Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Read, Read, Read!

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

I couldn't agree more with Mr. Faulkner. I'm always amazed at the small percentage of my Creative Writing students who don't enjoy reading! To me, writing and reading go hand-in-hand and personally, I don't see how a writer can't love to read.

In fact, my own love for writing was born directly out of my love for reading. I can remember being the geeky 7th grader whose favorite day of the month was seeing that huge stack of rubber-banded books on my teacher's desk - which meant that the books I'd ordered from the school catalog weeks before had finally come in. I would spend that evening choosing the first book, then devouring it, pouring over it, getting lost in that imaginary world. To this day, I still love the texture of a physical book in my hand - and yes, I even love the way a book smells. Ahh, that new book smell. Nothing like it. See? Geeky. But my greater point is this: from the time I realized the words in those books didn't just magically appear on the page - that there was an actual person laboring over those words behind-the-scenes - I wanted to be part of that process, as a writer. To create that book-loving experience, myself.

But something interesting happened as I started to become a more serious writer over the years. I started to read differently. Even the books I read for pleasure became more like textbooks. I found myself studying, through a writer's eye - examining dialogue, paying attention to plot development, noticing subtle symbolism within the text. And this, I believe, makes for better writing. I'm studying the Masters, as Mr. Faulkner put it. Watching them work, peeking behind that writer's curtain, seeing how it's done.

To that end, I've started giving my Creative Writing students a book report assignment during the semester. They are to choose a book (even one they've read before) and see it not as a reader - but as a writer. I give them a list of 20 questions (which I'll post on tomorrow's entry) to help them start to look at all books through a writer's eye. I'm hoping this will be the beginning for them, that it will change the way they see the written word, and that it will influence them personally, as writers. Because I'm a firm believer that a good student (of the written word) makes a better writer.


  1. My reading habits have changed drastically since I started writing again. I read much slower now.

    I know it's an exceptional book when I get too absorbed to read it critically.

  2. Yes! I always tell my students that you can't learn to write without "learning" to read. Which is to say, "listening" to the words on the page. So absolutely true. I also remember my thrill when the "Arrow Book Club" books came in. I still have some of those from grade school. I also remember waiting on the hot California pavement in a Safeway parking lot for...the Bookmobile! The most exciting day of the week. I still read about 2-3 books a week. Everything from Tolstoy to romance to sci fi and back again. Reading is one of life's pure, unadulterated joys.

  3. Gayle - a kindred spirit, re: the joys of reading! Ahh, those childhood memories of books, books, books. :-)

  4. Dissecting the written word (using a popular author as an example) can teach us so much about the writing process. It seems natural to me that if you love reading you can find your interest in writing. Me too...reading was a passion from elementary school days....and as I get older I find truth in the popular saying, 'so many books, so little time'.