I recently sat down with my 12-year-old niece and chatted about reading and her favourite books. You can listen to our conversation on the Youtube link above.
While she’s not the utterly fanatical bookworm I was…and still am (I’ve got 2 paper books on the go plus a bunch on my phone, and more on hold at the library), she is discriminating and has some very astute observations.
“I actually really like book series because I never like it when it’s just one book. I want more of the same series.”
My niece and I are alike in that way. I remember the unadulterated anticipation of starting book one of a series at the beginning of summer vacation and weekly going through book-by-book, story-by-story until the series regrettably came to an end.
I recall my immense sadness when it was all over. No more sequels! The characters had become so real to me and I missed them when I was done. Not to say that I didn’t pick up the series and start back at book one the following year. But there’s nothing like the first time. There are so many wonderful series of books for the young reader…and of course the more grown-up reader too.
Being an avid reader is an integral part of being a good writer. It’s amazing to hear of people who don’t read but “really, really want to write a novel”.
If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.
Stephen King, “On Writing”
Unless they’re some sort of literary savant, I can bet that that person’s novel will not be a page turner.
Authors who have written books on the art of writing – like Anne Lamott’s loved Bird by Bird and Stephen King’s On Writing (I’m actually reading it for the first time!) are with me on the absolute number one requirement for a writer is to always and forever be a reader.
Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that. Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life.
Stephen King, “On Writing”
A recent New York Time’s blog article Why Handwriting Is Still Essential in the Keyboard Age by Perri Klass, M.D, discusses the correlation between children learning handwriting and essential brain development. Handwriting is more than encouraging good cursive – forming letters engages the mind and helps children pay attention to the written language.
This I see as being in sync with my opinion that you must first read before you can be a writer. And I’m not talking about texting. Though according to my friend who’s high school teacher – even texts can be more concise and evocative if the sender is also a reader.
I can’t even think what emojis are doing for literacy. Don’t get me wrong – there’s a few emojis out there that I think are perfect but I’m not sure I can conduct an entire conversation with only expressive little cartoon faces.
As my niece sums it up:
“When you read you use your imagination. And if you’re just somebody who watches TV all the time, you’re not going to be able to experience that.So I think if you want to read that’s a good idea, and if you don’t want to read, well you should!”
I think you should read too – especially if you want to be a writer.
Now I must add that I think that watching good TV, films and theatre – can also inspire the imagination. I’m a filmmaker and work in TV for goodness sakes! But if you want to write…you need to read.
I have a strong imagination by nature but I do remember reading was the key to discovering that I could also form words into stories and create worlds that others might want to discover.
Becoming a writer can also profoundly change your life as a reader. One reads with a deeper appreciation, knowing now how hard writing is, especially how hard it is to make it look effortless. You begin to read with writer’s eyes.
Anne Lamott, “Bird by Bird”
Like Alice in Wonderland I fell through that particular rabbit hole at a very young age…and never really came out.
Read and flex that imagination of yours! Because once you stretch that muscle – you’re never going to want to stop.