backdrop to explore conditions and human or alien reactions in different situations. Arthur C. Clarke never actually went to Mars, but from being well-read in his own right, being both imaginative with a science background and some devices he used he made me think he must have done.

Did you know that every possible story usually fits into one of 36 different permutations ? A fact discovered by French Writer Georges Polti and his famous 36 situations...you should be able to find  it on the web.


Hope that helps.  Long may you bud and flourish sinister miss nancy...I'm happy to be the watering can for yor forthcoming meadow  Smiley
« Last Edit: October 27, 2008, 01:27:23 PM by Mr. Goldberg » Logged
The Bolshevik Dandy
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« Reply #10 on: November 04, 2008, 08:42:36 PM »

I think one CAN br a writer,and a goode one too without havin' read anyone else's work but I truely,truely believe that to be a truly great writer one must absorb as much of the works of others as one can;Rimbaud adored and was informed by the work of Baudelaire,Baudelaire by Joris-Karl Huysmans,Byron was enarmoured and inspired by Thomas Chatterton,Kerouac by Proust,Buckowski and Thompson by Hemingway and Fitzgerald.........While these are sometimes blatent,sometimes barely recgonizable it must be said that great literature,great and beautiful creativity is inspired by,informed by and sometimes written in revolt against a previous persons and a previous generations endevours.
Yes?
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Mr. Goldberg
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« Reply #11 on: November 05, 2008, 02:53:58 PM »

Yes plus the times and circumstances they live in...their background...the experiences they had which are usually more universal than you think. You can bet your bottom dollar that whatever is on your mind or heart someone else has already expressed it in writing years ago.
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Mr. Goldberg
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« Reply #12 on: November 12, 2008, 01:49:16 PM »

Some handy quotes here from those have been before on this topic, make of them what you will:

"You cannot describe life convincingly unless you have partaken of it "  Somerset Maugham

"You need truth, remorseless truth as regards your sensations " - Turgenev

"In the last analysis all art is autobiographical"    - Dale Carnegie

"Experiment is a valuable thing, but before indulging yourself in it you must have a thorough grounding in the established principles of your craft."   - George Jean Nathan

"The meaning of a story is the meaning of the universe to one man" - William Saroyan

"Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently" - Henry Ford

"Imagination grows by exercise" - Somerset Maugham

To me the most interesting one is this:

"An author must put himself to hardship and inconvenience to extend his knowledge" - Nevil Shute

While all these quotes refer to living as opposed to reading, all the above were avid and catholic (small c) readers.
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pease-smith
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« Reply #13 on: November 17, 2008, 01:34:51 AM »

I'm on Mykes side. I like having a unique voice not soiled too much by other peoples work. Saying that I can see how I've been influenced by the little I've read. It's impossible not to be. But yeah aquired knowledge isn't the most important in writing prose and poetry. I think natural talent and unique world view is the main thing. Saying that there's not many uncultured a successful people in the arts. They tend to be rather well read which is rather teling and not promising for the likes of me and myke.

x
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Mr. Goldberg
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« Reply #14 on: November 17, 2008, 01:31:32 PM »

Mmm..slow fermentation...Douglas Adams got his initial  inspiration for Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy from a backpacking holiday as he lay back one night looking at the stars. He was still, however, literate and lucky.

I still think every writer comes across this one though ...that as one individual human entity you only have limited experiences to write about...be they real or imagined and as interesting as yours may be they are very soon written out. I think without  looking and listening to those around you (which includes reading about the experiences of others you will still be rendered with a limited range of material and expression ). Especially in Wakefield.

In fact your'e probably doing the right things without knowing it...I've witnessed you ripping out interesting stories from The Metro on bus journies  Wink

Pinter's deft delivery of plausible characterisation comes in no small part from his early experiences as a reping actor and the characters he played.  "The Caretaker" is based on a life changing conversation he had with a tramp.
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Vix0r
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« Reply #15 on: November 17, 2008, 06:20:24 PM »

I like to take interesting pictures from newspapers. I once had an autostereogram that had two demons relaxing by a box of weaponary and I've still got it kept flat and safe in a book somewhere. Another I remember is a man flying across a beach with his brolly because it was so windy. I thought that only ever happened in stories! ^-^
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michaelaaron
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« Reply #16 on: November 18, 2008, 12:27:50 AM »

no. you don't have to read to be a writer, but you should atleast be able to write. Right? after that, i guess it just depends on what kind of writer you want to be and how you judge that for yourself....


 Cool
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Mr. Goldberg
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« Reply #17 on: December 09, 2008, 07:18:53 PM »

But that's like saying you dont' have to be a carpenter to make tables. Which I suppose, strictly speaking, you don't. However (s)he that is a carpenter has undoubtedly looked out and about and has studied what has gone before...Chippendale even MFI and IKEA...

This person knows something about dovetail joints and woodglue, planing, sanding, sawing, chiselling, lathing, turning, varnishing and veneering, hinge fitting. I don't think for a moment any of these skills can ever be instinctive or inherent, indeed they are incomprehensible without having studied previous examples. Joinery skills, like writing skills, need to be studied and practiced from those who went before, otherwise the tables he produces may be rickety, uneven, unstable, flawed and faulty, faling short of what they could have been.

Even the grand school of the so-called self taught would own up somehere down the line that they have learned from previous practiced artisans and master craftsmen.
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The Bolshevik Dandy
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« Reply #18 on: December 13, 2008, 01:19:39 PM »

I agree whole heartedly
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michaelaaron
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« Reply #19 on: January 06, 2009, 01:51:36 AM »

unless that is going to be their way of survival, yes... or they can be like me-- they can sell coffee for forty hours and still make tables. Just use a hammer and a nail...yup yup....

 Cool
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