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I like telling stories, but I don't care so much for reading them. It's not for me. But the number one advice to become a better author is to read a lot.

Is there anything else I can do?

EDIT:

Thanks for all the responses! After reading through them all, I've decided to give audio books another chance. I've tried them before in the past, but I would always just find myself either losing focus and then not having a clue what was going on in the plot, or simply falling asleep.

I grabbed an audio book from Audible and it seems to be going well so far. I do have to make a bit of a conscious effort to pay attention, but I am enjoying the process MUCH more than reading a paper book. I might even start hitting my New Years resolution of reading one book a week :)

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    See also writing.stackexchange.com/questions/31906/… – J.G. Jun 13 at 12:34
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    Can you explain more why you hate reading so answers can take that into account. – curiousdannii Jun 13 at 23:33
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    Reading is strongly related to writing. I can hardly imagine myself as a writer, without being an avid reader in the first place. The best way to learn writing skills is definitely reading. – vanity Jun 15 at 20:17
  • I think Stephen King has at some point made the statement that he never reads in his own genre. So it is certainly not required. – Weckar E. Jun 17 at 19:09

12 Answers 12

71

As a dyslexic, I understand the general aversion to reading. As someone who loves storytelling, I nevertheless want to be exposed to stories.

There are some life-hacks for the reading adverse that want to write.

Get the audiobook

Not only does an audiobook outsource the reading to someone else, but it is something you can listen to while travelling to work, sitting on the bus, or whatever.

Read along with the audiobook

There is a second use of audiobooks that I do not see discussed much - read-alongs. As a kid, I loved read-along storybooks. I must have listened to "Autobots Lightning Strike" so often it must have driven my mother spare. To this day, I can still replay the whole thing in my head.

Reading along with the narrator takes the pressure off. If you want to just get used to the pleasure of holding a book and get a feel for the flow of words on a page, this is ideal.

Record audiobooks

There are sites you can go on (I'll let you find them yourself) where you can get paid to read and record audiobooks. If you are the sort of person for whom money is a great motivator then this one is for you.

Find a series to be passionate about

For me as a kid, it was robots and adventure stories. My mum gave me the Enid Blyton book, "The boy next door" and I was soon reading every one of her books as fast as my mum could buy them for me. These days, I find those books boring and repetitive but that's just because my tastes have changed.

I know of other dyslexics who never read at all. That is until Harry Potter hit the shops. Suddenly it did not matter how exhausting it was to read, they wanted to find out what happened next.

When your passion for a series, genre, or author gets strong enough, nothing will stop you getting hold of more and just reading the heck out of them. Terry Pratchett's books are great for this.

There is a reason us nerds and geeks tend to be experts - we consume everything there is to find on our favourite subjects. Don't like fiction? Try travel guides, technical manuals, science textbooks, biographies - whatever floats your boat. You are not likely to learn story writing so fast but you will pick up a thing or two about tone and pacing.

Join a writer's group

No matter how much you generally avoid writing, the quid quo pro of reading a little of a person's work and offering feedback in return for a load of feedback on your work forces you to read but in a fun setting with people that you can get along with.

As the reading is bite-sized and you take a break to discuss it afterwards it hardly feels like reading at all.

Learn about the theory of storytelling

There are some amazing videos on youtube that dig into the mechanics and theory of storytelling (film, TV, and books). Terms to search "the hero's journey", "the three-act structure" (also "the five-act structure" and "seven-act structure" too), and storytelling tropes.

This will turn all your Netflix binges into storyteller training. Although, I have to warn you that learning the patterns of storytelling will spoil some of the more formulaic series.

I spend a fair amount of time deconstructing the story pace in my favourite Netflix shows. I write humour and so tend to try and work out why a joke is funny. That is not for everyone but it works for me.

Make your peace with reading

Sooner or later, if you are serious about writing, you will have to make a sort of begrudging peace with reading. Some dyslexics I know invest in coloured overlays which help calm the text down and make it easier to read. Others read exclusively on their phones (don't ask me why - it sounds terrible to me).

What helps is that the more you read, the more you enjoy reading and the easier it gets. Even if you are dyslexic or for some other reason a weak reader. Sure, you start off at a disadvantage but that only means you need a bit more effort to catch up. Read books you love and you will hardly notice you are doing it.

Watch and read

Some of the better adaptations are so much more enjoyable to read after you have seen the series. Good Omens is a perfect example of that. Watch it, read it, and then watch it again. It is amazing.

