At the intersection of writing and life with the author of the Cameron Ballack mysteries

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Read Like Your Life Depends On It, Because It Does!

Sometimes people ask me what helps me to write effectively.

First of all, I have to be pleased by the compliment. When you get someone assuming you write well, hold on to those comments with a death grip. But some people want to know. Is it thinking through characters? Plot? Planning and organizing well? Those can help. But the reason why I got into writing seriously was that (seriously!) I woke up one day and said "I want to write a book and I think I can." Simple self-motivation like that plays a role, too. Yet what puts the gas in the writing tank is disarmingly more simple than that.

What makes someone an effective writer? Read. Read like your life depends on it.

The reason is the principle of causality: What is in the effect must be present in the cause. Therefore, if I want to write well, I must read relentlessly.

I won't exhaustively comment on every reason therein, but a few sprinkles of insight never hurt us.

For writers:
1- Reading a wide range of genres widens your writing skills. There's an internal conversation going on in your mental wiring (much of which we're not privy to) that slyly suggests "Maybe you should try a little of that..."
2- Reading novels especially assists writers because we get to see what works and doesn't work. We need to understand the right ways to create dialogue, plot, characters, and setting. We need to get a sense of when to insert flashback or foreshadowing and how to build conflict toward a story's apex.
3- Reading helps smack and crush writers' block. Imagination gets fired white-hot and we derive inspiration.
4- We find there is so much more we can learn from others. Perhaps we discover reading improves our own fluency and vocabulary. Maybe we tap in to the human condition that much more. Any little angle helps tremendously.

But what if you're not a writer? What then?

You don't get off the hook.
1- There's more you can do than endlessly and rootlessly cruising Facebook and Twitter, playing Ruzzle, and snapchatting. Don't get me wrong. The Internet is here to stay, and there are many benefits from the Web. However, technology can also give us more chaos (much of it self-inflicted) in our lives [Yes, I am fully aware of the irony of saying this on the Internet], and reading a book diverts you from that discombobulation, frees your mind, exercises the neural pathways in your brain, and instills peace from the practice of slowing down your life.
2- Your imaginative powers get a major anabolic steroid-like shot. You are taken into another world, but you also are invited to create the world for yourself in your mind and soul.
3- Reading also stretches your attention span, empowers you to sit still for longer periods, and strengthens your ability to sustain quality conversations by improving your active listening skills. Because you have constructed your ability to read stories, you are able to enjoy listening to others share their mini-narratives (what happened during their day, for example) to you.
4- Finally--and probably the best reason--you understand yourself better. You tap into your responses and emotions more deeply through reading. You make logical connections between words and life. You become both a better thinker and a better feel-er.

All good reasons if you ask me. One of the best ways to function in this world is to go into another one through a good book. What's stopping you?


Andy said...

Great post. Thanks. I just picked up an autobiography of Steve Martin the other night and couldn't put it down for over an hour. It was truly refreshing.

Luke H. Davis said...

Thanks, Andy. The more we teach, the more I discover how little reading actually goes on. Students use SparkNotes like its a badge of honor. We can turn the tide, but it'll be a gargantuan effort.