“The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.” – Samuel Johnson
I came across the above quote last week and was impressed by how accurately and succinctly it made the observation that a good writer is, quite often, a voracious reader. Readers and writers both have an interesting relationship with words however there is a level of nitpicking that goes into each sentence structure as a writer that is influenced in many different ways. In my own writings, I have completely dismantled certain sentences and shuffled word order around in order to create a sentence worthy of putting out in the public arena. As a matter of fact, several sentences back, I originally wrote “both readers and writers” but then realized I liked the flow of “readers and writers both” a bit more. Those four words convey the exact same thing don’t they? Why does it matter? I can’t give you an answer that makes sense, other than to say that when I say them aloud, they have a better rhythm. Yep, this guy writing is a nerd. Go ahead and say it to your screen that you happen to be reading this on; I’ll wait.
Getting back to the quote, I would have to say (and I beg forgiveness if it offends) that all readers may not necessarily be good writers. A good majority of people who read do it for the simple pleasure of a good book. They can move from one book to another but there’s another subculture of readers; those who write as well as read. For THOSE people, reading can be a pleasure but it’s also, at times, a data-mining mission. I’ve mentioned Cormac McCarthy several times before and if you’ve ever read any of his works, you may be able to understand how his writing fascinates me. I’m amazed by the way his sentences flow and his, at certain times, lack of punctuation. The stories he comes up with are so rich and so heavy that you really couldn’t care less about whether he’s capitalized a word that should be capitalized or if he’s missing a comma somewhere.
I have always loved reading. Since my childhood, I’ve been reading. I actually have a female friend I met after getting out of the Navy who told me she believed that you should ALWAYS have a book you’re actively reading. There have been countless books over the years that I have read with no other motive than pure enjoyment. My interests are all over the map; drama, biography (finally coming close to finishing The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt! Page 782 of 920!), and horror. There are certain books I go into with the understanding that I will not glean any useful information out of and they are strictly for a good time. Certain other books (and authors), I expect to be swept away in the language used and the data being put forth. Is that so wrong?
I’ve always found it interesting how an author will begin their story and how they’ll end it. I believe the very first sentence and the final sentence are of equal importance. The first sentence says to your reader “look what we are about to embark on together” and the final sentence is more of a “thank you for investing your time in my work”. In my own writings, sometimes I’ll read my first sentence and think that it doesn’t quite have that “oomph” that I want it to have so it gets scrapped. I’m currently working on a short story in the horror genre and I’ve written and rewritten passages at least a dozen times. I want it to be something I can be proud of. I’ve got the opening paragraph the way I want it right now and my final paragraph is pretty much the way I’d like it too.
What do YOU think about that quote at the top of this post? Are you a reader who is actively gathering information or are you more passive, just enjoying what you’re reading? Do you have an author who you admire? Do you attempt to emulate their style of writing? What’s the best book you’ve read that’s blown you away? Comments are welcome below.