Is there any evidence that a prolific readers are better equipped to write than a non-reader?

At first I'd suggest the answer is a no-brainer but on further speculation - I'm not convinced. I scan the questions on this site and cannot understand how people who frequently read novels appear not to understand basics such as structure.

I also wonder: if your input for a novel comes exclusively from other novels isn't that like . . . inbreeding?

Inbreeding is never a good thing.

I know I've adopted a couple of techniques that I certainly have not learned from books.

Writers and literary industry in general fail to recognise that more than half the world doesn't read fiction. And whilst readers claim to be intellectually superior to others I received a controversial claim from a non-reader - "The data stream is too slow".

In support of the inbreeding theory we can look at the general behaviour of two groups.

Sports-fans: Root for their heroes. Hope for a positive outcome. Are upset if they are informed of the outcome before the end.

Novel readers: Root for their heroes. Insist on a positive outcome. And general know the outcome before they start (boy invariably gets girl, good overcomes evil).

And then there's the politics and marketing. If a non-reader wrote a best-seller and admitted he didn't read it would be commercial suicide. Telling aspiring writers who have spent years polishing and submitting manuscripts that they've been wasting their time would go down like a lead balloon. People don't want to hear 'bad news' they prefer fake news. Ergo, this question will probably be put on hold before being removed.

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    Surely 'read, read, read' doesn't equate to 'read fiction, read only fiction, read nothing but fiction'? I'm not actually sure I've ever heard 'read, read, read' given as advice; I've heard 'read deeply, read widely' and interpreted that as 'read novels, read poems, read newspapers, read blogs, read play scripts, read adverts on the bus, read graffiti on the walls, read lyrics and libretti, read biographies, read government policy, read dictionaries of historic slang, read bumper stickers, read shopping lists you find in trollies and in extremis, read women's magazines'.
    – Spagirl
    Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 13:00
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    Yes. You can even do OK just reading fiction as long as you read a variety of styles and authors.
    – Michael
    Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 13:34
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    @Spagirl You'd have to be really in extremis to read women's magazines. Unless you're doing research for a character. Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 14:52
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    Last time I read one I was in hospital with a smashed wrist, I was on nil-by-mouth for surgery the next day, the painkillers had worn off and I wasn't due any more due to the upcoming surgery, it was three in the morning and it was all the staff on duty could find...
    – Spagirl
    Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 14:55
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    The urge to point out everything that's wrong with this question is strong. But that would not fit in a comment nor be an answer.
    – Patsuan
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 7:24

5 Answers 5


Interesting question that somewhat relates to this questions about stealing characters. (See my answer there for some thoughts on fan fictions, individual style, and "faking it until you make it".)

If I translate your question into my own words, I come up with this: Does reading novels relate to creativity?

Fron my own experience, I would say: No. I've made up stories to better understand my world before I was even able to read. Once I've mastered the craft of reading and writing, I started to tell my stories via the medium of the written word. Because of this -- because I was curious about stories, about characters, about what makes people and the world in general tick, really -- I started to read. Reading still is the primary source of information for me, but it didn't inspire me to tell stories.

Additionally, there's a difference between just "reading mindlessly" and actively learning something, at least there is for me. Just because I've read good books doesn't mean I am able to "produce" good books. To pull that off, I need to learn about what makes up a "book" and what turns it into something "good" on a separate, much more abstract level. (Did I say that this is purely subjective and based on my personal experiences?) I learned structure from textbooks, not from novels. It was absolutely necessary that I had read a vast selection of novels before I set out to learn about structure -- how else would I have been able to check my knowledge against existing work? --, but my understanding of structure ultimately does not stem from the raw novels that I read, but from the clever people who analysed stories in general and tried to figure out how they work.

Lastly, I agree that the cliché of the well-read, possibly academic, horribly wise author is exactly that -- a cliché. If storytellers get rejected solely on the grounds that they don't fit the mold of the distinguished, clever guy, that's just sad.

tl;dr: While I don't doubt that reading and studying help to harnest the fruits of your creativity in the most effective way, I'm still not convinced that the basic core of creativity -- that undirected drive to tell stories -- can be learned.

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    There is something sadly ironic about having a "tl;dr" section in an answer concerning the importance of reading. Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 12:45
  • This answer would be great if the question was indeed "Does reading novels relate to creativity?" You only address the actual question in the 4th paragraph.
    – Patsuan
    Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 12:47
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    @Patsuan, what is wrong with that! If Filip chose to preface his offering with other associated material, that is his prerogative. This isn't a journalism forum where the most important points must be listed first. Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 12:57
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    @HenryTaylor My point is not that this point should be listed first. There is a difference between prefacing or drawing parallels and answering a different question from the one OP asked. And Filip did just that. You can't deny it, because they explicitely turned the question into something else. My problem with this answer is that, as far as I can tell, creativity is not the point of the question.
    – Patsuan
    Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 13:30
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    I'll chime in here: Communication is getting information out of your head into mine. Stuff gets lost on the way. That's why I explicitly wrote down into what the question "Is there any evidence that a prolific readers are better equipped to write than a non-reader?" translates for me. My angle is this: How do you measure how well a writer is "equipped"? What do you need to be a writer? The answer for me is, apart from the obvious tools of the trade: Creativity -- something that turns old ideas into engaging, heart-felt stories. And that aspect is what I focused my answer focused on.
    – Filip
    Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 14:31

Yes, reading is better for a writer than not reading.

