Discovering Greatness in Smallness: Part 1

This is the first blog in the weekly 15-part Discovering the Greatness in Smallness: 15 Qualities of Great Short Story Writers series by Susanne Carter.

Quality 1: Great short story writers read, read, read.

“Reading. That was the sport I was good at.” – George R.R. Martin

Great short story writers not only write—they read and read a lot. American Indian writer Sherman Alexie recommends that aspiring writers read 1,000 pages for each page that they write.   And he practices what he preaches. Alexie says he reads “everybody and everything—from Joseph Conrad to Agatha Christie, poetry, mysteries, sports books, comic books. If there are words on the page I read it.”

Annie Proulx advises writers to write “because you love the shape of stories and sentences and the creation of different words on a page. Writing comes from reading, and reading is the finest teacher of how to write.”

Stephen King compares a writer who says he doesn’t have time to read to “a guy starting up Mount Everest saying that he didn’t have time to buy any rope or pitons.”

Writers naturally absorb what they read and become better writers by exposing themselves to a variety of writing. Not-so-great writing can also provide equally valuable examples of how not to write. In On Writing, Stephen King says it can be very beneficial to occasionally read writing that convinces us to think, “I don’t ever want to write like that.”

Reading can also help writers over inevitable blocks that bog down the writing process and reduce it a “painful chore.” During those times, Polish writer Evan Maloney says, “reading offers a writer a lovely escape into a fantasy world where stories are revealed with simple ease and order on the page. Writing is often hell, but reading is almost always a pleasure if you are discerning.”

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How often do you read, read, read?