I agree with you 100%, Ramona -- can't be a writer unless you're a reader. The only caveat, I think, is the "lifetime reader" part -- if people didn't read as kids but they want to write as adults, fine. Read a lot. It's not impossible. It helps if you start when you're a child, but you're not doomed if you didn't.

The idea that being a reader only makes you a better reader and has nothing to do with your skills as a writer is just poppycock 😂 Probably a statement made by someone who doesn't want to read. Sorry not sorry -- that's not how it works.

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Oh. My. Goodness. Ok, English teacher here and YES, reading matters. I am having so many problems with students who have no idea how to put ideas together in writing because they don't read. They don't know how ideas fit into sentences that fit into paragraphs that fit into essays. They don't know how to embed quotes because they don't even know what that looks like. They don't know how to synthesize multiple texts because they don't read writers who do that naturally. My own kids are voracious readers AND excellent writers and I'm convinced the two go hand-in-hand.

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I enjoy reading to discover what I'd like to write like. Bonus if the story is great. Does that make sense? Not copying, but the gist of why I enjoy a book, or a style...the nuance. Thanks for the prompt, Ramona!

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May 18, 2022Liked by Ramona Grigg

In language acquisition theory, there’s this idea that input has to proceed output. All humans have the innate ability to learn language, but their exposure to language is what ultimately drives their language ability and usage- what native language they speak, their vocabulary, grammatical structures, accent, etc.

I would imagine that reading has the same impact on writing. Much like oral language learning (both for native languages and discussed more prominently when talking about second language acquisition), there is likely a “critical period” when we’re younger in which the more we read, the better we get at it, and the more sophisticated language structures we pick up that we then in turn use in writing. Like another commenter said, it doesn’t mean that we can’t learn to write as adults, but we’re probably going to have a whole lot of reading to do (and maybe even writing workshops to attend) to catch up to our peers who have a lifetime of reading under their belts.

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Great question, as usual, Ramona! Talent. I think it starts there. I suppose one's writing acumen can be learned without an innate, inherent talent to begin with. And, I certainly don't disagree with the "read more, write better" argument! I'm convinced Martin Mull came up with his pithy, "Some people have a way with words; others, not have way" with an eye toward how one gets to each verbal destination!

At the risk of sounding shamelessly self-promoting, I've been thinking about songwriting a lot lately, as I'm happily consumed, now, with providing the life story vehicle, as you know, of singer/songwriter, Stephen Michael Schwartz. We both, thousands of miles apart, saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan in Feb 1964, a year-and-a-half apart in age. He was 10, and seeing them led him to the guitar, and to identify his talent in songwriting (melodies and lyrics).

Seeing that same show led me, a month from turning 9, not TO a musical instrument (although it motivated me to STOP playing the accordion, which I had done for a couple years), but to a lifelong love of concise, well-crafted songs, loaded (as their music was, early on) with multi-layered harmonies, and catchy melodies.

Clearly, songwriting wasn't MY inborn skill, but prose certainly was, as I discovered early on, by voraciously reading, in the '70s, numerous rock critics, like Substack's own Wayne Robins and Patti Smith (yep, she wrote before she sang, and more than just poems...her guitarist, Lenny Kaye, was also a rock journo!). Dad was a wordsmith, and Mom loved journalism, having once worked for Reader's Digest out of college.

Bottom line: Reading can't help but inform a writing skill (as others have so eloquently written in their comments), but it sure helps if writing (and having the love of words...hello, crossword puzzles, and, of course, an innate desire to read!) is a talent you have in your DNA to start with!

After all, it doesn't matter how many songs I've listened to in my life, I know I don't have the talent to write one, and it would never occur to me to try.

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As a child, reading was my lifeline and it continues to be. I remember walking a couple miles to the library, the smell inside, and telling, Ms. Knox, the librarian, about the books I read during the week - that was 75 years ago. I have dabbled with writing, but it wasn't until a year ago that I got serious and began my newsletter. So, at least, the interests are complementary for me.

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I agree with so much of what’s been said here. Reading can only help to expand our vocabulary and sense of what’s possible. Not only do we learn from great writing, but it is a source of inspiration too. Personally, I would question the motivation of someone who wants to write but doesn’t read for pleasure. That just doesn’t make sense to me. Aside from anything else, how would you understand your reader?

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My feeling is that if you don't learn the craft of writing, your odds of becoming a good writer are slim. I essentially didn't know what I was doing until after I learned viewpoint - and I learned that on my own after getting a Masters in Creative Writing. So I think actually writing and studying how to write is most important.

