I was once told many years ago, “for every fifty-thousand words you read you improve as a writer.”
There was nothing scientific backing it up, but it did seem to prove true. The more I read the better I got at writing. At least I thought so; I was a young and rather big headed kid at the time who thought everything I wrote was gold and ready to be published. A lot has changed.
I think the point here is to wrestle with the text, let ideas simmer and most important of all see how your fellow writers handle things. I used to emulate my favorite authors so often, which was not very satisfying in the long run, but it did teach me a lot on how to handle my prose.
The word “influence” pops into my head, everything you read, every person you talk to, everything you come into contact with influences you in some way. They all leave some sort of impression on you. Writing is all about taking those things that influence you –those impressions– and putting them into words. It’s a beautiful process really.
Today, in my Study of Fictions class we were talking about how Anton Chekov, a Russian writer from the 19th century said, “Do you know how I write my stories? Here’s how!” And he glanced at his table, took up the first object that he saw –it was an ashtray- and said, “If you want it, you’ll have a story tomorrow. It will be called ‘The Ashtray’.” (As found in a commentary in the book: The Story and Its Writer An Introduction to Short Fiction by Ann Charters. This is a good collection of fiction; I recommend it to any upstart writers who want a taste of the works by some of the most influential writers in recent history.)
This mentality is an important one; you can create a story from nothing. A simple influence goes a long way. The same could be said about reading a novel every week. You take in the nuances of the author, the subtleties; you wrestle with the text and decide for yourself what works and what does not, and then how to apply it to your own writing.
It is more important than some would think. I’ve met plenty of writers who despise reading, and only want to write. The problem with that is you are writing in a bubble – you lack a fundamental understanding of what is cliché, what has been done before, and how to apply techniques you can only learn from reading other authors.
Think of it as scoping out the competition in a way. No, that is a silly metaphor, writing is about community and storytelling – there should be no competition. And I suppose that is the biggest point I am trying to make, what is the point of writing if not but to share your stories and have others read them? Our society is diminishing the building blocks of culture every day, reading is something profound and uniquely human. Don’t let anyone take that away from you.
So why not crack open a book by your favorite author, or explore new ones, and really think about the text on the page. Tackle it head on, ask questions of it, really try to understand the choices made from a writer’s perspective and perhaps try to apply some of the techniques found to the next piece you write. Inspiration comes from everywhere. All you have to do is really look.