Read a quick but great article in the New York Times by Tina Jordan yesterday, “Some Dos and Don’ts From Famous Writers.” There were tips by Delia Owens and J. K. Rowling, from John Grisham and William Faulkner, the latter who spouted the line that really got to me: “You can’t be a good writer without being a devoted reader.” This should come as no surprise to anyone that thinks of themselves as a writer, because truly, where would you get the inspiration to write without the very prose (or poetry or play or lyric) that drove you to it? I’ve always had a lust for reading, starting from that very day in first grade when the nun easeled an oversized, laminated book in front of the class. (Yes, I am the product of a Catholic elementary school education. Don’t start with me.) LOOK — was the only dialogue on the page, but when I sounded out the L-O-O-K with my rudimentary phonics knowledge and my agile young brain connected the synapses to form look–well, it was a discovery so profound, I jumped out of my desk to cry I CAN READ THAT! And I’ve been doing it ever since.
As I look around my office I see four tall bookcases, a basket of magazines containing academic and trade periodicals, a couple of New Yorkers on my desk with another journal underneath, and atop the table next to my favorite reading chair, Becoming, by Michelle Obama, Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (this month’s Book Discussion pick), a book on back pain (from sitting on my ass at this desk too much), and Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. At the top of my TBR pile is Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly, and just below it, Something Wonderful, by Todd S. Purdum. If you know anything about these books, you can tell what an eclectic reader I am. Does that say anything about my writing? Maybe it does.
One thing’s for certain. If I don’t read, it definitely affects my writing. It plods along, my characters lose their edge, the dialogue becomes stilted. There are certain schools of thought that say you shouldn’t read and write at the same time, because if you do, you’ll unconsciously steal the style of whomever you’re reading. I don’t happen to buy into that. For me, reading breaks loose my inner competitor, and I find myself wanting to outdo them. If anything, I get inspired–if they can do it, I can do it better, and the more I read, the more I want to write. I remember a time when I was deep into deadlines, that I didn’t even come near a screen outside my laptop for a month. But every day I found the time to read, over breakfast, over lunch, after a writing session, before bed. Now, I must admit I do a fair amount of reading from my laptop and my phone. But there’s still nothing like the visceral touch of the printed page, the pure joy of row upon row of embedded ink slowly unfolding a story. And no such thrill as when that story’s your own.
But enough about reading. Writers got to write, too. Best get back to work. Unless, of course, you’ll be reading.