To Read or Not To Read…That is the Question

Badge for Insecure Writer's Support Group

It’s the 1st Wednesday of the month again. That’s when I take part in Alex J. Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group. Thank you to October 2nd’s IWSG co-hosts: Ronel Janse van Vuuren, Mary Aalgaard, Madeline Mora-Summonte, and Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor! Today we will look at whether it’s better for writers to read or not to read, as I answer the optional IWSG question for the month:

“It’s been said that the benefits of becoming a writer who does not read is that all your ideas are new and original. Everything you do is an extension of yourself, instead of a mixture of you and another author. On the other hand, how can you expect other people to want your writing, if you don’t enjoy reading? What are your thoughts?

Not Read?

I have actually never heard the first idea posed in the question. Not read? But I admit the thought has crossed my mind. Sometimes when reading an amazing book I lament, “If only I had thought of that first.” The truth is there are very few (if any) truly original ideas.

Mark Twain wrote,

“The kernel, the soul, let us go further and say the substance, the bulk, the actual and valuable material of all human utterances is plagiarism.”

Plagiarism is the worst sin a writer can commit. Is the root of this really reading the work of other writers?

If you do not read, your ideas will seem original—to you!

All artists, including writers, must go through a process of maturing. Their work evolves over time. This is true for the body of work created by artists and writers of various time periods.

One famous example is Impressionism

Impressionism began in France in the 1860s. It affected every expression of art from paintings to music to writing. It started as a response to photography. Artists were attempting to capture motion, light and everyday life like a photographer could with his camera.

Impressionist painters like Claude Monet, whose painting soleil levant “Impression, Sunrise” is the movement’s namesake, focused on brush strokes to give the impression of movement in the scene. While at the time they were harshly criticized, today, Impressionist artists are considered the masters of their craft. It all started because of the inspiration these artists got from photography.

To Read or Not to Read
By Claude Monet – art database, Public Domain

Deciding Not to Read is to be Ignorant of Literary History

Writer and philosopher, George Santayana wrote,

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

While the context of which he was writing was different, the sentiment remains true. We must learn from our mistakes and those of others. We can also learn from successes. Consider the way in which technology has developed. New innovations arise from previous ones. The same can be said for writers.

In “The Sacred Wood,” T.S. Eliot wrote,

“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.”

Reading also helps you learn your craft

For example, the genre you decide to work within will have certain conventions that readers expect. For example, if you are writing a cozy mystery, you must have an amateur detective as your protagonist rather than a professional detective or police officer. You can’t have vulgar language or explicit sex and no puppies or children are to get hurt. This is a family-friendly genre. You can (and should) research what the conventions are for your chosen genre. One of the best ways to learn what makes the genre work is by reading books within it.

On top of all of these reasons to read—rather than not to read…

As a writer, you should embrace a culture of books. Reading should be something you couldn’t stop doing if you tried—an addiction. It is for me. As much as I love writing if I had to choose between being a reader and a writer, like the mother in the story of Solomon dividing a child in half (don’t worry, he didn’t actually do it) I would choose to read.

What would you choose if you had to?

What Are YOUR Thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

About Heather Erickson

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace. My books are available at

The Memory Maker’s Journal 

Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer

Facing Cancer as a Parent: Helping Your Children Cope with Your Cancer

I also blog about living with cancer at Facing Cancer with Grace.


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6 comments on “To Read or Not To Read…That is the Question

Agree with everything, Heather. Life without reading is like a plate without food. No way.

Hi Jacqui. Yes! It would be a black and white world without the color books add.

Yours seems to be the prevailing opinion, although there was a writer who said his work sounded way too much like who he was reading, so he stopped for a time.

Hi Liz. I once heard of a writer who would combat writer’s block by not writing until she couldn’t stand it and had to put pen to paper. I think as writers, we need to do what works for us, even if it means not reading.

I love your point about your ideas seeming original only to you if you don’t read. How true! You see so many of the same ideas in books, but it’s how the author executed the idea that makes it original.

Hi Ellen. I’ve had that happen to me, but usually, the writer does something very unique with the idea. That’s our challenge. 🙂

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