Does reading make you a better writer?
Stephen King in his book ‘On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft’ says:
“The real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing; one comes to the country of the writer with one’s papers and identification pretty much in order. Constant reading will pull you into a place (a mindset, if you like the phrase) where you can write eagerly and without self-consciousness. It also offers you a constantly growing knowledge of what has been done and what hasn’t, what is trite and what is fresh, what works and what just lies there dying (or dead) on the page. The more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen or word processor.”
Natalie Goldberg who wrote ‘Writing Down the Bones’ says:
“If you read good books, when you write, good books will come out of you. Maybe it’s not quite that easy, but if you want to learn something, go to the source. … Dogen, a great Zen master, said, “If you walk in the mist, you get wet.” So just listen, read, and write. Little by little, you will come closer to what you need to say and express it through your voice.”
What are you reading at the moment?
I saw an interesting quote recently. I was in a National Trust shop in Wales and the quote was on a bookmark. Nothing unusual in that you might think, but what caught my eye, apart from the actual quote, was that the bookmark was being advertised as having been made from ‘Sheep Poo’!
The quote on the bookmark, the usefulness of a bookmark were suddenly not that important – I realised that the major selling point of this particular item was what the thing was made from!
My mind began to wonder – who first discovered this interesting use of sheep’s droppings? How easy is it to make paper or card from sheep’s poo? Can anybody do it? Should I give it a try? How would I get rid of the smell? What about making my own journal from this freely available resource?
At this point, I had to give myself a good slap before I became lost forever in the endless, and mindless, possibilities of this freely available natural resource!
To bring some level of decorum back to this post let me return to the ‘interesting quote’. It was by Mark Twain and read,
“A man who won’t read has no advantage over a man who can’t read.”
Why Don’t Readers Read?
When I was working I often used to talk to staff and colleagues about the books I was reading. It never failed to amaze me when people said, “How do you find the time to read?” I never saw it as a case of ‘finding time’ – reading was something that I enjoyed and many of the books that I read were linked in some way or another to my job.
The ideas of the various authors that I read often sparked ideas in me as to new projects I might engage in or creative ideas that we might try in school. It was my way of keeping my ‘saw sharp’. It always struck me as strange that many of my colleagues found that they didn’t have time to reflect on other people’s ideas and create exciting new thoughts of their own.
I’m reading a great book at the moment by Clay Shirky called ‘Cognitive Surplus – Creativity & Generosity in a Connected Age’. One idea that is developed early in the book is that we often complain about not having time to do things and for many of us we don’t have enough ‘free time’ because of television. He writes:
“The decision to watch TV often preceded any concern about what might be on at any given moment. It isn’t what we watch, but how much of it, hour after hour, day after day, year in year out, over our lifetimes. Someone born in 1960 has watched something like fifty thousand hours of TV already, and may watch another thirty thousand hours before she dies.”
I am as guilty as the next person of wasting hours watching TV. It is easy to plan your evening around the schedule of programmes available.
In fact today it is even worse because there are so many channels to choose from there is always something to watch, even if you have seen it before.
We seem to have lost the knack of turning the TV off. It’s as if we would not quite know what to do or what to say to one another if the box in the corner was no longer working.
Going back to that quote I saw on the sheep poo bookmark – if Mark Twain were alive today maybe his words might be,
“A man who won’t turn the TV off has no advantage over a man who doesn’t own a TV.”
So, tonight why not turn the TV off and read or maybe even write something? If you do I’d love to know how it went.