Alan Moore — You Are As Good A Writer As You Are a Reader

Why reading crap can be more valuable than reading literature.

In Alan Moore’s BBC Maestro course he emphasizes the importance of reading widely and voraciously advising the viewer to:

Be omnivorous in your reading.

Read pulp. Read literature.

Read the highest and the lowest.

Alan relates the story of how he interviewed his hero, the famous musician Brian Eno.

It was at the beginning of Alan’s career and he greatly admired the Brian as an artist. He asked what Eno was reading at the moment and Brian told him his process for figuring out what to read. Brian told the story, but I need to give you some context first.

When I was a young little whippersnapper back in the 80’s, we had this thing called libraries. They had thousands of books you could just walk in and read without being afraid of catching weird diseases.

You could walk through rows and rows of books, and borrow them for a couple of weeks, for free.

They were organized using a systems of numbers and letters known as the Dewey Decimal System which often had 4 or 5 short rows of these numbers.

We didn’t use computers to look the books up. We used card catalogs. They were drawers full of paper cards you had to leaf through. You searched by subject or title and get the number of the book you wanted to find. Then you walked through the library searching the shelves for the numbers printed on the book binding, hoping that the book had been filed properly.

Brian wouldwrite down a series of numbers, then go to the card catalog and find the book that most closely approximated the number he had written down. Then he’d read the random book.

It was a great way to read something you would never ever read in your life.

It’s a form of bibliomancy, which makes it even cooler, for the magicians in my audience.

Anyhow, Alan advises you to read good books and terrible books.

Of the two, it’s best to read terrible books. Why?

Good books might make you want to plagiarize. Never a good thing.

Terrible books can be more inspiring because you will say to yourself, “Jesus Christ I could write this shit.”

It’s liberating to see the crap that gets published, because if it can get published, then your work can too.

As you read the bad books as yourself:

Why did this story offend me so much?

What would I have done differently?

In conclusion, I’ll say Alan isn’t the only author that feels it’s important to read widely. This reminds me of something another master said.

Stephen King said that if you are a writer, then when you aren’t writing, you should be reading not watching TV.

Can’t read? Listen to an audiobook.

Read widely. Read wisely.

Additional discussion of Alan’s BBC Maestro class can be found here: “Alan Moore’s — Four Weapons Of The Writer” »

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Donovan is a copywriter. He uses pomodoros every day, and writes the technomagical Belman Chronicles. He knows so much his brain is going to burst any day now.

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Donovan Rittenbach

Donovan is a copywriter. He uses pomodoros every day, and writes the technomagical Belman Chronicles. He knows so much his brain is going to burst any day now.