Maybe we should qualify that. Reading like a writer is better for a writer. I'm not sure what the benefit of plowing through a bunch of books is. But reading the best authors with the eyes of someone who understands a little about how sentences and chapters are put together turns you into someone who understands a lot about how sentences and chapters are put together.

Writers don't read to collect ideas and steal characters, but to get those "aha" moments where you understand why this bit is so funny or melancholy or how the story handles the passage of time or the development of a character trait.

Edit: This too: By paying attention to how you read you learn how other people read. I tend to skip the paragraphs of description. I pay attention to dialog (but not the tags) and actions. I need clarity in time jumps and section breaks. So I write that way.

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    + Kudos for "reading like a writer". Musicians listen to music in a different way, chefs taste food not like regular people, etc.
    – Lew
    Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 19:10

Well, I think it mostly depends on what you think the reading is for. One could assume people read to get more ideas and to learn how to be creative, but in my opinion that is not the case.

I am not a native english speaker, but I do write stories in english. Reading a lot of books (in english) really helps me to get a feeling for the language. By reading lots and lots of books I learn new expressions, words and even ways to phrase my sentences. It is ofcourse different for a native speaker, but I think the same principle applies. You are not born with infinite knowledge of a language, and you have to learn it. While learning english I noticed that reading books made the words come more naturally. I often write down a phrase because it 'feels' good, then read it again and get confused about the wording. But when I look it up online it appears to be a normal english expression. I never actively learned it, but I knew it and used it without thinking about it.

So, to be short:

Does reading a lot help with writing stories? Maybe. I agree with you there. People will be influenced by reading other peoples ideas. But I don't think you can learn to be creative from reading. Either you are and you have a lot of ideas, or you are not.

but, does reading a lot help with writing words? Most definitely. If you read more words, you learn more words. And if you know more words, you can use more words. The more words you can use, the easier it gets to express a feeling, or a setting, or a person. That is also why reading lots of different things is important. It gives you more examples of how to use words, how to phrase sentences, and more idioms, expressions and metaphors to use. It also helps you get in the head of a certain kind of person, reading lots of books for children will help you write a better child.

Reading can't make you become a writer, but it will help you become a better writer.


No single recipe, as narrow, can make you a good writer. There are many facets of the art, and many ways to improve them. Reading can improve your writing, but it won't make you a good writer.

There was another question - about blogging. And the answer was the same.

Write a lot. Read a lot. Study. Train. Gather critique. Criticize. Edit. Try different things. Seek inspiration. Plan, analyze, or just dive into writing on impulse. Diversify.

Any advice that monopolizes your occupation is a bad one. You get stuck doing that one thing and lose the edge in others.

When reading, you're just feeding your mind with ready-made stories instead of flexing own creativity. Reading teaches you many good things, but it doesn't do the least thing about many others which are just as important, and neglecting them dulls your edge.

So, no. It's definitely not the best advice. It's like you were trying to be a bodybuilder and got the advice of "squats, squats, squats." Nope, it doesn't work like that.


We can draw a parallel to sports with this as you did with your OP. Just because I watched Derek Jeter, Michael Jordan, or Payton Manning play every game of their entire career, does not mean I can go out and play just as good as them. This watching or "reading" is taken in at a different context. You watch for enjoyment. Sure you can sit there and play around with the setting:

The count is 3-2, bases are loaded, bottom of the 9th and the game is tied. Pitcher can't go for a strikeout and risk bouncing the ball in the dirt for a wild pitch, and if he throws anything off the plate, he will walk in the winning run... so that means he probably will give him a hard cutter in to jam him and rely on his defense

Let's be honest though, not many people get better at baseball simply because they thought through a situation on TV. Just like practice does not inherently make you better if all you do is practice. I can sit there and throw a football the wrong way and practice doing that 1000 times. That doesn't mean I am better at throwing a football, I just reinforced bad habits.

You need to be active in your practice and viewing. Many athletes study film where they can take a bad pitch, study the film of that 1 throw that gave up a home run. Slow it down, pause it. play it real time. Rewind. Pause it and blow up the still-frame to zoom in on finger placement of the ball. This then allows someone to properly analyze what they are seeing and apply what they see to their own practice.

This all is the same for reading and writing. You can read 100 books a month, but that doesn't mean you are gaining anything from reading. You need to actively read. If you read something you find well written, do you pause, write it down, mark it, re-read it, reflect why you liked it and then moved on? If we all did that, it would take us a month to go through a book that would take the casual reader 3 days to read. It also takes away from the enjoyment of the actual book because we are not reading the story for what it is, but studying it's literary make up.

TL;DR I caution the notion that read read read is the best advice to give. Reading mindlessly for the sake of pounding through books is not going to help someone be a better writer. They need to be an active reader which, I believe, the "active" part, is where a lot of people fall short on this advice when they see a lack of growth.

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