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    I was starting to get into full-on privileged crank mode about this question until I read the starting words "As a dyslexic..". Oh. Upvote for expanding my mind a bit, although the practical advice from real-world experience was worth the vote alone. – T.E.D. Jun 13 at 19:50
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    I love this answer. This is brilliant. I'm not dyslexic, and I may just try this anyway. Excellent advice! – Josh Jun 14 at 14:56
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    As soon as I read the words "nerds and geeks", I was instantly reminded of xkcd.com/747 – Redwolf Programs Jun 16 at 15:16
14

Don't Write, Tell Stories.

Stories began as an oral tradition. There are story telling competitions every year and some of those people never write down a thing. Look up stuff like oral tradition and you'll find your way down the rabbit hole.

Now, technically, you can and sometimes still should write in this space, but lots of the greats never did and never will. Record yourself. The medium of oral story telling is performance, but also taps a lot of the things we talk about here when we talk about how to write a good story.

I don't think you can get out of reading entirely if you're hoping to write; but a lot of story tellers have notes or just work on their set and don't sweat writing long drafts of whatever. Whether its comedy or tall tails: there's a space out there. Maybe you won't be a famous author, but you can still do what you love and if you get good enough at your craft you may reach a point where you can write down the thing you have memorized or work with someone who knows how.

If you're not going to read, you probably can't write at a professional level.

But, that doesn't mean you can't tell stories, amazing and enjoyable ones, at a professional level.

You have to ingest what you want to put out.

If you're going to tell stories, you must listen. If you're going to write stories, you must read. Quality revision in either case requires you to examine what you are doing. Therefor, you can't revise what you write without reading it. You must at least read what you are are writing. Same goes for telling, but in that case you need to examine what it is you are saying and how you are saying it. And paying attention to others in your field only makes you better at what you're doing.

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But the number one advice to become a better author is to read a lot.

This is because reading is the only way to be exposed to the variety of different styles and forms available to you. It'll be pretty hard to hone your craft when you can't see how other people are fixing issues in their work.

If you hate reading a particular type of story, like fantasy, or scifi, or YA, or romance, you can always leave that out of your reading list. I hope this is the case just because it's going to be very very difficult to improve if you genuinely dislike reading. I know a lot of writers - all of them enjoy reading something.

A digression - one person I knew really only liked reading nonfiction articles. The story they wrote blew me away, mainly because it read so much like nonfiction that it was hard to remember that it wasn't real.

But anyway - let's assume you will not be doing any reading, sans rereading your own work, obviously. You'll need a lot of other readers who can point out areas of your writing that seem immature. The reason that writers need to read is because it gives them something to compare their own work against, or something to imitate.

Hopefully, your beta readers will give you useful feedback - "character A is too flat", "scene X moves too slow". You can focus on fixing those issues by figuring out what makes other characters (your own or fictional) well rounded, what makes the pacing of other scenes good.

Obviously, keep practicing your writing. Maybe you can try to achieve a certain effect, or imitate a style from a different medium of storytelling.

I personally like oscillating between styles based on what I'm reading. You could try writing in different tenses and POVs to stretch your writing muscles, but this is just a writing exercise.

Basically, keep writing, and go back to see why that writing needs to be better. Practice is key, whether you read or not. If the books I've read haven't influenced my writing process or style at all, then they haven't helped me get better.

What you need is some way of 'evaluating' your work. Whether that's against other stories or people's opinion is your decision. It's going to be hard for you to judge your own work because you won't have seen a lot of ways it could've been done better.

7

Obviously you have to read, but you don't have to read a LOT.

The lessons for writing are distilled into non-fiction books on writing, usually by authors of multiple best-sellers.

It is actually a little difficult to extract rules of plotting and characterization from reading books, the plot and characterization are better taught, not by example, but by explicitly tutoring the distilled version of how to do it.

Another approach is to not read fiction for entertainment, but to open it up and scan for particular things similar to what you want to do. If you have a lot of dialogue to put across, find a passage in a book, written by a multiple best-selling author, and analyze how they accomplished that feat without boring the reader.

The same goes for a lengthy description of a setting; look for something with very little dialogue and a lot of exposition.

The same goes for writing a battle, or a sex scene. Of course both of those have their own non-fiction books on how to write them, or examples of them. Google for them.

We don't teach medical students surgery by just telling them to watch a few dozen surgeries and then jump in with a scalpel. We don't teach engineers to build bridges by looking at a lot of bridges.

We teach them the theory of biology and surgery, or the theory of building bridges, long before we have them look at actual surgery or actual bridges. The same can go for writing. Read on the theory of forming a story, what is important to that. Read on the theory of writing.

