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Reading, Writing and The Creative Process

Updated on March 6, 2012

Priming the Creative Juices 'Pump'

I write, and I read. I used to write only, or at least tried to write, but something was missing. Then I began to check out magazines and books that described how other authors write, and I re-discovered something I'd heard long ago but summarily dismissed.

Good writers . . . read. They read a lot. They read, not to imitate someone else's style or subject matter, but to prime the pump of creativity. Ask any of them. They all do it - Amy Tan, Stephen King, Kathleen Norris and every other author you can name or have ever heard of.

I used to think that reading was a waste of my time. Not that I never read, mind you. I read a lot, and still do. In fact, now I keep a list of all the books I've read each year. I write their titles, authors and publication dates down in a beautiful little journal our son bought for me in Germany, where he lives and works. I read 7 books in 2007, 21 in 2008, 14 in 2009, 16 in 2010, 26 in 2011, and 6 so far in 2012 (as of 3/7). I don't just read poetry or novels. I read books about science and history and politics and biographies and relilgion and finance and government too and, yes, books on writing.

What I've learned, and what good authors have been trying to tell me and others for generations, is that to write well you have to read well, to read broadly and a variety of sources. It's the only way to hear the voices of others, in order to find your own voice.

So recently I've discovered writers that are new to me - authors like T.C. Boyle and Thomas Lynch and Wally Lamb and Tom Perrota. From them I've learned what it's like to craft long, strung-out sentences that link together multiple phrases like boxcars, each different, yet with a mood or tone that makes the whole richer and come alive. I've discovered that stories can spring up from any everyday source, even funeral homes. I've found drama in human relationships so well described that they ache off the page. I've come across contemporary stories that make the United States of the 60's and 80's come alive, something I'm trying to do in the current novel I'm writing.

Most of all, though, I've found encouragement to stick with the stories I know or can imagine, to tell them my way, in words and images that speak to me. Now every time I stall out at the computer, I go for a walk to think things over and be open to images around me - or I start to read someone else's work again, and get refreshed.

Reading and Writing aren't just subjects taught in grade school, along with math. They're kissing cousins, sources of engagement that infuse each other, for those who take the time to deal with both.

Go find a good book. And then grab a pencil or a keyboard! There's life in every word.

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