Maybe it is the English teacher in me, but I can’t help it. I really feel that in order to be a good writer you need to be a good reader. I don’t mean to say that if you read 100 books a month you automatically qualify as a good reader. I think you need to be able to read and absorb what the author is not only saying but also how they are doing it. Are they using literary techniques to get their point across or are they just telling you the facts? What do you do in your own writing? Are you a “just the facts” person or are you leaving small clues for your reader?
I’ve talked about my failed attempts at poetry and I really think it has to do with the fact that I didn’t really read poems. Sure, I would read Sexton, Plath, Parker and Langston Hughes…but that is where my poetry education ended. I would rather pour hot sauce in my eyes and poke them with dull needles then read a poem by T.S. Eliot. Why I hate him so much, I don’t know. I think it has to do with the fact that I feel like he tries to throw his intelligence around. Joyce is like that as well. I threw his book down when I read in the introduction that no one will understand his book. Really, I don’t have that kind of time to devote to something he already thinks I wouldn’t get (I know, but I love a challenge…but not from someone who’s opinion doesn’t matter). Because of my stunted education in poetry, I couldn’t really expand as a poet and it showed.
That is why I think reading is so important. Pick your genre and read all that you can from it. You will get so used to reading it and seeing how it fits that it will become a part of you and you will mimic things in your own writing without even knowing you did it. Also, you can learn new words and different stylistic approaches. If you can, form or join a book group. Just as a writing group is helpful, so is a book group. There you will be with people who (hopefully) read the same book you did and you can hear how they saw things. Every reader brings his or her own life into what is read and it is so awesome. I loved discussing literature with my students because I would even learn new ways of seeing something or they would pick up on something I hadn’t noticed before.
Writing and reading, although they are put on paper and it seems like they are stagnate beings, are far from that. Reading and writing are liquid. They change and evolve just as the people who read their stories change and evolve. A perfect example is when I was a high school student; I had to read the book, The Great Gatsby. I wanted to poke out my eyes every time I opened the book and I had no idea Gatsby got shot when I read it the first time. Then, as a teacher, I had to read the book again. I fell in love with the book. Fitzgerald does amazing things in just nine chapters and that book is a pure work of art as it is of genius.
People always stress the importance of reading, but I don’t think they fully understand its importance. We learn so much from books and, as a writer; a book is your teacher and your classroom.
I feel that there are two things any serious writer must do everyday. Of course writing is one, but reading is the second part.