Professional writers are often asked what advice they have for young aspiring writers, and they often have good things to say. I like to listen to them and consider trying some of the things they recommend.
Stephen King (a writer I confess I didn’t pay very much attention to for a long time because I’m not a horror fan, then gradually grew to realize that a good deal of his work shouldn’t be strictly classified as such) has given one very good piece of advice that I think all writers should pay extra attention to: If you want to be a writer, he says, you have to be a good reader.
When I heard that, I had to smile, because I realized I was already following instructions.
I read. A lot. I probably read more than any of my friends, and it’s not just because I take a lot of English courses. I read for sheer pleasure and fun and enjoyment. To part the covers of those wonderful packages and discover they contain a whole world that can be travelled through with a casual turning of pages…that’s almost everything I live for. It’s an experience I take delight in because, although I can’t say there are many that I love, the chance of discovering that next Great Book or Author is too tempting.
I often take it to the extreme degree, of course. I’ll fret over which book I want to read next, mostly because I usually have about five at a time that I’d really be interested in and all of them are wildly different. I’ll go to great lengths to find the right edition with the right cover in the right format (usually hardcover, though I’ll settle for a paperback sometimes), firm in my conviction that half the experience of reading is founded on the actual physical existence of the story; that makes the story become something less abstract and gives it a certain tangibility.
I’ve gotten very interested in the last year or so in audiobooks. When they’re stories I love, read by good narrators (who are occasionally the authors themselves), they can be a blessing as I lie in bed at night, listening to someone read me a bedtime story. But lately I’ve been contemplating doing something extraordinary, at least it would be for me. I picked up an audiobook from the library, an audiobook of a story I’ve never experienced before (a Stephen King novel, oddly enough), and I’m thinking of listening to it first. In other words, listening to an audiobook before I’ve read the “real” book in print. I don’t know what kind of dynamic that will create in my head. How will I deal with exploring a world with nothing more tangible in my hands than my iPod, with nothing like a map to guide me through the chapters? I suspect I’ll be fine, but only by going through the adventure can I learn where it will lead me.
So yes, I agree with Stephen King wholeheartedly. Want to write? Learn to read. But I also don’t think it’s enough to just read; I think it’s necessary to be able to read for pleasure rather than just to study what the great masters do. If that’s the only life a book has for you, then you aren’t a true reader. It has to come alive in your hands first. Then you can watch it, ask it questions, engage with it as you would a person—or dare I say a lover.
Incidentally, the third installment of The Whitehawk Legion goes up this weekend. Chapter 7 went live this morning, Chapters 8 and 9 to follow tomorrow and Sunday. If you haven’t checked it out yet, hurry before the fun of nail-biting suspense is gone and you’re able to read it at your own pace!