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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

If you don't read, you can't write

It's (almost) as simple as that.

Don't believe me?

Here's master storyteller Stephen King on the importance of reading:

"If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut."

And here's James Ellroy (pictured), the author of L.A. Confidential and many other crime novels, on the same subject in a Q&A published in a recent issue of Time magazine:

How did you acquire the knack for writing such colourful lingo?
I love scandal language. I love racial invective, language that is vulgar. I spent my early life reading, reading, reading, reading, reading and reading. I read crime books primarily, so I know cop jargon.

Are people born good writers?
No. You have to read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read and read. As you read, unconsciously you assimilate the rudiments of style and technique. And when it comes time for a person to begin to seriously write, they either have it, or they don't.

I have been saying something in similar vein to all my students, but Stephen King and James Ellroy have put it much better than I ever could. While both are referring, I think, to the writing of fiction, I believe what they say applies to all forms of writing, and that is what I emphasise at Commits.

Which brings me to the question that bothers me big-time: Why do so many young people give short shrift to reading?

Many youngsters today want a career in media. That really makes me happy. However, for the life of me I can't figure out how someone who doesn't like reading can be a good journalist.

Okay, so you don't want to be a journalist. I have no quarrel with that. Now, I also happen to believe that if you can write and think like a journalist, you can succeed in any media field. And this is what I tell every batch at Commits. But if you want to write and think like a journalist, close reading is vital. A devotion to words is essential. A love of books is fundamental. Reading should be like breathing. Then the writing will follow. And it will flow. Unhesitatingly. Copiously. Gracefully.

If I were a betting man, I would stake my entire library on it.
  • Shagorika Easwar, editor of Desi News and CanadaBound Immigrant, comments: I absolutely, totally, whole-heartedly agree — the only way to improve your craft if you are a writer is to read. Or read, read, read, as you say!

    It saddens me that so many don't read. That newspapers around the world are losing circulation because people get their news fix on television or while driving home from work. Even those who want a career in media dream of becoming television anchors and so think they don't need to read or write. That is why you have the literate illiterate. When they speak, they are fine, but you only have to get a written submission from them to see the flaws.

    This problem is not restricted to the young, though. We get press releases from various tourism departments in India — you'd think they'd hire the best of the best to do the selling — but one I got recently talks about a temple being "worldy known". I kid you not.
         
    Which is one of the reasons why I love the way you teach. Not just through course books but by throwing a vast variety of books their way. Something, somewhere will stick!
         
    A devotion to words is essential. A love of books is fundamental. Reading should be like breathing. Then the writing will follow. And it will flow. Unhesitatingly. Copiously. Gracefully.

    Lovely.

    3 comments:

    1. When we think of all the new media that has emerged over the centuries, it is hard to believe that the 'book' still lives on. Perhaps it is because reading makes the mind open up, gives it direction and then lets it run wild with imagination. I believe if you can 'see' the book rather than read it, you have discovered the joy of reading.

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    2. Sir what i would like to say is one should never give up on reading. If one finds it difficult or boring to read from a book we now have access to books even online. And so i feel one can still read while relishing technology!!!

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