The Page a Day Writers Group

Want To Be a Writer? Then Read.

Posted on: March 29, 2010

The Portuguese Nobel prize winner Jose Saramago was asked about his daily writing routine. He responded, “I write two pages. And then I read and read and read.”

In order to be a writer, we must write.  That’s obvious.  But the other piece of advice given by famous writers to other writers is, “You must read. ”

Stephen King said, “[R]ead a lot, write a lot” is the great commandment.” (Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, 2000)

William Faulkner said, “Read everything–trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out.” (William Faulkner, interviewed by Lavon Rascoe for The Western Review, Summer 1951)

Read the bad stuff, too.  “If you are going to learn from other writers don’t only read the great ones, because if you do that you’ll get so filled with despair and the fear that you’ll never be able to do anywhere near as well as they did that you’ll stop writing. I recommend that you read a lot of bad stuff, too. It’s very encouraging. “Hey, I can do so much better than this.” Read the greatest stuff but read the stuff that isn’t so great, too. Great stuff is very discouraging.” (Edward Albee, quoted by Jon Winokur in Advice to Writers, 1999)

I love this advise about reading the bad stuff.  I’m overwhelmed by the fact I’ve never read many classics including “Moby Dick.”  And can I tell you I have no desire to read it either?  I’m having a hard enough time reading the books on my nightstand (see photo).  Recently I have let go of reading everything I own from cover to cover.  I read thirty pages of a book.  If I’m not digging it, I set it aside. Life is too short.

There are books that stay on my nightstand after my thirty page test.  I haven’t gone back to Junot Diaz‘ “The Brief Wonderful Life of Oscar Wao .  I love Diaz’ short story collection, “Drown.”  But I couldn’t get through the Oscar Wao novel.   Maybe I’ll give it another try, maybe not.  But fear not, I have gone back to books like “The Glass Castle” and “The Liars’ Club,” both memoirs I couldn’t stomach when they first burst on to the literary scene.  But I kept them by my bed and have in the last year finished them AND loved them.

Franz Kafka said, “It seems to me that one should only read books which bite and sting one.  If the book we are reading does not wake us up with a blow to the head, what’s the point of reading?  …A book ought to be an icepick to break up the frozen sea within us.”

Yes, yes, I want to read books that are icepicks that break up the frozen sea within in me.  It’s imperative as a working mom of three, a wife, friend, writer, I find those books that excite me.  I want to read those books that allow me to escape and keep me awake (and alive) even when my soft pillow and bed beckons me to sleep.

Write and read on, my friends!

Michelle Murphy Zive

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5 Responses to "Want To Be a Writer? Then Read."

Michelle, I love seeing your bedside book stack! Mine resides on the floor between the bedframe and nightstand (where I won’t trip over it). It has a few books I abandoned but may return to, my Poe collected works, which I read periodically for inspiration and a few favorites.

Love the idea of breaking up the frozen sea inside of us, for isn’t that what we writers do when we work, then splash it all about the page?

Somehow I knew the reference to breaking up the ice would get to you. It really is a lovely image, isn’t it? And after writing this post, I am more committed than ever to read, read, read. Dinner, laundry, clean house, sleep be damned…well, everything but the sleep. This mama needs her sleep.

“So you’re a writer. What books to do you read?” my friend Laura said to me about 20 years ago. Her words have stuck in my head all these years. I also find it comforting to see that your stack is slightly higher than mine.

What a great question posed by Laura. Clearly someone who understands the necessity of reading. One of my instructors in Taos was blown away by an attendee who said she wanted to be a writer but she didn’t read. I thought the teacher was going to kick this woman to the curb.

Glad my stack of books made your day. Truth be known there are others…I’m an addict, what can I say?

Great post Michelle! I read all the time, but never thought too much about the connection. Thanks for sharing.

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Who are we?

The Page a Day Writers Group is a diverse collection of wonderful writers based in San Diego, CA. We've been meeting monthly since 2004. Our primary function is in-depth writing critique, marketing and brainstorming, but there's usually some wine, chocolate and ribaldry involved too. We write fantasy, humor, literary fiction, nonfiction, romance, thrillers and YA. Join us on our journeys to publication and the wonderland beyond!

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