I also happened to be a voracious reader when I was young - I would walk to the library once a week (that was a big deal at age 9-10!) with a friend and take out 10 books, which was the limit. I'd have them all done by the next week. I'm trying to get back into reading again because I enjoyed it so much all those years ago, but I rarely read a book I enjoy now like I did back then. I mean, my world was rocked when I read A Wrinkle in Time!

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I only read parts of mandatory reading in school, never read a book in it's entirety my entire life! I've written poetry since I was 12 and have written thousands of works and published a novella on Amazon called EL Cabrone Hermanos: The Sicario

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They go hand in hand. Reading just by itself will make you a better reader. Writing by itself will make you a terrible writer. But writing *and* reading will make you a good writer. And writing, reading, *and* talent will make you an excellent writer.

It’s like gin and tonic. Gin by itself is decent. Tonic on its own is terrible. But gin and tonic together are fantastic. And a gin and tonic mixed by a good bartender is sublime.

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It seems obvious that you’d need to read a lot to be a good writer, and that got me thinking about other creative modes. If musicians and composers need to listen to a lot of music, artists looking at paintings, cooks sampling a lot of foods etc., and the answer is always OF COURSE!

What’s weird is the fact that some people think there might be no connection between doing a lot of varied reading and one’s writing ability. I know that whenever I read there is a part of my brain noting why the writing does or does not work, and learning from that. It never ends!

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Oh man. I snoozed on this one and now there has been a robust discussion I can’t even begin to try and follow.

I just came to say that there is storytelling and then there are mechanics. I think people can be good storytellers without having read much. They’ve got good imaginations, or strong modeling, that infuses into them and they can tell (or write) a good story.

Mechanics are hard without a lot of reading and / or direct education. I have had to beta read stories via text to voice because the writer is so terrible with mechanics - whereas you’ll be quite unlikely to find a usage error, misspelling, or unclosed quote/parenthesis in any writing I plan to give to people (even my rough work).

I will say though that somehow I internalized neither the reading nor the direct instruction prior to becoming an actual writer. I didn’t really think to organize my work around a thesis until I’d already been writing for an embarrassingly long time.

So, as usual, I’ve not answered your question. But if it counts for anything, I was nodding along as I read your Facebook response.

And I will contend that reading quality literature certainly can’t hurt.

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to play a little devils advocate, when people say a history of reading improves writing, what they are implying is that, by some magical osmosis, readers absorb all the elements of style and craft and can remix those elements at will when setting out to create their own works. this is an unsubstantiated assertion. gather any 1000 voracious readers with no previous writing experience in a room and ask them to author a story. what percentage of those pieces will be great, or even good? has their reading habit automatically made them 'successful' writers?

writing is its own discipline. there are techniques one can learn, skills one can practice, but some people also have an innate talent for it, and part of that is picking it up through reading in the way some musicians can play a song by ear. not everyone has this ability, no matter how many books they read. furthermore, absorbing style, language, vocabulary might be essential to some kinds of writing, but less so to others. perhaps the kind of writing others want to do requires less time reading about the imaginary lives of others and more time having a life full of experiences worth writing about.

while all writers obviously need language skills, how much reading will be of benefit will depend on the individual and the kind of writing they hope to do. does every writer need 'voracious' levels of literature to succeed? i doubt it. creativity comes in many forms, and not all of them trace back to books--not even for writers.

i say all this as someone who reads at least 50 books a year.

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I would venture to say that whilst being a reader is important, not all folk who have read heaps make good writers. There are things that are even more important - powers of observation and imagination for example.

I guarantee there's many an excellent writer sequestered inside those not fortunate enough to have had exposure to copious books. To think anything else might be patronising - placing the skill of writing only in the laps of the lucky and educated.

Telling stories isn't uniquely a 'written' thing. Think back through history to those who told stories around the fire. Sometimes it might have been a those with no education/exposure whatsoever to books and yet a story was spun and imaginations were fired.

Reading massively (which I did as a child) guaranteeing a writing skill seems very much a First World observation to me.

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May 19, 2022Liked by Ramona Grigg

Ya gotta read. Ya gotta read different authors and different genres and short stories and gawdawful long series and O. Freakin’ Henry. And decide what fits or matches or Yeah, I can do that!

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I just found your wonderful newsletter, so I apologize for being late to the commenting party! I absolutely agree that you must be a reader to be a writer. How voracious you need to be or whether you need to have spent a lifetime reading is likely somewhat individual. Some people pick things up more readily than others. But I don't see how you can write without having done a fair amount of reading, any more than you'd be able to talk without first hearing others talk.

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