If you love to write, learning the theory should should be engaging to you; you have immediate application for it. Then follow the examples and try to apply what you've done in writing. You won't avoid reading best selling fiction altogether, but IMO it is bad advice to just tell people read a hundred books and then write one, just as bad as telling an engineer to go look at 100 bridges by themselves, try to figure out what is important by themselves, and then design an original bridge by themselves.

The result would be either a patchwork of plagiarisms from existing bridges, or a disaster, or both.

Theory first, examples of "what worked" are only useful once you can generalize them back to the theory, because it is the generalized theory you need to apply to your own specific work; not just plagiarizing somebody else's application of the theory.

5

Along the other valid answers,

I'll suggest audiobooks.

I don't hate reading, but lately I have little time to spend on a single book. Audiobooks are convenient since they allow you to enjoy a book as you are doing something else (commuting to school/work, cleaning, jogging, gaming, etc...).

The underliying point being: you don't need to read, you read to consume plots, possibly looking at them with a critical eye. The more plots you consume, the more you'll be experienced in the art of narrating you will eventually become.

Plots and narrations come in many shapes, but if you want to be a novelist, it makes more sense to look at other novels. So, an audiobook is a good choice (rather than, let's say, a movie).

4

Similar to Amadeus's answer, I think it depends on whether you are a plotter or a pants writer.

As a plotter, your stories have structure. Characters will journey forth and return, subplots will be woven into the main timeline in measured intervals, arcs will be mapped and tweaked for maximum pay-off.

There may even be structural "games" built in: foreshadowing, echoes, elliptical endings, analogies, themes that supersede the plot, elaborate twists and lingering mysteries. All of these are in a plotter's toolkit partly because a plotter feels more "sure" with a planned structure.

The language might take a backseat, or be minimized by comparison. A procedural crime drama with elaborate twists and turns can benefit from a plain "news style" language. You don't need to be an avid newspaper reader to imitate a mannered, journalistic style.

A pantser's tools are focus, empathy and wordcraft. A pants writer must develop an innate sense of how stories flow, and understand the impact of individual words and phrases. It's far more important that the reader is engaged emotionally, and from moment to moment.

The emotional intelligence for language is a skill that can only come from reading because it has to be experienced and processed before it can be imitated and eventually mastered.

These are generalizations.

Plotting is like engineering a bridge – the structure is the story. Decorative details are bolted on to the superstructure, but the overall shape is planned well in advance. The bigger the bridge, the longer the planning phase. You're far less likely to suffer from "style creep" because a bridge isn't built from one end to the other, it all rises as one superstructure. The language can be utilitarian if the structure is sufficient to keep the reader moving from A to B.

In a totally unrelated metaphor, pantsing is like interpretive dance or improvising music. You'll need knowledge of the artform and mastery of your instrument. That means practice, and studying the works of others, as well as critically re-examining your own works after they are finished. A pantser who doesn't read their own work with a critical eye will never improve. The successful pants workflow involves re-writes, so it's built-in to a degree.

I don't see how anyone can become a good pants writer without reading (and writing), but a plotter might create a story that succeeds more by design than through style.

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    I AM a discovery writer [DW], my advice applies to DW as well as plodders. (oops, "plotters".) A plotter engages in the story building up front. A DW builds it on the fly. The DW needs a feel for story structure which can be learned, so they always know where they are in the story and thus what it needs, but we rely on our understanding of how people really act, sound, and feel. So it is improv, but guided at all times by the topic (big problem) and positional awareness within the (for me) demands of a four act structure. Some reading is needed, but my answer applies for DW like me. – Amadeus Jun 13 at 17:33
  • @Amadeus Should I change "pants" to "discovery"? I didn't mean to sound offensive, I was just using other people's terms for these concepts. – wetcircuit Jun 13 at 17:56
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    Up to you; most DO call them "pantsers", writing by "the seat of their pants". It is usually used pejoratively to mean amateurish guesswork, as opposed to the careful planning of plotters. The people that do it tend to identify as discovery writers. We let the characters tell us who they are, and though we force them to confront a big problem, the specifics of how to solve it (the plot) is at least partially discovered as well. But like all improvised entertainment, staying on track requires more expertise in the art than following a paint-by-numbers, or sheet music, or scripted jokes. – Amadeus Jun 13 at 21:23
  • Both are jargon and this answer could do with a little bit more of an explanation of what you mean by them. Or at the very least links to explanations. – curiousdannii Jun 13 at 23:35
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    @curiousdannii I added a link as you recommended. Feel free to roll back to the original if that's not a good enough definition. – Josh Jun 14 at 14:54
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To build on the answers that have mentioned movies and TV series, my issue with learning writing from visual media is the old adage "a picture is worth 1000 words", but which words do I write for that picture?

