The Importance of Reading in a Writer’s Journey
My most recent worldly desire is to be a writer! Perhaps yours is too. So where can we start this journey?
Let’s ask Stephen King. He’d know, right? I mean, he’s published over sixty novels and counting. In his book On Writing Stephen gives us the goods on how a writer might improve their craft:
If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.
And there you have it: read, he says. Pretty straightforward, but how much should we be reading? Well, Stephen says he’s a slow reader and ingests only eighty books a year. Yes, that’s right: only eighty.
Needless to say, if it’s our desire to master the art of words, the formula of storytelling, and to live the life of a writer, we must read! Much, much more than we (most likely) do already.
Thus, this is where my precious time has been spent, reading at coffee shops, in front of screens, on couches and beds. It’s not a glamorous life, nor as adventurous as past experiences, but such is the journey inwards. Indeed there is less flash in this excursion, no vistas worthy of posting to a trending Instagram profile. Ah, but I find it all just as rewarding! I’ve given up my heart to it, let down my defenses, and I’m not at all afraid to fail, to try. The pursuit is quite cliché of my appearance if you could see me (some hairy dude in his mid-twenties), but I accept it! What’s in a look anyways other than a façade? ’Tis a superficial veil to hide the truth! Who knows how long this romance with reading and writing will last, and I admit that perhaps we are still in the honeymoon phase, but she’ll do for now.
Alrighty then, enough of this poetic introduction. Let’s get to it, shall we?
What I Learned from Intensive Reading
The realm of reading is equally as if not more important than the writing itself. Here’s what I’ve learned from “intensive” reading (by my standards) the past three months blended with some interesting thoughts left to stew in your mind.
A writer is a reader.
If you want to write, you must read! Read a wide spectrum of authors for a richer writing style. Too easily I fell in love with a single author and immersed myself (Thank you, Hesse). That was great, but it’s always good to branch out. My writing improved dramatically and I often found myself heavily editing earlier work. Find your balance between the two and know when it’s time to set down the book and pick up the pen (…or the laptop)!
We read books, but we also read authors.
A book is a gateway into the mind of the author and reading gives us instant access into some of the greatest minds of all time! If we read a book, we’ve siphoned a piece of the author’s mind into our subconscious. Their work will no doubt permeate into our writing. That’s good news for us.
The author is everywhere and nowhere.
Each and every character of a novel (not only the protagonist) comes from the author’s imagination. Therefore, each is a reflection of the author’s inner-self. It’s a fallacy to assume she’s only the lead character. Each is a creation stemming from their own mind, of their own doing. Therefore, the author is present both everywhere and nowhere in the story. *mind blown*
The best stories do not reveal too much.
They give only what is required. Nothing more. Nothing less. The best stories capture the reader’s mind and take them on a journey. The hook is then pulled from their mouth as they are released back into the stream of life to explore the meaning of its surroundings with newfound perspective. Although a reader may or may not have physically moved in this process, by the end they have found themselves somewhere different, somewhere nowhere near where they began. They are filled with questions.
Everything is a remix.
You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again and again. Nothing is ever completely original. Someone took it from someone or something else that came before them and made it their own. Why attempt to rebuild the wheel when it’s already been built for us? The origins of most stories we hear these days most likely came from The Bard, The Bible, the Greeks, or Fairy Tales (link to lovely book I’ve been reading. HINT: It’s about reading).
Writers do not write simply to write.
They write because they have a story to tell. Their stories unveil the ways in which they see the world. What is it the author is trying to say to the world? What is it YOU are trying to say to the world?
Reading and writing are meditative.
They aren’t direct substitutes for formal practice, but they do have similar qualities. Concentration and focus are demanded for long periods of time. The illusions of self and time disappear. Psychological flow can be achieved.
Read to understand, not to finish.
I’m a slow reader and that’s okay. Instead, I’m deliberate. I study the words that were so carefully put there on the page in front of me. I take notes on phrasing, pacing, voice and style and finishing is the last thing I worry about.
It’s a long way to the top.
The past three months I’ve read ten books. It’s nothing worth bragging about, but if I can keep it up that’s forty books a year. I’ll need to double my pace if I want to catch Mr. King. But then again the race isn’t against Stephen. It’s against myself. It always is. At the same time, I realize that “the top” doesn’t exist. That as of today I’m ready to write with the best of them — and you are too! Too often we crave instant results when it’s all about the slow roll. We look to those above us, the ones that make it seem so easy, but what they do behind the scenes is never seen and makes all the difference. Cheers and happy reading to ya!
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