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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