I have followed your blog and writing for a while now and you've given me lots of advice and insight into my own. I would like to embark on a writing career, but I have been constantly beset by the same niggling worry: how I didn't really read much as a child. I pretty much only started "properly" reading in my twenties and, it may come completely from a place of insecurity and doubt, but I was wondering if it would come to affect my writing, i.e. if I will ever be as good as someone who has spent their entire lives immersed in books. Do you think I am just battling insecurity, or do my silly brain thoughts have a point?
First of all, I'm not an expert in this (nor do I think anyone of us writers is). Everything I've done so far with my own writing I've done based on my gut feeling. And my gut feeling told me to look to the great ones, and the great ones usually talk about their reading habits or researching or whatever after they've started writing, not before (and if they do talk about their befores, they're vastly different). And all the great ones happen to say that reading is crucial to writing, and I agree with this as I've experienced it myself. Yes, many writers have spent their childhoods with their noses in books. But just as many haven't.
Does this mean you HAVE to be well-read to be good at writing?
Who cares how much you've read? Yes, it might help you get better faster, but it might also not. It might hold you back with even more fear. ("Who do I think I am to compete with all this brilliance??") In fact, the only thing you can know for sure is that you won't know how it will affect your writing until you actually start. And once you start, you'll be swept away by it and you won't care.
It's more important that once you do start writing, you read like crazy, to feed your brain, to educate yourself on how others do it, to study the craft. Reading to writing is like breathing to living. You'll catch up in no time. Look at me. When I started writing I hardly have read anything in English. It's not my first language. I couldn't even understand Tolkien! I tried reading The Lord of the Rings several times. Last year I finally did read it, and it was easy, and I was like, "What the fuck. How did I get this good this fast?" By reading every day.
So, once again:
YOU DO NOT NEED TO BE WELL-READ TO START WRITING.
YOU DO NOT NEED ANY SPECIAL SKILLS.
YOU DON'T NEED ANYTHING.
You only need to write every day and read every day and trust your gut. Your gut will tell you how much to read and what to read, and with time your appetite will grow.
I've been writing full-time for almost 4 years now, and my reading pattern have been changing with my writing patterns. The first year I read 33 books. The second 58. The third 111. Whoa! And this year I'm slowing down. I read a bit less, not so fast, and I'm way more selective. What's intersting is my writing is slowing down too. I write fewer words per day, but they're better words. You see the common theme? Writing and reading is one. It's like a cycle. Once you step into it, it will carry you along.
The other big fear you have underneath that well-read fear is, "Am I good enough?"
I battle with this fear every day. It takes on different shapes.
"I don't have a degree in writing!"
"I'm writing in a second language!"
"I don't go to a writers' groups!"
"I don't read books on writing!"
Actually, I'm having a hard time coming up with more fears here. Most of them are gone, and the ones that I still have will be gone soon too. I know it, so they don't bother me. You know where this ability to shed fears came from? From writing. So you see, you have no choice. You're afraid to start writing because you think you're not good enough and you'll fail, but you won't get rid of this fear until you start writing. Plus, you're so fucking young! In your 20s! I'm 40, and I just started on this path 4 years ago. The only other thing I can add here, to hopefully motivate you, is this:
IF YOU WON'T WRITE, I WILL FIND OUT WHERE YOU LIVE AND COME IN THE NIGHT AND CHOP OFF YOUR FINGERS.
If this isn't motivating enough, I don't know what is.
Guys, please chime in with motivational messages for Liam. Thank you.