Monday, October 20, 2008

Read to Write

"No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance."
~ Confucious

There are three reasons why it's important for a writer to read.

1) The reason set out by Confucious.

Reading expands us as human beings, as conscious beings and as writers.

Writing is most often a solitary act, one that can pull us out of the maelstrom of daily living and into a monastic place of creative retreat. Whether or not we're in the midst of a writing project, it's important to be part of the shared world of creation and imagination inhabited by fellow artists.

Read, listen to music, view art. You'll learn more about the human enterprise and about yourself from those sources than from all the newspapers and magazines on the planet.

It doesn't matter what you read (or view or listen to). Whether you read in your genre or another, you'll connect with the heart of creation and the Creator of heart and art.

2) Craft.

Once again, genre doesn't matter. Depth of topic doesn't matter. What does matter is that you read good writing by accomplished writers.

Osmosis is one of the most powerful learning tools available to the human heart and mind. When we read good writing, we absorb the author's craft and technique. We sense at a deep level what works and what doesn't. Without having to know or understand how or why, without needing to analyze or parse, the power of the words we're reading finds its way into our writing.

You won't be copying. You'll be absorbing, filtering and adapting. You'll be learning -- in the easiest and most fun way imaginable: by doing nothing other than enjoying another's words.

2) Blatant self-interest.

Do you want to be read? Do you want your words to find an audience? If you as a writer aren't reading, what sort of example are you setting for your readers?

The creative/literary community isn't a one-way delivery system. It's a bustling marketplace of ideas and concepts where readers not only learn and grow from writers, but where writers learn and grow from readers and from each other. If we write, in part, to be heard, then we must also be prepared to listen.

Again, genre and subject are less important than engagement, than opening a book -- any book -- and surrendering to the words and imaginings of a fellow artist.

Right now, I'm reading The Lighthouse by that master of mystery, P.D. James -- reading for pleasure, learning with pleasure and engaging in the world of words.

What are you reading now? Why is reading important to you? What books have you read this month? Share them here if you choose or join one of the online readers' communities (Shelfari, Goodreads, etc.).

If you're not reading, visit your local bookstore or public library and discover the words and worlds that are waiting for you on its shelves. Or start with some of the authors whose links you'll find on this blog. Or, if the world of storytellers and storytelling is important to you, discover what life would be like if it vanished, in my novel, The MoonQuest: A True Fantasy.

Whatever you do, step beyond the walls of your creative enterprise and engage!

Reader image found at Julie's Realistic Fiction Web Site; Confucious quote found at A Starry Night Productions.


motherwort said...

Francine Prose, author and teacher of writing, believes the same, that writing and reading go hand in hand (her books is "Reading Like a Writer" and it's great!) Of course, as a librarian's daughter, you know where I stand on the reading and writing debate : )

Great blog. A joy to read.

Sun Singer said...

I'm usually very conscious of the ways a novelist uses words.

But other than that, reading is often like sleep learning. I read, enjoy the story, and with no effort on my part, I glom onto many things and they become part of my memory and my experience.


Mark David Gerson said...

Sue: Love Francine Prose's fiction; haven't read "Reading Like a Writer," though. WIll have to check it out.

Malcolm: Isn't it great when learning is effortless!?

Afronuts said...

Thanks for this enlightening post david! Broadened my horizon the more.

Concerning reading and checking out artworks, where do comics stand in this case? Can we consider them as a source of inspiration for the writer as in the case of viewing art?

Mark David Gerson said...

Humor is integral to our emotional and intellectual health. So, yes, comedy can also part of the creative well from which all artists draw.

ricgalbraith said...

couldnt agree more, reading is so important to writing. if i'm not reading something, anything, whilst i'm in the process of writing, i just dry up, ideas flow from other ideas, they multiply and grow and evolve and awesome things are created.