Posted by: Jamie Hahn | December 1, 2010

Read a lot. Write a lot.

I haven’t always loved to read. (This is hard for a would-be author to admit.) As a child, I did whatever I could to avoid picking up a book. While my friends were cozied up in beanbag chairs with Ramona Quimby, the Black Stallion, or Anne of Green Gables, I was blankly turning pages wondering when the bell would ring for recess. Summer reading lists were akin to torture. Why would I spend one moment with a musty book when I could be splashing in the lake, riding my dirt bike, or playing Super Mario Brothers? Books were for kids with nothing better to do.
 
So, what changed? How did I transform from a kid who despised reading to someone who believes that reading and writing are as necessary to life as breathing? How did I decide that stories were worth my time — both the reading and the telling of them?
 
It was a book — just a simple book that changed everything. It wasn’t a particularly special book. It’s not even one of my favorites. It was the first book in a fantasy series called The Belgariad by David Eddings. Finally, characters that meant something to me. I let them in. Garion. Polgara. Belgarath. Silk. Barrack. I still remember their names and their world. Looking back, it probably also helped that I was on a small boat in the middle of the Caribbean without my typical forms of entertainment. And thank goodness, or I might have never discovered the magic of stories.
 
I finished all the books in the Belgariad series and kept going. I read all the books in the next series and all the books in the series after that. I conquered tons of other fantasy worlds and branched over to non-fantasy fiction. I don’t think I ever looked back, and today I have more books that I want to read than time to read them. And somewhere along the way I decided I wanted to write.
 
It wasn’t until recently that I realized the connection between reading and writing. They’re opposite sides of the same coin, twins joined at the hip. Stephen King insists that writers must love to read. He says, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” And it is that simple.
The more I read, the more I want to write. I’m inspired by great writing. I learn from each word. It makes me feel. It takes my breath away. It fills my dreams. On bad days, I’m humbled and shamed by it, wanting to throw my hands in the air and quit (because how could I possibly compete with such perfection). But that’s wasted energy, and ultimately, what would I aspire to if not to greatness? I can also find inspiration in mediocre or bad writing. There are kernels of beauty and truth in even the most terrible writing (mine included). At the very least, I find myself saying, “Hey, I could do better than that!” Whatever it takes to keep us writing, right?

Stephen King also says, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

So, that’s our homework. Read a lot. Write a lot. Thankully, that’s homework I don’t mind doing…not anymore, at least.

What books do you love? Which ones have inspired you?

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Photo from Catherine Hadler / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Responses

  1. Well said, Jamie. I was an English major in undergrad and was always amazed at the students who ‘just decided’ that English would be their chosen major, when the majority of them were NOT readers, nor had they written a word in their lives… To me, the two – reading and writing – have always been inextricably linked. More than once, I’ve been heard preaching that “Good writers are readers.” I’m with Stephen King. It’s that simple! And I’m so glad you found that fantasy series out on the ocean waters! Can’t wait to read your first book!

    • “Good writers are good readers.” I like that! I wish it was always true that good readers are good writers. I’d be all set then. 🙂

  2. i love your blog, jamie.

    as an elementary school teacher, it’s always my goal to match the right kid with the right book. that usually does it. sometimes it happens before kids are even in school – that was the case with me. my parents read me lafcadio, shel silverstein’s chapter book, over and over until i drove them crazy and they finally pointed out to me that i had the book memorized and could read it myself. which i have done hundreds of time. when i was in college and started thinking about getting a tattoo, i wanted lafcadio. when i turned 36 and realized that i still wanted the exact same image of lafcadio from way back then, i got it. just in time to take him with me on my medical rollercoaster. lafcadio was the first book that my mom read to me, in the hospital, after my surgeries. it was the first book i read on my own post-stroke.

    thinking about it now after reading your entry, i just realized that i have no idea why my parents read that book to me. but it’s in my dna. is a part of everything i do.

    how did you find your gateway drug series?

    • It’s so neat to have a relationship like that with a book. Books didn’t get into my DNA until that Caribbean trip the year after high school. Now there are plenty that I love. Although, probably none that I love like you love Lafcadio. I think there’s something special about finding something so young and loving it your entire life. Lafcadio is awesome.

      My dad gave me the first book in The Belgariad series. He knew I would like it, but I didn’t believe him. I still love getting book recommendations from him. Best to trust your dad. 🙂

  3. I think there are books that inspire you at every stage of your journey. As a kid, I *loved* Anne of Green Gables and Tolkien, then moved on to Romantic Suspense – Mary Stewart and MM Kaye. Now I read YA and pretty much anything else I can get my hands on.

    I’m totally with you, Jamie – each book is it’s own inspiration in it’s own way and while I’m reading, I’m learning from it.

    God I love books 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment, Jamie! Books are so magical. I think they come to us at the right time in our journey — when we need them or are ready to learn something from them. Pretty amazing.

      btw…I’ve never read Anne of Green Gables. I may need to do that someday.

  4. Melody Beattie’s Co-Dependent No More inspired me to write professionally. I love fantasy books and spiritual texts- Harry Potter and The Bhagavad-Gita. Oh and I love Rumi poetry.

    • All great ones! I’m a huge Harry Potter fan. And Rumi is probably my favorite poet. The Bhagavad-Gita is on my list, but it’s at the bottom — one of those, “I really must read/study that one day” sort of things. 🙂

      Thanks so much for sharing!


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