Answer: Descriptive Audio

Descriptive audio is another audio track added to movies or TV series, primarily for visual-impairment accessibility, that intersperses character dialogue with a narrator's description of the scene. I find that it helps me bridge the distance between what I'm seeing and how I can describe it, with the benefit of the narration being fluidly blended with dialogue.

A lot of streaming services (e.g., Netflix, Hulu) offer descriptive audio as an option with a lot of series or movies and most (all? I'm not sure of the accessibility requirements for movie theaters, especially outside of the U.S.) offer a descriptive audio showing of movies (though they tend to be at very inaccessible times like 2 PM on a Wednesday, go figure...)

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Analyse what aspects of reading causes you to "hate" it, then make sure to avoid them in your work. This suggestion, however, implies that reading is again part of your solution...

You will then be able to write perfect prose for youself - but this has its own special problems!

I hope you find a solution, my regards, Barry.

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To be a great writer, you have to read a lot, unless you are that exceptionally rare savant that has an intrinsic understanding of how things you write are perceived by people who read your work.

Personally, reading is hard for me, for similar reasons previously stated. But, one of the ways I’ve learned the most of the craft is by critiquing other writers work. It compels me to be able to articulate the weakness in other peoples writing and I learn to better recognized the poorness of my own. The more I read, the more I understand about how to write to engage, entertain, and challenge my audience. And, to give you a reference to my current writing level, I am constantly deconstructing everything I read. Making it a real challenge to just enjoy something.

But, if you want to an OK writer, then don’t read so much. The further you go from wanting to be Great the less you should read.

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The main source of ideas and expressions that the majority of people have to draw on when writing is the stories they've heard and read elsewhere. Then our ability to modify and combine ideas in different ways results in new works. This wouldn't apply to Magellan, but it would apply to a hypothetical Joe the perfectly average office worker.

So what can you do other than read, listen to and watch to others' stories? Set off on an adventure. Begin with taking a year to go around the world, see a lot of cultures and lifestyles, get experience living outside of the home-car-office cycle.

That's the start; from there, you'll have a better idea of what you can do that not a lot of your readers have or have read about. This doesn't mean your stories have to be documentaries - it's just the variety of experiences that can be fictionalized and combined to produce stories that deliver more than a vague deja vu of having read it before.

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Back when I was a teen I used to read a lot, I carried that on until I started writing, when I started noticing that I was carrying the voice of what I had read into what I was writing, and I disliked the feeling of that. So I stopped reading fiction.

I do seem to be unique in that, and maybe that is why I’m not a successful author.

However, I do enjoy language, I enjoy the feel, and the taste, and the sound of words. I like to understand the mechanics of how they fit together. That knowledge helps me to watch how people use words. To understand the nuance of how people express themselves.

Writing is purely about sharing a story with someone else. We tell stories to people every day, we hear stories from people every day. These are the important skills in my eyes. Sure by reading novels you’re going to pick up on how novels are generally constructed. You’ll learn lots by reading.

But I do believe those skills can be gained in other ways. Fortunately we live in a world of text, it is easy to engage with people using words, I found doing things like chatting to people online can be a huge useful way of exploring the mechanics of words

I also placed an advert in the local paper looking for an editor, I was lucky - after much searching - to find someone who would take a small fee for letting me bonce ideas off and give proper critiques of what I wrote.

But that was me, those are the things that fitted developing my style and ideas.

You need to find out what fits you, it starts by just getting on with it and writing. Maybe you’ll be good enough to get published, maybe you won’t. That seems like the same odds as every other unpublished author. Just get out there and learn in a way that fits you.

Maybe all of the voices here are right, maybe you can’t write if you don’t read. But then again, maybe you’ll be the person to prove that wrong.

Good luck

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If you don't enjoy reading books, then writing them is probably not your lane --why devote yourself to an art form you don't personally enjoy? There are plenty of other places a gift or a passion for telling stories can be valuable:

  • Movies: Do you love watching movies? Maybe you could write scripts. It's a tough business to break into, especially if you're wanting to write a big budget blockbuster. But modern technology has brought indie filmmaking within reach for more and more people, some of whom are looking for screenwriters.

  • Television: With streaming services commissioning new series at an incredible rate, there's a call for good television writers right now.

  • Podcasting: A relatively new and promising venue for storytelling.

  • Comedian: Many of the best comedians are primarily extraordinary storytellers.

  • Public Speaker: See above.

  • Preacher: See above.

And of course, there are still plenty of people who do old-fashioned storytelling, although not many can actually make a living from it (but that's true of pretty much any creative art).

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