Before I plunge in to this post, I have a question to ask you writers out there–are you reading? And if your answer is no, what on earth are you doing? What are you waiting for? What possible reason could you have for not reading?
Sorry, let me rephrase that–what possible good reason?
Here’s my belief: there are no good reasons not to read, especially if you’re a writer.
I do have to say that I’m biased on this topic. I grew up in a family of avid readers. From the time I was little, I read like a whirlwind. I spent all of my free time doing it. I stayed up too late at night doing it.
When I was growing up, we didn’t have cable, and we didn’t watch movies or play video games very often. I didn’t have a phone until I was fifteen, and that one was a good old flip phone. Nothing to divert.
Naturally, then, reading was one of my primary pastimes, and I didn’t understand why other people didn’t read all the time like I did.
As I grew older and Netflix and Amazon Prime came onto the scene, I stopped reading as much. I read books for school, mainly, and a lot of those I didn’t finish.
Every once in a while, I would read something for fun, but I didn’t constantly have a book going like I did when I was younger. (For clarity–when I was twelve I checked out the Redwall books from the library four at a time. And read them all in two weeks. That’s the kind of reader I was.)
Recently, however, I started reading vigorously again, and I don’t ever mean to stop.
Now, if you’re a biologist, I can see why you might not be as interested in reading. I still think you should–there’s so much to be gained from it–but I can comprehend why it might not be as high on your list.
If you are a writer, you have no excuse. No excuse. If you’re a writer, you should be doing two things: READING and WRITING.
Asking why writers need to read is like asking why cooks need to eat.
Cooks need to eat. They need to eat everything–they need to eat all kinds of cooking, from all kinds of places, made by all kinds of people.
Here’s something to think on: a cook who only ever tastes his own cooking will never be a great cook. Probably, he won’t even be very good.
Why should you eat other people’s cooking?
I have five reasons for you.
1. By eating other people’s cooking, you ensure that you’re never satisfied with your own work.
This is beneficial–you shouldn’t constantly criticize your own work (contrary to popular belief, this is not humility), but you should be aware that you can always improve it (this is humility).
Because you can always improve it. You can always get better.
A cook who never eats other people’s cooking will never get better because his cooking is the best he’s ever had. He’s never tasted anything better than his own creations.
And if he hasn’t ever tasted a filet mignon, he won’t see any problem with a microwave hot dog.
You are not the best writer in the world. You’re just not. I’m not either. Geez, I’m not even in the top ten thousand. You’re probably not either.
So why on earth would you only ever taste your own cooking? There are dishes out there that are so much better–there are chefs who are so much more skilled.
2. By eating other people’s cooking, you get a taste for what works.
(I’m assuming you can hang on to the analogy here.)
A cook who eats others’ cooking (and eats it vigorously) will not only be pleasantly fat, but he will have a fantastic knowledge of what makes good cooking.
He’ll get a feel for which tastes complement each other, which spices work together, which techniques should be used when for the best result.
A cook knows that ground beef works when you put it in tomato sauce. He also knows that it doesn’t work when you put it in alfredo sauce.
This leads into my next point . . .
3. By eating other people’s cooking, you also get a taste for what doesn’t work.
Sometimes, a cook has to eat bad cooking. And that can be a good thing.
By eating bad cooking, he gets a feel for which tastes don’t complement each other–for which spices don’t work together.
That can be just as helpful as knowing what does work, because if you ever find your cooking tasting like what you had at that sketchy little dive that night your car broke down, you know something’s off.
4. By eating other people’s cooking, you get outside your own box.
Sometimes, a cook comes to a rut in cooking where he just doesn’t know what to do next–he don’t know how to make his dish more special, or he doesn’t know how to fix a mistake that he’s made. He just can’t think of anything.
However, if he’s been eating like he should be, it’s much easier to get out of that rut. He can use an little-known technique to add some pizzaz. He can reconcile those two clashing flavors by adding a spice that he knows will tie them together.
He would never think to try these things himself, but he has the innovation of other cooks and dishes to draw from.
NOTE: our dear little cook can’t copy EXACTLY what he tasted in another cook’s dish (that’s illegal), but he can copy ELEMENTS.
5. By eating other people’s cooking, you have a constant source of inspiration and encouragement.
Sometimes, it’s just a matter of keeping your head in the game.
If you’re trying to learn how to cook well, you don’t surround yourself with knitting. You surround yourself with cooking and with cooks.
If you’re trying to learn how to play basketball well, you don’t surround yourself with football. You surround yourself with basketball and with people who play basketball.
If you’re trying to learn how to write well, don’t surround yourself with TV and video games. Surround yourself with writing and with books.
Does this mean you can’t ever go out to a movie with your friends? No. Does it mean you can’t ever spend an hour playing video games? No.
It just means that you have to prioritize. If writing is what you want to be good at, you should immerse yourself in the world of writing. And that might mean sacrificing some things for writing’s sake.
You might have to sacrifice watching two episodes of your favorite show every night. You might–unthinkable thought!–have to pick up and read the book that the show is based on instead.
So that’s why cooks should eat–it’s also why writers should read.
I hope you could follow my analogy all the way through. If it lost you a few times, that’s okay–it’s pretty deep.