To Write, First One Must Read

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I’ve written a few blogs before in recent years on different topics and the thing I’ve always found difficult is starting it off. Do I do the whole, ‘Hello reader, I’m going to talk about…’ thing or do I just start it and hope my readers don’t feel like I’m being rude by not addressing them? I can never decide, so this time all I’m going to say is: This is a blog series about being a modern writer, by a modern writer. I’m currently writing a collection of short stories and I’m going to start at the beginning.

To write, first one must read.

I never really read much as a child. I only started reading because of boredom. I was 18 and working in an off licence in which no one ever shopped. I’d spend most of the time sitting on a wonky stool staring out the window from over the desk, hoping for someone to come and break the monotony. Some of my co-workers did their college work, some did origami and one or two read. Inspired, I went to town before one particularly long shift and I picked up the cheapest book I could find and threw it in my bag for work.

To write, first one must read.

At work I started reading what turned out to be The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. It was wonderful and remains a favourite to this day, but looking back it seems Kundera did far more than entertain me for a few shifts; he started my literary education.

A few pages in, I stumbled on some words I didn’t know. I was worried that I had picked utterly the wrong book but I persevered. I kept a little piece of paper as a bookmark and systematically noted down any words I didn’t know in order to learn them. The paper filled up pretty quick with words I now scold myself for not having known; words like ‘semantic’ and ‘quandary’ and ‘irreparable.’ I’d go home and look up the words and write down their definition. After a little while they began to catch. I found I would start using words like ‘assimilate’ and ‘supplant’ in my everyday speech. The more I read, the better my vocabulary became.

When I first started reading I had no aspirations to become a writer, I was simply passing the time and appreciating the words and the worlds sculpted from them.  However, years later when I started writing, I was given a piece of advice that many writers have either given or received: to be a good writer, you must be a good reader. After that I stepped up my literary education. I started reading slower, taking in all of the detail, and tried to observe and understand the construction behind the architecture of the stories. My reading turned to study.

Looking back through my old notebooks now they are littered with words I needed to learn alongside my own writing as I spent hours reading and writing, emulating the writers I loved, trying to find the way I liked to write. I can track what books I was reading by the style and sentence structure of what I was writing at the time. With every book I read my style changed as the great writers I was reading influenced me.

There was one book that had more influence on me than any of the others, the book that made me want to take being a writer seriously. That book was Raymond Carver’s Short Cuts and it is a different story…

Alex Thornber

Alex Thornber

Alex Thornber

Alex writes short stories and occasionally things a little bit longer. He has had fiction published in places like Wilderness House LIterary Review, Metazen and Spectre Magazine and has a story in the National Flash Fiction Day anthology Jawbreakers. He is currently working on a collection of stories, a novella and his blog at alexthornber.wordpress.com.

Alex writes short stories and occasionally things a little bit longer. He has had fiction published in places like Wilderness House LIterary Review, Metazen and Spectre Magazine and has a story in the National Flash Fiction Day anthology Jawbreakers. He is currently working on a collection of stories, a novella and his blog at alexthornber.wordpress.com.

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