To Write, You Must Read
Back at Easter, less than a month ago, my nephew's wife and my oldest son's wife had a conversation with me, after everyone at the family get together learned my latest book, The Best of Frontier Tales Vol. 1, was now available. Both of these young women seemed earnest in their questions about how I planned to sell this book, and promote it in Northwest Georgia, since, after all, these are stories about the nineteenth century west.
The conversation went well, or so I thought, until my nephew's wife announced she was now writing a book. Usually, I encourage anyone who tells me this, and I'll even offer to look over their work. This day, however, I was at a loss for words at how to respond, for on very good reason. Both of these women don't believe in reading. They refuse to read to their children for any reason, insisting the children only read 'for school'. Even worse, neither woman has finished high school. My daughter-in-law dropped out at 16 to have a child and won't even consider going for her GED. My nephew's wife proudly announces to one and all she dropped out in eighth grade, and she thinks school is for fools. But now I'm getting vibes from these women that I'm expected to critique and help her sell her book she's working on slowly. There was no indication on what the book is about, nor what age group she's targeting – just "I'm writing a book."
I found it almost laughable these women expected me to help them through what they call a massive project. And I would normally offer my free services, but in this case, I'm holding back. Why? Neither will accept reading is as important to writing as sitting down in front of a computer and actually doing the work.
Long before I seriously took on writing as a profession, I read whenever I had the chance. Be it on an airplane, at home on my sofa after a long day at work, even at the pool or when camping and it was still light enough. Reading has been a huge part of my life for as long as I can remember. My parents encouraged my family of three girls and three boys to read at every opportunity. And we did. There were no assigned reading lists. None of us needed them. We were reading above grade level long before there was a grade level for reading.As I work out how to let my nephew's wife know she has skipped a very important step in becoming a published author, I wonder if I should purchase her a popular book. Maybe the Twilight series. Or The Hunger Games. She says she's enjoyed the movies, but hasn't read the books. Maybe she'll find the methods of proper plotting, scenery, characterization in books that are far better than the movie. Perhaps she'll learn grammar, spelling, and paragraphing – or discover text-talking isn't what an editor wants to see.
Or I can take this woman to the local library and introduce her to the shelves upon shelves with so many books it boggles the mind. Maybe she'll go so far as to get a library card and use it. I am meeting a lot of librarians while promoting The Best of Frontier Tales. And they love meeting people discovering the wonders of the modern library. Then she can go through all the offerings, including a few How-to-Write-the-Great-American-Novel books. Then she might also discover you can check out DVDs at the local library, or even go online there. And the best part of our library system is how if they don't have the book at their branch, they might be able to find it at another branch in the state and have it brought up there for you.
Yet, I hesitate, since she's indicated she feels reading is useless. Even though she wants to be a writer, she still has to understand reading is an important of doing that.
The quandary will probably come up again the weekend after Mother's Day, when we all gather for the annual reunion. The only solution that comes to mind immediately is to be frank without being cutting. For to become a great writer, one first must be a great reader.