“Writing comes from reading.”
I remembered so clearly reading that line in LL Barkat’s Rumors of Water*, reading about those two precious daughters of hers, one walking around a farm reading Sherlock Holmes, the other taking on the voice of a favorite author in her own work. I remember LL recommending to one of her girls that she should read a book by Michael Pollan, and I remember all three “girls” reading poetry at dinner, when LL’s husband was away on a work trip.
I remembered all of that this morning as I began planning to write about reading, how reading shapes our writing. How writing becomes our own after we have read and read and written and written, sorting through other people’s structure and word choice and voice to find our own.
I remembered. I did.
Except I couldn’t find that line anywhere in the book. I skimmed through the table of contents, certain there was a whole chapter on it. I skimmed through every chapter, certain there was a main point about it. I found Sara reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle at Linsay’s farm, and the reference to Sonia’s voice after reading too much Clarice Bean. And there are LL and Sara and Sonia, all sitting around the table reading “One Art.”
But what about the quote on reading? Nowhere.
When I turned 10, I received the complete collection of Laura Ingalls Wilder‘s Little House on the Prairie* series. I don’t remember the gifts I received for most other birthdays, but those books were special. It was also the first year my parents were separated. A girl remembers what books she reads at times like that.
By age 10, I had been reading for six years already. I had been writing for five of those years. In first grade, I wrote my first research essay. My brother, a fifth-grader, was working on a report about one of the 50 states. Not to be outdone, I decided to write a report on a state, too. I chose Kansas.
My brother, probably on the prompting of my mother, turned my report in to his teacher along with his. Granted, my report was basically just extrapolated from the “Kansas” entry of the World Book Encyclopedia, but his fifth-grade teacher rewarded my first-grade moxie with an A+.
The Kansas prairie was the famous setting in the Laura Ingalls Wilder series.
In 7th-grade English, I was introduced to “creative writing.” Each week, our teacher, Kurt Bullock, asked us to write two full pages of whatever we wanted. I wrote about princesses and fairies; I did a five-part series about a reporter with the last name “Levin.” Basically, I was in heaven.
The year I started doing creative writing was the year I discovered I wanted to be a writer, not a teacher.
Mr. Bullock had graduated from Taylor University, a place I had never even heard of, and he told us college stories of things like taking cars apart and reassembling them in the dining hall. He had big, blond curly hair that looked a lot like William Katt’s leading character in the television show, Great American Hero. And he didn’t even send Mark Timm to the principal’s office for yelling out a swear word when the metal cover off the air conditioning unit crashed to the floor next to his desk. (Or was it Kyle Zeronik who yelled the swear word?)
In the 7th grade, my mom remarried and I moved to a new house. That weekend, I didn’t have time to do my creative writing assignment, so instead, I wrote something about not having time to do my creative writing assignment. Mr. Bullock wrote me a note on the paper when he returned it, telling me he didn’t care what I wrote about. He just wanted me to write from my heart and do the best job I could every time.
I kept that paper for a long time, along with the copy of Silas Marner Mr. Bullock loaned me. George Eliot, the author of Silas Marner, was actually Mary Ann Evans. She used a pen name, Mr. Bullock had told me, because women weren’t allowed to write books in the olden days.
Somewhere along the way, sometime after I graduated from Taylor University, the creative writing paper got thrown out and the copy of Silas Marner sold in a garage sale. I didn’t need them anymore. I finally believed I was a writer.
After several minutes of searching through LL’s Rumors looking for the quote on reading, it dawned on me. Maybe I read that bit about the reading and the writing somewhere else.
Sure enough, the quote was right there on one of LL’s blogs.
My sweet Sara reads about a six hundred (unassigned) books during a school year and a great deal of poetry. All that reading, I’m convinced, has shaped her writing.
But the Sherlock Holmes, the Clarice Bean, the poetry — they had already told the truth of the matter.
And so did the little girl on the prairie and the World Book Encyclopedia and the paperback copy of Silas Marner, for sale on a folded card table for 25 cents.
Writing comes from reading.
Want to be a better writer? Read more.
Originally published on the blog in 2011. Reprinted from the archives.
Read and Respond
I love to read words almost as much as I like to write them. Sometimes, I get to do both by reading a book and writing about it: read and respond. It starts when a book captures my imagination. Usually I write about the books that change my life, or at least my heart. They are reviews, recommendations, and ways to connect with what I read.
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Photo by Cindee Snider Re, via Flickr, used with permission.
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