The “writing process” is a varied journey for every writer. Some outline meticulously, journal, or even ask the Five W’s (and one H) before they start. I am a minimal outliner, journaling has never really been something I stuck to with any consistency and the five W’s was something I did only when working for a newspaper. I consider myself more a concept writer. I can see the whole narrative in a smattering of images in my mind, and then race to capture all those images before they disappear.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me take you back to second grade. I had just earned an A+ on a project about the Bumble Bee. It was not how easily the words had come to me nor how skillfully I crafted a paragraph about a delicate insect. It was the moment the teacher made me the class example that I had an epiphany in my young life. I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I’m not sure everyone knows what he or she wants to be at that age, but presumably it was because my young mind was convinced of how easy it would be to be a writer. The words had flowed onto the page as if by magic. What I did not give credit to then, was the preparation I had done to be able to write on the subject.
Many years later, I earned a degree in English, and believed I was on my way to writing for a living. Sadly, no jobs were available in writing, and that dream was sidelined for a long time. After working in corporate America, and rearing children, I found myself in my forties realizing I had failed countless times to commit anything to paper. Perhaps it was the subject matter I was trying to write about, or just a place of maturity, but when I finally sat down to really do it, it happened. It took almost four years to write, but I did it. I finally wrote a book.
So, you may ask what happened along the way that earned a finished product, after many mis-starts and abandoned manuscripts? I think I can attribute a large part to the simple act of reading. It is no accident that at the same age I realized my desired profession, I also discovered how much I loved to read. Reading gave me a nook in my mind for escape. I liked climbing into my head and tuning out the world. What I understood later in life was writing occupied that same nook, the exact area I could lose myself in.
The years of filling my precious nook (via reading) with characters, story lines and dialogue had laid the groundwork for my writing. It became clear to me before I was actively writing my book, reading had helped me find my voice. And when I found the muscle to definitively wrestle the words to the page, reading helped me hone my voice.
Through reading I gathered many different perspectives, some I took in and some I set aside. It was like learning a language I didn’t’ realize I didn’t know. Over time, this filtering process helped me decide one thing in particular, I gravitated to the vulnerable voices. They stood out and pulled at my heartstrings. Reading novel after novel, weather third person or first, the variety of voices I consumed gave me permission to put all the sentiment I wanted on the page.
Even now, rewriting my second book, I turn to reading to garner ideas for my characters. I find myself more a like a detective reading books for clues to enhance my practice. I don’t like to compare myself to other writers, but I like dissecting their characters to see how mine flush out. I find myself putting mental pins in their plots and solving a flaw in mine. After many years of reading various types of narratives, I have taught myself to pay attention to what I’m absorbing and more importantly how I can use it in my writing.
There is also the sweet distraction from writing that reading provides. If I get stuck in moving the story along or aptly describing what my character is feeling, I escape to a book and let my brain soak in what it needs, much like water to a garden. I find myself often in awe at the way a writer may describe a scene or the contradictory sensation of how I would have said it differently. While reading is a happy distraction it is also a wonderful instrument to expand my toolbox. Reading not only takes me to places my mind imagines but it has helped me take other imaginations places too.
A builder can’t create a house without a foundation. My writing process may initiate in the nook of my mind but reading has been the building blocks for my creative footing. With any luck, I will be graced with visiting that nook again and again to not only continue writing, but especially to fill it with books. For reading stories are what make me appreciate the world around me, and telling stories help me figure out my own.