Like to write, but don’t like to read? Help is here.

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What could be more paradoxical than this crocus I saw blooming in December?

People don’t naturally recommend an alternative to what works for them. And since the vast majority of writers seem to be the “reader writer” types, we “writer writers” are left to fend for ourselves.

Ah, how I love a good paradox!

Whether it’s cayenne pepper in chocolate, or a crocus blooming in December, what’s not to love about a surprise mash-up?

Many things, actually.

As humans, we value consistency above many other virtues.  Most of us are sensitive to *not* being seen as a hypocrite. We go out of our way to live non-paradoxically, in a way that is consistent with the values we claim.

Yet despite our best efforts, we may find ourselves exhibiting the occasional paradox.

Take the case of those “reluctant readers” who are, at the same time, voluminous writers.

Yes, you know . . . them.

The outcastes of the scribal world. The pariahs, chastised by best-selling authors and bloggers alike. Those miscreants who dare to put out more than they take in.

I am one of this unsung species.

I love words but have trouble reading them.

I blend in pretty well at writer conferences and book festivals. I can talk well in a writer-to-writer conversation, all the while hoping no one will notice that my love for putting words on paper does not actually lead me to pick up one of the hundreds of books on my shelves.

What could be more hypocritical?

Yet this paradox is more common than we imagine.

More and more often, I’m meeting fellow members of this tribe as they whisper a confession in my ear.

“I don’t really like to read,” they say. “I have trouble finishing someone else’s novel, yet I write a lot of them myself. But don’t tell anyone, okay?”

We are all embarrassed to admit this tendency. And why shouldn’t we be, when so many great writers warn that those who do not read cannot possibly become great writers?

I will not comment on whether the sages are right about this. (Other than to point out that the equally sagacious once thought the earth was flat.)

I will only say that this paradox is real, and I do not believe it is hypocritical.

In fact, I would argue that for the reluctant reader who writes a lot, the issue is not words on a page, but how the mind processes them.

There are “reader writers” for who can quote Brandon Sanderson by chapter and page and finish a George R.R. Martin novel over dinner, on top of writing their own stories. (NOTE: These are the breed most likely to judge fellow writers by how high they get on bookbinding glue.)

And then there are the “writer writers.” These are the folks like me, for whom words are more often a means to a communicative end. If I could show you my ideas, I would. If you’ve got ideas, I’d rather see them, too. But in the absence of a cerebral iPad, I work with the tools I have available . . . and one of them happens to be words.

That’s okay, by the way.

May I say it again? These are two different ways of being. Both are perfectly valid and okay.

And I think there is a very good reason for the latter.

Usually, the writers who struggle with a consistent diet of reading turn out to be visual thinkers—people who are more mentally “at home” with action and pictures, diagrams and graphs, and whose Technicolor thought life that plays out like a 24/7 movie in HD.

I am certainly one of these, as are many reluctant-reader/writers I have encountered.

As visual thinkers, maybe we have trouble processing text. Maybe our attention spans are just different. Or maybe we just really need movement—the kind that, if not found on the page, must be found in our hands or feet, while reading, in order to fully digest the words.

Therein lies the problem.

Walking around with one’s face in a book, or doing yoga while balancing a book in one hand, is generally considered an invitation for physical disaster.

Yet not having a volume attached to our hip at all times is a siren-call for social ostracism.

So what’s a scribe to do?

Fortunately, there is a simple solution for the paradoxically-prolific who really do need to read more.

It’s called the “audiobook.”

(Sages everywhere, clatter your hardbacks in horror!)

I discovered audiobooks by accident. Not that I didn’t know they existed, of course, but I had never considered how they might help me as a visual thinker interact more with the words of others, and consequently, write better.

Certainly, the Sanderson-spewers never bothered to suggest I get my words in by aural means . . . because for them, sniffing glue is a compulsion, if not a pleasure.

People don’t naturally recommend an alternative to what works for them. And since the vast majority of writers seem to be the “reader writer” types, we “writer writers” are left to fend for ourselves.

How was I to know one could be a ‘reader’ in a whole different way?

Thankfully, in October of 2014 I got a random email coupon to try Audible free for a month. I downloaded the first book of Stephen King’s Dark Towers, a series I had always wanted to read, but one I would probably never have tackled in print.

I listened to the book in 20 hours straight. I remembered more of the words—their cadence, sentence construction, patterns and style—than I ever would have if I had read the traditional paper book.

I was hooked.

Over the last year, I have easily listened to two or three dozen books on audio, many while I was drawing Alethia Grey, knitting, or sewing League of Marvelosities illustrations. That’s an all-time record for me, at least since I became an adult with a lot more constraints on my time.

I find that hearing the words read aloud and visualizing them in my mind actually helps me to find new ways to put my own thoughts together.

I also have noticed a significant improvement in my fictional prose since I began making audiobooks my primary means of ingesting others’ words.

This year, I broke down and made an Audible subscription a priority, since many of the books I want to read are only available there. But Audible books are pricey—so I supplement with many free public-domain books from Librivox, where most classics are available. Sometimes you even have a choice of who reads them to you.

With audiobooks I can keep my hands busy and accomplish one of two visual writing tasks:

  • Allow myself to sink into the “movie in my mind” and be swept away or
  • Visualize the words as they are read and imbibe their style and sentence construction in an organic way.

Both of these approaches have helped me improve my own writing. Words flow more seamlessly, and I have much less trouble transitioning between scenes using techniques I’ve noticed across the different books I listened to. And this is just one example.

Basically, I’m making smarter, more instinctive choices because of how I have heard language used over this past year.

This, of course, probably means that the sages are right: we DO need to be readers in order to be good writers.

But here’s what they haven’t said:

HOW the reading happens is up to us.

If piles of paperbacks or heaps of hardcovers just aren’t your thing, or if you keep filling shelves with books you never seem to have time to read, you have other choices about how to imbibe those words.

Audiobooks have helped me read more and reap the benefits in my writing.

They could be just what you need, too.

Perhaps in this chronicle, you have recognized yourself as one of those paradoxical persons who struggle with reading but really do like to write.

It’s time to break the silence.

You don’t have to be embarrassed about your social “deviance.” You don’t have to feel like a hypocrite. And you certainly don’t have to hide your style of processing language.

You are not second-best in the writing world simply because you have a different relationship with words.

Do yourself a favor this year and explore free Librivox, or invest in an Audible subscription if you’re able.

Because your reading-writing relationship is not hypocrisy. Nor does it mean you’ll never be a good writer. It is simply another invitation to be uniquely you.

What could be more paradoxical than that?

One thought on “Like to write, but don’t like to read? Help is here.

  1. The first stories were audible. I’ve even heard-this may be apocryphal-that the ancient Greeks developed a writing system so they could record the works of the remarkable Homer. Even if it’s not true, it’s a good story. In any case, my workday requires I ride around in a truck a lot. Here is where I catch up on all the omitted classics….Audio books rock!

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