Are Reading and Writing Essentially the Same Thing?
Every writer must also be a reader. This fact is universally accepted by many great authors. I’m sure you know this famous quote by Stephen King:
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
So if every writer is also a reader, does the same apply the other way around? Is every reader also a writer?
The obvious answer is no, of course not. Lots of people just like to read without ever writing anything themselves. Swiss author Melinda Nadj Abonji would disagree. To her, writing and reading are essentially the same thing.
Melinda made this statement in a seminar about literature at Zurich University of the Arts. She didn’t elaborate, so I started wondering what made her say something like that.
The Reader Constructs Meaning
Literary studies often overlook the role of the reader. But would a book without readers still be a book? Would this article still be an article if nobody read it, or would it just be a journal entry?
The public — the readership — constructs the meaning of a text just as much as the writer does. There is a triad between the author, the text, and the reader. Neither can exist without the other two, they are interdependent on each other.
Author — Text
First of all, the text in the author’s head does not equal the text on the page. The two might resemble each other, but they are never exactly the same. The author usually knows more than he actually writes down.
The author might have detailed character portraits in their head, and might still choose not to put every single detail onto the page. An author can know a character’s back story, their motivation, and desires without spelling them all out for the reader.
Good writers put these things between the lines, invisible yet noticeable for the reader.
Text — Reader
Accordingly, good readers pick up on the things the author has left unsaid. But in the end, what they get is only words on the page. They (usually) don’t get a list of everything the author had at the back of their mind.
This means that the reader must write the meaning of the text for him- or herself. The author might leave cues to direct the readers in a certain direction, but it’s impossible to lead them through every single thought.
One reader will decipher the meaning of a scene differently than another. Therefore, the reader does play an important role when it comes to constructing meaning.
Reader — Author
Now, if I argue that reading and writing are the same thing, does that mean that the roles of the reader and the author are the same, too? No, but again, they are tied to one another.
The author wants to communicate a certain meaning. The reader draws meaning from the text that is shaped by their own perception. As a reader, I often ask myself: What did the author try to do here?
But that is a question the reader will never be able to answer, nor does it matter. If everything were set in stone, literature would be very boring indeed.
The Text As an Interaction
To me, a text is always an interaction. Author, reader, and the text interact with one another. All three of them are crucial for literature to even exist.
Having considered this triad, I must agree with Melinda Nadj Abonji that reading and writing are really the same thing. They both share the same text, which connects them to each other and enables both the reader and the writer to construct meaning.
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