The Reading-Writing Connection

It’s not a surprise that all the writers I know were voracious readers at a young age. They fell in love with words early. They gobbled up stories like candy. Some knew they wanted to be writers when they were children; others discovered it later when their own children were small.

And it’s not a surprise that the advice most often given to writers is Read. Read often. Read a lot. Then read some more. The more we read stories, the better we internalize our sense of story elements like pacing, tension, character development, conflict, description, etc. And intentionally “reading like a writer” helps me see how this writer made me cry, or how that one made me so angry I wanted to throw the book across the room because I identified so strongly with a character I felt her frustrations as my own.

When I talk to friends about a project I’m working on, they often give me suggestions of things I “ought to read.” Usually, they suggest a book in a similar genre, often one set in the same time period or with the same subject matter. I smile and nod, and sometimes even write down the titles, knowing full well that the books these well-intentioned friends have mentioned will most certainly NOT appear on my reading list any time soon. I don’t want that other plot or this other character to somehow sneak in through a side door of my consciousness and unwittingly take up residence in my story.

But continual reading for writers is essential as a way to refresh our thinking, to reboot, if you will. When I’ve hit a brick wall in my own work-in-progress, I find that reading helps me step away and refocus. I’ll choose a book in a genre quite different from what I write, just for the change of pace. It’s a little like the way the best ideas sometimes come when I’m driving, or in the shower, or just as I’m about to fall asleep. I’m thinking about something else, and then the idea I need just seems to appear, sneaking in the side door of my consciousness.

I recently finished a manuscript and sent it out to several writer-friends for their thoughts and comments. While I waited for their responses, I picked up a book I had been planning to read for several months. I devoured it, then began another. When I finished it, I started another. That little vacation from writing recharged my batteries and made me eager to begin my revision work some great feedback from others and with a fresh perspective as well.

When I finished the revision, I found myself in a bit of panic when I realized I had no idea what my next project would be. Luckily, I stocked up on new books over the holidays—so many that I had a hard time choosing which one to read first. But half-way through the third one, a new story idea began to sneak in that side door. She bears absolutely no relation and no resemblance to any of the stories I’ve read lately, but there she is, peering at me around the corner. I’m eager to get acquainted with her. We’ve chatted a bit. But she seems a little timid, and I don’t want to scare her off by pursuing her too quickly. Maybe I’ll just let her watch over my shoulder as I read for a while.

It’s a bloomin’ new year!

Seven years ago this week, my husband was admitted to the hospital and spent a few days in Intensive Care. During that hospital stay, he received a lovely blooming azalea plant. Both of them have survived and thrived since then. The azalea has upsized several times to bigger pots. It spends its summers on the patio and its winters by the glass sliding door in the basement.

Each spring, my husband plants annuals in the flower beds in front of our house. The colorful petunias, marigolds, and other flowers last through the summer, then die off after the first cold snap. But the perennials survive. They may go dormant during the winter, but they live on to bloom again, like this azalea. Our outdoor azaleas bloom big and pink every spring. This one gets a little extra help, since it has a warm place for the winter, and it rewards us with blooms several times a year–often when we least expect it.

Creativity is a lot like that. When it’s nurtured and encouraged, it will survive and flourish, even through the times in our lives when we deal with sadness, discouragement and other disappointments. 2013 has been a year of ups and downs for me, as it has for many people I know. I’ve enjoyed some very nice accolades and awards for A Voice for Kanzas; I’ve had good times with family and friends. But I also spent a chunk of 2013 helping my daughter to care for my father during the final weeks of his life. It was a time of sadness, but also a time that I will treasure for the bonding in our family. During those weeks, I wanted to write, I expected to write, but it just didn’t happen. Besides the continual care my father required, the sadness and sheer fatigue felt like “winter” to my creative mind. No matter how much I wanted to think about the novel I was writing, I just couldn’t.

But, thankfully, that winter passed. As my dad went forward on his own journey from this life, so I went forward from that time to my own next chapter. Spring came, and summer, and eventually I went back to my novel and completed the story.

So here’s to 2014. It’s pretty cold here in Missouri this winter, as it is in much of the U.S., but spring will come. May we all nurture our creative voices through our winters and bloom again…and again.