Ever met a successful author and asked them what they’re reading? Chances are, you’ll get a long list of books; books that informed them, entertained them, made them laugh, made them cry, made them think. Books that changed their life.
You know what you’re not likely to hear if you ask that question? “Oh, I don’t really read much. Just focusing on my writing.” Do you know how ridiculous that answer would be?
That’s like preparing to run a marathon. Except you never train. You don’t run shorter distances, because you’re focusing on the end goal: the marathon. So you get to the starting line on race day, expecting to be able to up and run 26.2 miles. Well, guess what? That’s not happening. And neither is your writing, if you don’t also take the time to read.
Just like you can’t run if you don’t fuel and prepare your body, you can’t write if you don’t fuel and prepare your mind. You are what you eat and you are what you read. No input equals no output. It’s a simple equation.
Books have had an immeasurable impact on my own life and my art. I draw inspiration, joy and strength from their words. If I hadn’t first learned to love reading, I would never be a writer today. My creative energy is replenished by basking in the work of others. I admire their art and seek to create something that could do for others what has been done for me. Have you ever read a book that saved your life? I want to write books that shape people, just like books shaped me. From childhood on, my worldview, my passions, my self; it has all been drawn from the books I read. Words have more power than any weapon humanity could think up. And here it is, at my disposal. At our disposal; if you’re reading this, you’re probably an author too.
Take a moment and think about it. We as writers have the power to inform someone’s view of the world. With our words we can literally mold someone into a different version of themselves. That’s a mind boggling amount of power. And, in the immortal words of Spider Man’s Uncle Ben, “With great power comes…” (You know the rest. It’d be condescending of me to finish that quote).
Writers have an incredible responsibility. If people are what they read, it’s up to us to ensure that what they’re reading is the truth. That what they read is smart, informed, beautiful, important prose, because then they will become smart, informed, beautiful, important people. We have to make them laugh, cry, and lay in their beds, sleepless, minds reeling with the secrets of the universe. I once met an author who said the best compliment she’d ever gotten was, “I threw your book at the wall, because I was so mad when he died.” We have to make their muscles tense and their hearts race. We have to make them sigh, make them scream. And we have to make them put our books down and think, “Wow. I want to do that for someone else someday.”
It’s a magnificent cycle, and it’s our responsibility as readers and writers to perpetuate it. Not all readers are writers, but all writers should be readers. Make an effort to support the act of reading, because it’s dying. As we turn increasingly to other forms of entertainment, leisure reading is at an all time low of 19%. The decline of reading has terrifying consequences. Mitchell Stephens, in the Los Angeles Times, poses that it has as much ramifications as, say, the fall of communism. Throughout history, reading has established patterns of thought and even become the foundation of civilization. Think of the impact of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, for example. That simple pamphlet kicked off the American Revolution. If we as writers don’t make an active effort to save reading, our world will stop thinking, and our words will go without an audience. Like a tree that falls in the forest and nobody’s around to hear it.
Support the act of reading. Find interesting indie authors and read and review them. Small authors need your following and will really appreciate it. Buy books like it’s going out of style, because it is. Better yet, find ways to make it come back in style! Get young people excited about reading. Get old people excited, too. Talk to your friends about the books you love. Community over common bonds is a powerful thing. So read what your friends recommend you! You never know; you could find new interests through these books and pursue them. I’m a firm believer in the ripple effect of individual actions.
I’m also a big believer in hope. Put the two together and I have no doubt that we can bring the art of reading back to life.
Your creative endeavors will only be successful if you properly fuel them. You could stick with the classics or experiment with genres outside of your comfort zone. You could read novels, poems, essays or plays. You could use an e-reader or an audiobook or a good old fashioned paperback. It’s whatever works for you as the reader, and the possibilities are endless. Just remember: choose wisely, because you are what you read.