Friday, February 4, 2011

Reading to Write

Oh! So many topics to choose from; I hardly know where to begin!
Actually, I'll just go with that "possibly even next time" topic I mentioned last time. Although I have other things I think I would rather talk about, that one is kind of central to all of this. What, though, exactly, is that topic?

You have to read to write.

"What?! How can you say that? I'm sure that's not true."
Unfortunately, it is true. Unless, you know, you hire a ghost writer, in which case, it's not really you doing the writing, even if you do get the credit.

The sad fact about humans is that we almost exclusively learn to do things by copying what other people do. Sure, we can combine those things in different ways, cut out things we don't like, sometimes, even, add on some new bit that no one thought of before, but the initial act was copied from someone else. It's how we learn to walk. It's how we learn to talk. It's how we learn to write.

Heck, it's even how we learn to eat.
My younger son (middle child) decided quite early on  that he was ready for "real" food. He watched us eating and decided he wanted to do what we were doing. He  had his first bite of apple sauce at 6 months or so, and he never went back. For the next year, he would try anything and everything that was put in front of him (ask me the story about the first time he ate a banana, some time). We thought we'd hit the jackpot. Our oldest son had been very difficult with food and what he would and wouldn't eat, so we were overjoyed that #2 would wolf down whatever was put in front of him. Then, he turned 2. And quit eating. Not everything, of course, but gone were the days of gobbling up whatever was put in front of him. He'd learned what he liked and what he didn't and, as unimaginably impossible as it was, became even worse about eating than his older brother. "Picky" just doesn't cover it. And he's still that way.

And that's how we learn to write. Well, that's where it starts, at any rate. We start reading. We read some more. We read some more. Somewhere in there we start copying what we're reading (remind me, sometime, to tell you about my first attempt at a novel (I think I was about 8)), then combining different authors and styles and, somewhere in there, we discover our own voice. We discover what we like.

I've heard people say that you don't need to read to be a writer. I even heard some people say that reading is a crutch to writing, the only way to be a "true" writer is to be uncontaminated by other authors, that you can't have your own voice if you're "listening" to other people that write. Hogwash. It's a good theory, but, you know, it just doesn't work. If you never hear other people talk, you can't learn to speak. I'm not saying that you can't figure out how to make noise, but actual, intelligible speech... it's just not happening.

Not long ago (and I wish I had saved the reference to this when I read it, but I didn't), there was some sort of survey done of some of the most successful authors of our day. On this survey, they were asked to list the top 10 things they believed that a person should do to be successful at writing. That sounds simple enough, right? 10 things. Surely, there must be things in common to be successful at writing! If we can just get those things figured out, more people could do it, right? As it turns out, there were only 2 things.

Wait! What?

Yes. Every author's list was different. Except for 2 things. And, not only were these 2 things on each author's list, they were the top 2 things on each author's list. Everything else was different. Anyone want to take a guess as to what those 2 things were? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?
They are reading and writing. It seems sort of redundant to say that you have to write to be a writer; of course, you have to write! But you would be surprised at how many people "want" to write or have that great story inside them, but, yet, it never happens. So, yeah, you have to actually sit down and do it to do it. Or stand if you can work that out. Or lay  in bed at night. But you have to write. And, yes, the other thing is reading. You just have to do it.

I'm sure I'll say more about reading in the future. I believe strongly in it. We all read in my house. It's just the way it is. There isn't actually an option, although 4/5 of us love it, and the 5th one is working on it. She's a bit more kinetic than  the rest of us, so she can have a hard time sitting down for daily reading.

One last thing, when it was first getting around that I was writing a book, there was this person that told me that she couldn't wait to read it. Now, lots of people have told me that (I kind of take it with a grain of salt, because people are always talking about how they should read more or wish they just had the time to read more), but this person, in particular, told me that she couldn't wait to read it because I read all the time and, since I read all the time, she knew it would be good.


  1. We are all readers at our house too, although Douglas reads more than all of us combined. I remember when he started pre-K, he told me "Mom, I will learn to read, but I am NEVER going to write." I know he meant the physical act of writing on paper, but now that he is older, he still does not enjoy writing assignments at school.

    Abigail sounds like your almost non-reader. She is too busy to read. She doesn't even sit down to watch TV. I wish I had her energy.

    I agree, though, I know you like to read, and can't wait to read your novel. The fact that it is kid friendly makes it better.


  2. I'll be reading the whole thing as soon as it comes out in paper format. No Kindle is kind of limiting me at the moment. :P

    I totally agree that you must read, that being said, not all who read voraciously want to be, or have any ability to be writers. It's awesome that you are, but as much as I read, I cannot imagine having a whole story to put down on paper that wouldn't be exactly like something I have already read. (maybe I read TOO much)

  3. Stephanie: My youngest sounds a lot like Abigail, as Douglas said in his comment on my preview chapter. She will ask for a movie to be put in and, then, go outside before it's through the opening credits. And since opening credits are alomost non-existent, that should tell you how much patience she has.

    Flitter: I think that's kind of like that thing about how genius is always misunderstood. Just because you are misunderstood, doesn't make you a genius. >grin<
    I won't speak for the genius, but I often wish I was a little less misunderstood.