Fiction Writers: Soloists or Thieves?

November 12, 2010 | 2

From Lev Grossman’s blog, “A Brief Taxonomy of Writers”: “As far as I can tell there are two kinds of fiction writers: those who read no fiction while they write, and those who constantly read fiction while they write. Let’s have cute names for them. We’ll call them Soloists and Thieves.”

is an associate editor for The Millions. She works for the New York Civil Liberties Union, the NY Chapter of the ACLU. She was formerly a writer for The Atlantic's news website The Wire, and a co-editor of NY media blog FishbowlNY. Her writing has appeared in The Millions,, Newsday, National Journal, The Rumpus, and elsewhere, and is partly collected at her website, Follow @ujalasehgal.


  1. Fair enough, but are you saying their are writers out there who don’t read books? That’s pretty amazing. How good can these ‘soloists’ be? There’s not really that much in the way of truly original characters/plots etc in the world; whats interesting and original is typically a handful of so-so ideas combined in a very clever way. People who read alot of fiction might have more ‘soso’ ideas (borrowed) from which to pick.Then again, most of what we write is heavily influenced by our own lives. So the soloists could be just writing from their own life. Not exactly fiction.

    Bottom line: I don’t think we should chastize those who ‘borrow’ ideas, as I think originality is kind of overrated. The point is not to be clever or cute, but to be good. The thing with writers who read alot of great books, they tend to absorb not only writing styles (what you might consider influencing styles) but other people’s ideas for plot/characters, subconsciously. Writers who read alot tend to be much better writers.

  2. It’s amazing to me too, but I met a novelist at a literary festival once who claimed he never read books. I haven’t read his work yet, but he was shortlisted for the Giller prize (one of the top awards in Canada) so I’m assuming he must be good.

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