“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”—Stephen King
The library has always been my own sort of haven: a cool, air-conditioned resort, an oasis, the best way to escape the stifling summertime heat. Shelves and shelves and shelves filled with adventure and romance and history. It’s normal, commonplace even, to find me wandering through the stacks, precariously balancing a mountain of colorful books, books that creep up past my nose and almost over my eyes.
It is in these moments of wandering among the towering shelves that I understand that I have always had a love affair with books. They are tangible, palpable extensions of my being; I hunger for the escape hidden within their pages, thirst for the characters that will influence me and stay with me long past the time when I grudgingly slide the book through the RETURN slot.
Certainly, it was all this reading—the perpetual ache to consume literature—that transformed me into a writer. An everlasting lover of language, everything around me becomes a string of words, a pearl necklace that melts into a puddle of poetry, fiction, nonfiction—smooth, liquid, easy. Some might even say I’m a reader first, and a writer second, but I would argue that these are interchangeable. For, in order to write well, you must know how to read, and to read well, you must know how to write.
For many developing writers, however, perhaps the necessity of reading (and reading often!) is overlooked. By reading without limits, writers come to know and define their own style, their own taste. They come to understand where their work fits into the vast realm of literary works, who they are trying to attract as readers, and what, exactly, they are trying to convey. Of course this is by no means an easy process, but here are a few quotes from some literary experts that highlight the necessity of reading, and reading incessantly, in order to become an excellent writer:
1. “Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.” – William Faulkner
2. “Second, you must read, and read a lot. Did I say A LOT? I read over a hundred books a year and have done so since I was fifteen years old, and every book I’ve read has taught me something. I’ve learned that some authors are incredible at building suspense (see The Firm by John Grisham), I’ve read others that scare the jeepers out of me (see The Shining by Stephen King). Some authors can weave an incredible number of story lines into a single, coherent novel, with all parts coming together at the end that makes it impossible to stop turning the pages (see The Sum of all Fears by Tom Clancy), while other authors make me laugh out loud (see Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore). I’ve also learned that many, many authors fail when attempting to do these things. By reading a lot of novels in a variety of genres, and asking questions, it’s possible to learn how things are done—the mechanics of writing, so to speak—and which genres and authors excel in various areas.” –Nicholas Sparks
3. “Reading—the good and the bad—inspires you. It develops your palate for all the tricks that writers have invented over the years. You can learn from textbooks about the writing craft, but there’s no substitute for discovering for yourself how a writer pulls off a trick. Then that becomes part of your experience.” – Roz Morris4. “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” – Haruki Murakami (And therefore, you can only WRITE what everyone else is writing.)Finally, one of my favorite (albeit recently discovered) quotes about reading comes from James Baldwin:
“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”
Reading is a human experience that connects us to all other humans and their experiences; it allows us to transcend boundaries and escape confinement. Good writing must take all of this into consideration, for the human experience can only be captured through unique perspective as well as a more universal understanding of the relationship between literature and humanity.
Have you read any great books lately? Let us know in the comments below!