March 15, 2009

Being Well Read

To be a good writer, one of the key ingredients is reading voraciously. I learned this the hard way. I started writing again in 2003 for reasons which escape me now, to be perfectly honest. Perhaps I was simply bored, or there was something deeper to it like a yearning to create and express. In any case, I hadn't written creatively since high school, and along with that I hadn't read very much either. In the nine years between graduating high school and beginning my new journey into writing, I had read a total of ten books at best. Television, cinema, and video-games are the mediums I searched out for entertainment. Books didn't interest me in the slightest, as I still saw them as those things that were required in grade school.

Among my modest book list in those years, the majority of titles can be found in the humor section of any book store. Drew Carey's Dirty Jokes and Beer, Bill Maher's Politically Incorrect, and another title by Jeff Foxworthy. This is not a fantastic well of resources when starting down the road to becoming a writer. But, at the time I didn't know any better―ignorance is bliss after all.

Upon finishing my first draft of my very first novel―the longest piece of writing I had undertaken since my last Christmas wish list―I read it. Have you ever woken up in the morning and felt particularly fresh and bushy-tailed, ready to hit the day like a hammer to a railroad spike? And then you pass the hallway mirror―that full length one―only to discover the stark reality of just how disheveled and unattractive you actually are in the first moments of the day? The feelings running through me and I poured over every page of my first draft could be compared to such a moment. It was awful.

As I entered the arduous task of revisions through the second draft, my head hung low in humility, I took to reading more and more. Stephen King was the first novelist I gravitated towards, reading quite a few of his books before moving on to Dean Koontz, Clive Barker, and others. I may still beat myself up over every one of my first drafts, I'm at least more aware of what works, what doesn't, and what some of the mortal sins to writing are. And, I've made it a point to read as much as I can―assorted authors and assorted genres―both as a reason to gain a better understanding of the writing process and as a superior alternative to the dwindling quality of television.

Heck, I may be learning as much from the novels I hate as I am from the novels I love.

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