What do all good writers have in common? They read. They read as much if not more than they write. They read to find out what’s good and they read to find out what’s not so good. They read the masters and they read pulp. They read and then they read some more.
If you don’t belive me just ask Stephen King. According to his book On Writing, he reads daily. This amounts to seventy to eighty books a year. He reads more than he writes. And he writes a lot.
This was something I always knew. It’s not a sudden epiphany. Although I had never thought about it in concrete terms before. I’ve always read. A lot. But I read because I enjoy it. That’s also why I write. If I didn’t enjoy it, I wouldn’t do it. But my dirty little secret is that I read to get ideas. And, I think, if every writer is truthful with themselves, they would admit to the same.
I’m not talking about stealing ideas or even plagiarism. I’m talking about using other writer’s ideas as springboards. Their thoughts unleash my thoughts and next thing you know, I’m writing about those fresh thoughts.
Here’s an example. I just read (as part of my morning regimen) a romance book and Virginia Woolf was mentioned. This made me think about her. Then I thought about Edward Albee’s play Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf? Which led me to thinking Why would anyone be afraid of Virginia Woolf? This led me to something else I’d read once about how Virginia filled her pockets with rocks and walked into a river and drowned. And, voila! The next thing you know, I’ve written one thousand words on what I call the baptism in a river of my main character. She walks into a swimming pool intent on committing suicide, Virginia Woolf style, but something happens under the water. A rebirth if you will. And when she emerges from the water, cold and sputtering, she has been reborn. She is no longer the beaten, downtrodden soul who filled her pockets with stones. She is the phoenix who emerges, somebody else entirely, stronger and better for it.
Anyway… writers read. They read Russian authors and they read pamphlets and brochures and the backs of cereal boxes. They read Shakespeare and they read Jacqueline Suzanne and they read Time and the National Enquirer. Because they never know where they will find inspiration. Maybe under the next rock or maybe buried in the pages of the next book.