IF READING IS GOOD, IS READING MORE BOOKS BETTER? OR ARE OTHER SKILLS EVEN MORE IMPORTANT?
I tell every would-be writer to read more—and generally speaking that is good advice—but what I don’t stress enough is that inter-personal skills are even more important; vastly more important.
I apologize for that. I have been reflecting my own love of books, and glossing over my own weaknesses, rather than giving the best advice.
Let me declare a simple, fundamental and self-evident truth. People skills are far and away the most important, because if you want to achieve just about anything in this world, you need the help of other people. If you treat them with coldness and disdain, even if you have written the greatest 21st century novel to date, they probably won’t help you. Indeed, they will probably try and cut your throat (even if only metaphorically). Even if you are agreeable, and the chemistry isn’t right—fate can be fickle that way—the outcome can be problematic, no matter how hard you try. However, such setbacks apart, you need to be able to empathize and understand people to write about them—and all writing is, in the end, about people.
My own people skills leave much to be desired though they have improved enormously over the decades. A difficult home life and bullying at school left me both defensive and aggressive; and it took me some time to learn that if you offend someone’s dignity, he or she will never forgive you. So much for generosity of spirit!
But, over time, I have learned much and mellowed—and I have always been empathetic. What I don’t have, and will never have, is the easy charm of some of my writer peers, and I regret that, while accepting it. On the other, I have learned that, generally speaking, I like people, am interested in their lives; and that they will talk to me—generally quite freely—and that is no small asset in this business. Fundamental to writing is learning; and that requires listening. Not everything is in books.
Where reading is concerned, I still believe that writers should read extensively, and that reading helps one’s writing skills. Nonetheless, I confess that I was shaken when I calculated that at the rate of reading two books a week for sixty years—and I have frequently exceeded that number—it appears I have read 43,800 books to date. Not a misprint. I really do mean forty-three thousand, eight hundred. And that would be a very low estimate! Good grief!
What a massive waste of money and time some would argue! I flinch a bit about the money—though I have made much use of libraries over the years, I have long been a compulsive book buyer. But as to the extent to which the quality of my life has been enriched by all that reading, all I can say is that I feel an exceptionally lucky man—albeit somewhat embarrassed! Expressed so baldly in numbers, it really does seem quite a lot of books. I don’t think of them in numbers, of course. To me they represent a series of extraordinarily enriching experiences which prepared me well for my real life adventures.
Books sewed the seed of high adventure in me; and I have to say that life has not disappointed.