Sunday, October 29, 2017

Not Just “Writers Need to Read”—But Why

Tip:“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write.” — Stephen King

In “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” T. S. Eliot observed, “Someone said: “The dead writers are remote from us because we know so much more than they did.’ Precisely, and they are that which we know.”

Just as true today as almost a century ago. So much more to know—and to read. If this seems daunting, consider the opportunity. The art of fiction comes from who you are—and who you are comes from everything preceding you. As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, “I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.” 

On a more universal scale, curiosity like this drives people to explore their roots. Don't your cultural roots signify as least as much, whether from ancient Greece or DaVinci? 

Or all those classics that inform how every novelist thinks and writes? Reading reminds writers that the best fiction is timeless. 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.
Here’s Evan Mahone in “The Best Advice for Writers? Read”
Last week the Guardian published a list of writerly rules donated by respected authors. Somewhat surprisingly, only a quarter of the authors advised aspiring writers to read. Perhaps reading is too obvious, too fundamental to be perceived as a rule–like advising chefs to eat if they want to learn how to cook. But despite the fact that most of the rule writers failed to advise people to read, I doubt any writer would argue that reading is not essential to the writing craft.
What does Mahone think reading writers (pun intended) get? Only vocabulary, models, inspiration, and escape from the difficulties of your profession/avocation. So the pursuit of books like the ones you want to write becomes quite serious.
You can't write seriously without reading the greats in that peculiar way that writers read, attentive to the particularities of the language, to the technical turns and twists of scene-making and plot, soaking up numerous narrative strategies and studying various approaches to that cave in the deep woods where the human heart hibernates. --Alan Cheus

J.K. Rowling got it right: “The most important thing is to read as much as you can…” Besides, as Neil Gaiman reminds: “Picking five favorite books is like picking the five body parts you’d most like not to lose.” 

Can you afford not to find the time? 

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