My goal for this year has been to finish all of the half-finished books on my nightstand before I start any new ones. It’s not that they’re horrible books and I’ve entirely lost interest (though I do feel guilty, for unexplained reasons, for not finishing a book—it feels like a failure or an unfinished project).
The real problem is that there are just so many books I want to read. Sometimes I get a little antsy that I won’t be able to read them all—though if I could be really honest with myself I’d admit that, even if I lived to 110 and never worked (including writing), I’d never read my entire book collection. That doesn’t stop me from trying, though.
Staring at the stack of five books currently on my nightstand, my mind is brought around again to a thought I’ve been mulling over regarding writing: prolific reading is essential to prolific writing, and more importantly, to good writing.
This isn’t a new idea. Every educator from Kindergarten through college understands the intrinsic link between reading and writing. Young learners must read and be read to in order to begin to understand conventions of print, phonics, and the synthesis of those two. Older writers must read as they begin to appreciate the richness of language, its use of figurative language, and the nuances in modes used for differing communication purposes.
Writers, too, must read in order to write—not to learn about phonics or simple comparisons—but maybe their more sophisticated cousins: to appreciate the sound of language and how it can enhance meaning or to revel in the masterful use of imagery or symbolism.
Reading gives us the opportunity, not only to get lost in a story, but to wonder what the author did to take us there.
So, read, read, read. And study and reflect. Underline passages that call out to you. Put a post-it note on the page to come back to it later. Try an exercise in imitation of your favorite author’s style to see what you can learn.
Play with words. Allow yourself to approach reading as a writer. Once you see that they are the inverse of one another, you will start to be able to immerse yourself in what reading has to teach you.
I’m having a great time brainstorming ways to turn my reading into a learning experience for writing, but I’ve got to go; there’s a stack of books on the night stand calling my name.
But I’m curious, how do you use others’ writing to inspire your own?