If you want to succeed as a writer you have to read widely, read frequently, and read well. Not only do you have to read across many genres; you also have to understand what you’re reading.
Those first few points are often discussed: but I’ve rarely heard anyone mention that last one and just lately, it’s been bothering me. Because almost every day I see writers get horribly upset by things that other people have not actually said.
I’ve seen people take offence when no offence was intended; I’ve seen people misinterpret statements which are completely unambiguous. I’ve seen statistics, laws and quotes dismissed without care; and I’ve seen, as a direct result, perfectly reasonable people get terribly, terribly hurt.
Most of the meltdowns have been on internet message-boards and blogs while the rest have been via e-mail and, while I strongly believe that as writers we have a responsibility to choose our words with care, I also strongly believe that we should read with care to.
Leaving aside for a moment the hurt and anger that this all causes (which feels to me, as I write this, a dangerous thing to do: it’s corrosive and wounding and really should not be dismissed), I wonder what this implies about the writers concerned. Do they not realise just how badly they are getting things wrong? Do they make the same basic misunderstandings when they read books and newspapers? And if so, do they have any hope at all of ever writing a coherent text of their own?