Warning: I feel a rant coming on.
Look, I’m no authority on how reading affects the writer's brain or creative process other than what I know intuitively, logically and via personal experience, and what I've gleaned by reading about this issue, and from talking with other writers.
But I do know this: you can't be a writer if you are not a reader. A big reader.
Seems to me writers have to be readers by default, else how would any of us even know we want to write in the first place? Maybe that's a little too simplistic; the urge to communicate is not limited to marks on paper, after all, but I'm talking about wanting to write so that others can read what one has written. How else do we get that urge other than from experiencing writing first as a reader?
We all start out as readers before we are writers.
And yet in many classes and workshop I run, I'm gobsmacked by writers, in the early stages of their writing life, who claim not to be especially interested in reading and/or say they don't have time to read.
Here's what I say: If you don't have time to read, maybe you don't really have time to write either.
Let's say all you have available to devote to writing is a two hour chunk of time per a week. I'm suggesting you read for an hour and write for an hour, and over the long haul, the writing will be far better than if you had written for those full two hours.
Reading feeds writing. Reading good writing opens the door to a deeper understanding of craft, possibility, creativity. Reading teaches us to think as writers, and to know, in our bones, what it feels like to be consumers of writing.
Can vocal students NOT listen to recordings of vocal performances? To songs? To the radio, CDs, to each other? Do hopeful downhill ski racers progress by watching cross-country competitions, or by watching no skiing at all? Are there visual artists out there who rarely look at others' paintings? What would happen to a chef who rarely ate other chefs' cooking?
I don't get it and don't think I ever will. Most writers, if they've spent enough time thinking about what it is about their craft which they love, realize they are enthralled not only with the act of writing, but by the "moving parts" of writing, which we only notice by reading -- individual words and the millions of ways they can be put together, meaning and language, story, the cadence of words strung together, the rhythm and style of favorite lines. So why wouldn't we always want to experience more of that?
I believe a writer's reading life has a lot to do with what kind of a writer one chooses to be, or can continue to be. I love to read from many different genres and media, but it wasn't until I realized just how much nonfiction I was reading that I realized it was what I mostly wanted to write. The more I found my way to the top of the creative nonfiction reading pile, the more excited I was to try to secure a place there myself. In that sense, I feel that writing, as a personal act as well as the process which produces a public piece of literary art, cannot grow out of anything except aspiration.
And when the writing is not going so well, the answer is often not more writing. The answer to a writing problem is often more reading.
What say you?
P.S. Read anything good lately?
- The Writers Circle - Northern NJ - I teach in-person classes here.
- * I Should Be Writing! * Boot Camp: Reclaim Your Writing Life. A solo, on-demand, online course. Begin any time.
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- One-Week CNF Workshops: You Choose the Week(s) and Topic(s)