The Second Most Important Thing in the Life of a Writer is?
I have two admissions to make. Firstly, I had to Google Ray Bradbury after I found a fabulous quote of his about the writing profession. He’s apparently a big deal in the fantasy come science fiction come dystopian genre world!
Secondly, I’ve never read a Stephen King novel. Not The Green Mile, nor The Shining, nor Carrie; nor any of the dozens of other novels the man has written. In fact, I had no idea he’d written any of them before I sat down to watch their movie adaptations. I should probably be too embarrassed to admit this, especially as I consider myself pretty widely-read, but his genre just isn’t my cup of tea. However, with this being said, one of his books is on my all-time favorites list, and I’ve read it a half-dozen times. Stephen King on Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is a how-to-guide that I go back to time and time again when I’m in need of some one-on-one mentorship. He humorously calls bullshit on me for coming up with “legitimate” excuses to justify my lack of productivity. I’m sure he would do the same favor for you if you read it.
In it he counsels, “Read, read, read. If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.” I concur here with the Maestro of the Bizarre. If you want to be a halfway decent writer, you must read a lot too. But, not just any reading will do. Reading the genre, or form, (or both), of works you aspire to emulate is critical to becoming proficient.
For me, short stories rule the day. I read them because I want to write them. I think there’s something particularly artful in being able to create an entire story that can be read in one sitting. I especially love short stories by the lost generation authors, such as Hemingway, Fitzgerald and (my personal idol) Dorothy Parker. For more contemporary short fiction I invest in a subscription to The New Yorker, as each issue includes a short story written by one of today’s top writers. It also lands in my mailbox each week. For me, finding the time to read at least these stories is non-negotiable, even if I have to consume them paragraph by paragraph when I visit the bathroom.
Like most aspiring writers I have a day-job too, so my time is a precious commodity. I write when I can, and when I can’t write I read. Reading and writing helps hone writing skills. Everything else is just fluff. This brings me back to Mr. Bradbury’s advice, discovered while I was Internet surfing (instead of writing). He speaks to all aspiring writers when he says “Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.”
We all know diets are hard work. But the rewards that can be attained with this particular diet might be the start of great things to come, even if some people may never be aware you’re actually a big deal!
Nod here to Mr. Bradbury. Who knew?