Can You Be a Writer if You Don’t Read?

Diane Callahan
12 min readAug 13, 2021

William Faulkner once advised, “Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write.”

So, can you be a writer if you don’t read?

Perhaps you’re thinking, “Of course you have to read. What kind of question is that?” Or maybe you clicked on this article because you’re a writer who doesn’t read much, and you’re afraid of having your worst fears confirmed — or you’re looking to validate the absence of reading in your life.

The short answer is “yes and no.” Writing is a form of self-expression that everyone should be encouraged to participate in, and for some writers, reading requires a lot of time and energy, whether it’s brought on by the toll of parenting or mental obstacles like dyslexia. With those limitations, it can feel like you have to choose between either writing or reading.

Even so, being a writer without being a reader is like trying to compose a symphony when you don’t listen to much classical music or opening a restaurant when you don’t know the first thing about business or cooking. It’s talking without listening, wanting your own voice to be heard without putting in the work to learn what others have said and done before you.

Many reading advocates will quote Stephen King on this subject, from his memoir and writing community Bible On Writing:

“You have to read widely, constantly refining (and redefining) your own work as you do so. It’s hard for me to believe that people who read very little (or not at all in some cases) should presume to write and expect people to like what they have written, but I know it’s true. If I had a nickel for every person who ever told me he/she wanted to become a writer but ‘didn’t have time to read,’ I could buy myself a pretty good steak dinner. Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have the time to read, you…

Diane Callahan

Fiction writer and editor, a.k.a. YouTuber Quotidian Writer.