Stephen King and the relationship between reading and writing

Published: 28th June 2009
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All writers communicate with an audience, even diary writers, who start as their own audience of one. A letter writer may write for an audience of one, a business writer may write of an audience of thousands or more, if they are fortunate, and the Stephen Kings of the world write for millions and millions of readers. Audience size aside, writers want readers to read what they have written.

If you want to write, you need to read books on writing; you need to surf the web to see what other writers are doing; you need to look at articles and other resources. In addition to reading on the craft of writing, you need to read. Stephen King's quote captures the importance of reading in four sentences:

It's hard for me to believe that people who read very little - or not at all in some cases - should presume to write and expect people to like what they have written. Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time - or the tools - to write. Simple as that.

Reading is the foundation that all writing is built on. When we read, from cereal boxes to Shakespeare, with Stephen King in between, we absorb the examples that we will later use to write. Read quantity; read quality; read obsessively. Turn your TV off. Read while you eat breakfast and brush your teeth; read during your lunch break and while you exercise; read after dinner and read in bed. Reading leads to writing.

If you like romances, science fiction, and westerns, read them. If not, read at least one of each. Read the Great Books. For more information on the Great Books, read about them at Wikipedia. Read the great authors of the world. If you are not sure who the great authors are, google and find out. Read magazines and newspapers. Read what you like and read at least a small amount of what you don't like. Just read.

When you read, a number of things happen. On the micro level, your ability to play with words grows. You meet words hanging around with other words that you would not have considered for your own writing. You begin to appreciate the elasticity of words. Still on the micro level, you develop a keener sense of linking one sentence to another.

At the macro level, you begin to see writers responding to each other. You'll find ideas that you want to explore and built upon. You'll develop your own database of ideas.

Between the micro and the macro levels, you may want to consider, if you're not already doing so, keeping a journal. Journals are ideal for developing a database of ideas and experiences that can be incorporated into your writing. Ideas can sometimes be quite slippery, but writing these ideas down makes them clearer. Having ideas in a place where you can regularly visit them means that you have a foundation upon which to build.

In addition to reading and writing, you may want to look for other writers to talk to and read with. As writers and as readers, community can be a significant addition to helping us produce new work and get input.

Still, you're the writer and you have the ultimate say in what works and what doesn't work for you. That goes without saying.

After you have read and read and read, read books on writing. Read "The Elements of Style" by Strunk and White. Find all the books on writing in your local and not so local libraries. Read them. Borrow writing books from friends and acquaintances. Read them. Google and see what other books on writing look good to read. Ask your library to get you copies. Read.

As you read, you may begin to look at words in a new light. You may begin to see how words are bits and pieces of meaning that writers string together to create an entire world. Words become tools for developing and shaping a slice of the world. You might want to think about diaries and how they are written. What is important in one entry has been forgotten three entries later. Now becomes the most important element in the diary. This may be true of the news. Novels are at the other end of the writing spectrum. Although novels do have a now, novels focus on plots that develop over time.

As you read books on writing, continue to read other books. You will begin to be more conscious of the technical aspects of writing including vocabulary use, punctuation variety, and strong nouns and verbs. Congratulations! You have become a reader. Now, you can think about becoming a writer.


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