Writers start by learning to read


Writers start by learning to read.

By David Joel Miller, writer, blogger, and mental health professional.

Writers are usually voracious readers.

One of the reasons that I had always wanted to write a book was that I had been a lifelong learner and a voracious reader. But my becoming an enthusiastic reader almost didn’t happen.

I’m not one of those people who fell in love with books in kindergarten or even the first grade. We moved around frequently, often in the middle of the school year. So my memories of those early years are fragmented and probably inaccurate. I’m sure we had textbooks in the schools I attended, but it seemed to me that by the time I got issued a textbook, it was time to turn it in and move to the next town and the next school.

I don’t remember there being many books in our home, at least nothing that would’ve been age or grade-appropriate for me. My parents had planned to be missionaries, and my father had briefly attended seminary with the idea of becoming a pastor. We always had a Bible in the home. I also remember us having a commentary on one of the Gospels and a small handbook on learning Greek. None of these were particularly interesting to me, nor did they encourage me to take up reading.

My interest in books began quite by accident.

I remember our class going to visit the school library. I think it was the fourth-grade level; I really can’t be sure. I wasn’t familiar with reading books for pleasure. Each member of the class was supposed to look around the library and choose one book they wanted to check out to take home and read. Most of my classmates picked their book right away. I hadn’t a clue how to select a book.

After waiting for me for quite some time, the teacher lost her patience. Finally, in frustration, my teacher reached over onto one of the shelves, pulled out a book, and handed it to me. I can’t be sure whether she knew what the book was and selected it because she thought it would interest me, because it interested her, or her selection was purely a random gesture.

Suddenly I was hooked on reading.

I remember quite clearly that that book was one of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House on the Prairie series. I read it alone in my bedroom, filling the hours during that time before a television made its appearance. Reading, rather than playing with other kids, finished off a book in short order. After finishing that book, I went back to the library every chance I got, reading all of that series and then exploring many others.

I do remember in elementary school and then in middle school reading continually. The frequent moves and the comings and goings of the few friends I made meant no one was in my life for very long. Being an only child with two parents who had their own emotional issues, I spent my childhood largely alone. My constant companions were the books I read.

Daydreaming is an important part of the creative process.

I recently came across an idea recently while listening to a podcast about writing that a major part of creating a fictional story involves putting together the plot. Whether you’re a hardcore outliner or the pantser type of discovery writer, it’s important to be able to imagine exciting things that will take place in your story. Daydreaming about your characters, the setting, and the events that will happen is a valuable part of the process of creating a readable novel.

I didn’t know that back in my high school days. What I did know was that I quickly lost interest in many of my classes. A considerable part of my time in class was spent daydreaming. I created a phenomenal number of adventures for the characters that inhabited my head. As with most creative people, the characters are in some respects reflections of myself, but in a great many other respects, they are the people I wish I were rather than the person I am.

What the writer part of me needs to learn to do is to hold onto those daydreams long enough to get them down on paper and create a first draft of the story I’m telling myself in my head that I can share with other people.

Reading widely is useful for writers, but it’s not enough.

When I began actually trying to craft novels, I discovered that all those books I had read, hundreds of fiction and also hundreds or more nonfiction books, still didn’t give me the skills I needed to be able to write my own books.

Enjoying the daydreams of another author is a far cry from creating and recording your own daydreams in a form that someone else would want to read. So in an upcoming post, I want to discuss the difference between how readers typically read and writers should be reading.

I hope you are enjoying some of these posts on creativity and my writing journey. Eventually, we’ll get to the point where I talk about the books I’ve written and the ones still in my head waiting to be written. If you enjoy these posts, please like them. If you’d like to find out what the next installment of this story brings, please subscribe to this blog. Thanks for reading.

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