As a reader and a writer

I’ve been thinking about writing a lot lately. That’s ultimately what a blog is, right? Somewhere to post writing? The idea came from those journals back in the early days of the Internet? I remember kids in my high school having online journals and such. Seems to me like that’s where blogs evolved from. A group of friends and I have been discussing writing lately and it has me thinking about how obsessive I was about writing when I was younger. I took an amazing class in college, Non-fiction writing, and I wrote some pieces I’m proud of, so I thought I would share them. I’m kind of particular about my writing as I don’t let very many people read it. Now I figure, might as well. I will never pretend to be some great Dickens or something. But it was something I enjoyed most of my life and put on the back burner for a long time now. 

This is one of the first pieces I wrote for that class. 

As a reader and a writer

I judge books by their covers. I spend hours in bookstores scanning the shelves for books that pop out at me. Ten books later, I sit in those comfy, over-stuffed armchairs and read the first page and the last page of every book in my stack. Several books I’ve picked up multiple trips, read the pages and left in my to-read-one-day pile, and yet, my overflowing bookshelf at home doesn’t have a copy. I love the idea of books, but I don’t find much time to devote to my hobby. Instead, I read newspapers and magazines, because journalists, typically, are the best writers. I read books to forget my own writing, and yet, because of these books, I have developed my own.

In high school I had an amazing English teacher that had an extra credit assignment she called “cut outs.” Cut outs were crafts made of brightly flamboyant colored paper, glitter and glue that took something written and made it visual. This was her way of getting us to underline memorable quotes in the novels and short stories we read because later we would go back and take that quote and recreate it using sparkles and shine. Now, it has become my way of reading. Any time I find an interesting choice of words, a phrase that sounds particularly beautiful, I underline, highlight or star it, so that one bored night I can flip back through the pages and remember how captivating that author’s words were.

Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” contains a highlighted passage that reads: “crowded, clanging, ship-clogged sweage-scented cities.” I recently started recording these sayings in a notebook that I can thumb back through for inspiration. I didn’t much like reading Norman Mclean’s “A River Runs Through It,” but my notebook has a page of quotes. Sometimes, in reading other’s writers I can understand my own writing. But often I just become more aware of what my writing lacks. “How do these great writers think of such great things to say?” I once wrote. And looking back on those colorful passages, I think that again.

I don’t think there is a way to distinguish the reader in me from the writer — these two aspects of my literary life are intermingled. I can’t answer what came first, the chicken or the egg, or in my case, the reader or the writer. Reading has taught me to examine my own writing as if I wasn’t the one who had written it, but instead had stumbled across it on a bargain table at a book superstore. In an old journal I found a note scribbled. “The best stories come from just thought, just sitting there looking at the blankness of a page and the stillness of the pen while thinking it will always stay that way.” One of my favorite songwriters once said that writing is like throwing up. For me, writing falls out of me. I can’t make lists, plot outlines or format notes; I just sit and write, and it streams live like Internet radio. Some restless nights, I’ll wake up to feel a burning desire to write as words fight to reach paper. As a journalist, I’ve learned that writing isn’t always personal. I have to face nights of writers’ block with the pulling teeth motion of forced sentences. In the past I have discovered that working on deadline has pushed me away from my writing because I’m so disconnected and stressed from the pressure of “having to.” At the newspaper, we told our writers to read. Our advice is to pick up The New York Times daily and breath in the magic of “all the news that’s fit to print.” And it’s true. I have become ten times a better writer with every book, newspaper or story I read.

But what people tend to overlook is how much being an editor develops the writing ability. I worked as a copy editor for two years. I read very bad writing that appeared to be flung across a page, and I read amazing compositions I didn’t have to change. In editing, I found what not to do in my own writing. Becoming a writer requires all three aspects to work together in harmony. It’s not just about throwing words down or reading those great geniuses of the past or finding errors. No, composing something worthwhile becomes a constant struggle among the three to better what ends up falling out. 

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  1. […] is just extra enjoyment for me. (Check out my previous rant about AP Style and post about being a reader and a writer.) I like wordsmithing. I enjoy noting the intricacies of our language, the differences in what […]



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