Thursday, January 26, 2012

Read to Write, Read to Live

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

There are (at least) 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.

3) 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 Mentor: A MemoirTom Grimes's eloquent recounting of his friendship and professional relationship with Frank Conroy-- 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? What books are you looking forward to reading? Share them here if you choose or on an online readers' communities (ShelfariGoodreads, etc.). Or find like-minded readers in a book club.

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.

And if the world of storytellers and storytelling is important to you -- as both writer a reader -- 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!

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J.H. said...

WOW! What a day , first, I treated my mother to Chinese Food and inside my fortune cookie was a fortune that read " WRITING IS A CRAFT AND THEN ART " How did that cookie know I was an author ? And now this post , I dont know who is more intune with my writing mantra , the cookie or Mark , any how thanks to you both for the insight.... Author, Joshua Heights

Mark David Gerson said...

Joshua - LOL. Thanks for the note. (Cue the Twilight Zone music!)