“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
Full disclosure: “I’ve seen the movies Misery (most of it, anyway) and The Green Mile, which I thought was a terrific story, but I’ve never actually read one of scintillating Stephen’s books. Except, that is for his inspiring guide, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, which holds a cozy spot on my shelf of cherished writing handbooks.
Dipping into On Writing tonight, I happened on an ode to the importance to writers of reading widely and constantly. Whether we read simply because we love storytelling or with a more analytical eye, in King’s view, “there’s a learning process going on.” Every book offers lessons we can use to hone our own craft — and often, says King, bad writing is even more valuable as a learning tool than wonderful writing is: in fact we need both to sharpen our technique.
Bad writing is encouraging according to King because when we read something lousy, our response is likely to be, “Hey, I can write better than that!” Feeling that we can do as well or even better than someone else who’s already in print is empowering: it can give us a real psychic boost. Spotting flimsy characters, plot problems or stylistic tics can also help us avoid them: learning what not to do can be incredibly useful in sharpening skills and building confidence.
On the other hand, good writing is like a crash course in everything we aspire to master: appealing, believable characters; style and voice; plotting and narrative flow. While reading a classic like Grapes of Wrath can make us envious, it can also push us to work harder. As King puts it: “Being swept away by a combination of great story and great writing — of being flattened, in fact — is part of every writer’s necessary formation.”
Writing and reading: sounds like a recipe for a great life! Let’s just be sure we do both in generous doses all the time. I have to admit, I sometimes overheat the reading and undercook the writing. How about you?