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Reader, Not a Writer

Reader, Not a Writer

Okay, not really. I’m exaggerating. I AM a writer. I enjoy it, I’m good at it, I even make some money from it, in the perfect blend of vocation, hobby, and inclination. I’m the first one to admit that the joy of easily flowing words is incomparable. That blissful state may not happen all that often, but when it does, it’s magic, and one that only another writer can truly appreciate. (You could make an argument for other creative folks, I suppose, but I’m telling this story.)

Anyway, there’s no question that I’m a writer and proud to be one. I can get as caught up in weaving my web of words as the next writer. I find myself drawn to my keyboard periodically through the day for no other reason than to tap out words for a story, an email, or a blog post.

But, my little, guilty secret is that, as much as I enjoy writing, I love reading more.

Reading was my very first addiction, and it’s still my strongest. I can forego chocolate. I can give up television or music. But books? The sheer pleasure of curling up with a good book–especially the rarest of rare things, a brand-new book by a favorite author? Nothing else compares. And with that kind of temptation, I am weak, weak, weak.

This was brought home to me this weekend when I did almost nothing but read.

This started Friday night after I got home from work … after I baked a lemon meringue pie and did all the supper-time kinds of things and checked email and did some knitting … after all the things that have to be done. I stayed up until 2:30 to finish the first book (Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s newest Liaden book Mouse and Dragon). The next morning, I started the next (Allison Winn Scotch’s new The One That I Want. I stopped reading for about five hours to celebrated my sister’s birthday and have a little nap, and then I finished that book and started the next (Joanne Harris’ Runemarks). That, I finished around lunch on Sunday, and since it reminded me of Diana Wynne Jones’ Eight Days of Luke, if only because of the Norse god similarities, I pulled that off the shelf and polished it off before supper. Then, because it’s a favorite, I took out Sean Russell’s Beneath the Vaulted Hills.

In just over two days, I read over 1,300 pages.

The thing that amazes me is how easy this is. Reading is my first love. Even when it’s a book I’ve read multiple times, I still get drawn in, still get caught up in what’s happening. Fiction or non-fiction doesn’t matter. Nor does time–I stayed up until 2:30 in the morning with no trouble whatsoever, simply because I wanted to know what happened next. I can spend an entire day doing nothing but read. In fact, curling up in a comfy chair with a book and a cup of tea is practically heaven–especially if my dog is sitting with me.)

I’ll confess, as much as I love writing … it doesn’t pull me in this strongly.

Does this worry me? Do I fret that I’ve missed my calling? That I should somehow have arranged a career that allowed me to read for a living?

No. And I’ll tell you why.

Most of the writers I know became writers because they loved reading.

There are some writers, of course, who write because it’s their job, or because they got into it from the marketing or business side. But most of the writers I know started off as kids with their noses stuck into books, just like me.

So many of us ARE readers, which is exactly what draws us to writing. We may have thought “I want to do that,” when we read a story we loved. We may have read something so appallingly bad we told ourselves, “I can do better than that.” We may have started writing down the stories we had in our heads simply because nobody else seemed to be telling the stories we really wanted.

Being a Reader first and a Writer second only makes me stronger as a writer.

Being an inquiring person, I’ll read almost anything that comes recommended highly enough. I have a wide variety of interests and like to know about things, or to be entertained in new and different ways. I read fiction and non-fiction; books and magazines; websites and blogs.

And–even without thinking about it consciously–this has made me a stronger writer.

By continually reading new things, meeting new ideas, discovering new authors, I have broadened my own horizons and at the same time have developed an eye and ear for “good” writing rather than “bad.” I can appreciate writing styles that are wonderful yet completely different than my own. I can pour withering scorn over the styles that are out-right bad. But … most importantly … I am keeping my love of writing alive by feeding it good things to read.

Like any other skill or talent, writing demands nourishment.

There are writers out there … writers of all types, writing marketing pieces or cookie-cutter novels … who basically write the same thing over and over and over again. I was watching the wonderful “Jeeves and Wooster” series with Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry the other night, and in one episode, one of Bertie’s friends is reading a series of novels to his uncle to soften him up to the idea of him marrying a waitress. Every time the camera stops by Bingo and his uncle, you hear “Scornfully she tossed her black/blond/red curls as, eyes snapping, she replied…” The hair color changed from book to book, but the sentence remained the same. Every time.

Now, Bingo’s uncle enjoyed them, and all, but obviously this writer wasn’t doing a damn thing to expand her writerly horizons. She just stuck to what she knew and left it at that. My guess is that, after publishing her first book, she never picked up another book that wasn’t her own again. She never primed the pump or did anything to try to improve or do more. Nothing to generate new ideas.

My contention is that, while curling up with a book or four over the course of a weekend may not seem immediately productive … and I admit that it doesn’t … in fact, it serves a dual purpose. Not only does it give the Reader Me a relaxing visit with somebody else’s words and story for a change, but it reminds the Writer Me that new and different are good, possible, inspiring, and downright fun.

It’s all too easy to get caught in a rut. especially when things are going well, but you owe it to yourself to let that conscious mind relax once in a while while you pull out some fresh flavors, some new ingredients and let it all stew in the background with a dash of inspiration. You never know what might grow out of it.

3 thoughts on “Reader, Not a Writer

  1. Lillie Ammann

    I agree with you completely. There’s nothing I enjoy more than reading. And the advice I give to writers is this: Read, read, read. Write, write, write.

  2. Walter

    I’m also an avid reader myself and I make it a habit to read good books everyday for hours. Reading, I have discovered, is one way to develop my understanding about the subtleties of written words. It has thought me proper grammar and deep writing. But the most important thing is that I learned a lot from reading, and it has made me a writer that I am now. 🙂