The writing life

The Writing Life

Going home to a place he’d never been before, he left yesterday behind him (Rocky Mountain High by John Denver).

             Last weekend I attended my first Story Circle Network Writer’s Conference in Austin. I’ve been to Austin many times and even lived there while completing my Master of Divinity studies, so the city doesn’t qualify as a place I’ve never been before. However, this particular group is new to me. The Story Circle Network consists of women from all over the country plus a few other countries. Most members are north of fifty.

Many of the books they’ve written and published are memoirs about some of their amazing journeys. Others are mysteries, biographies, or historical fiction. They all sound wonderful. If only I could have an extra day a week to do nothing but read. The conference was an inspiring, encouraging and nurturing experience. I’m grateful to author Kathleen Rodgers for letting me know about it.

The Writing Life Starts With Reading

One childhood pastime that indicated I might someday embrace the writing life was my affinity for reading. Being the only girl in my neighborhood, I spent many summer vacation hours alone reading. When I was ten or eleven I selected A Tale of Two Citiesby Charles Dickens as my summer library reading program choice. The librarian told me it was too advanced for me. That of course convinced me I needed to read the book. She was right. I didn’t understand much of the complicated details about the French Revolution. Yet I was fascinated with the way Dickens told the story.

Reading to Resolve Problems

I’ve read my way through every predicament in which I’ve ever found myself. Some of the books were of the self-help variety. Others were inspirational or faith-based words of encouragement. Many were novels that both diverted my focus off whatever the current dilemma was and showed me how a good author writes a compelling story.

My children owe whatever I did right by them to their grandmothers and the many childrearing books I read while they napped. I spend many more dollars in bookstores than I do in clothing departments. I remember the summer my mother kept me out of her way by convincing my older brother to read Alice in Wonderland to me. He was confined to bed to recuperate from rheumatic fever, and this kept both of us occupied for long stretches of time. Writers  are also readers. The two go hand in hand. It is possible to be a frequent reader without also becoming a writer. It is not possible to be a good writer without also being an enthusiastic reader.

English was always my favorite subject. I’ll take an essay exam over a True/False or Multiple Choice one any day. I loved writing essays, even as my schoolmates groaned and complained about them. The research paper I wrote for my high school senior project is still in my writing files.

I recall sitting curled up in a wingback chair in our living room one day – with a book of course – thinking that someday I wanted to be able to write like the author I was reading at the time. It was probably Pearl S. Buck.

I like to write. I’ve written copy for newsletters and those letters you get in your mailbox asking you to support some worthy cause. As part of my work leading capital campaigns for congregations I write copy for brochures to motivate people to support their church’s project. Part of my weekly routine now includes writing these blogs. I frequently write sermons and articles for magazines. Since the mid-80’s I’ve occasionally written books that I hope inform and inspire others.

I cannot not write. If I get caught somewhere with nothing to read I’ll start a list of ideas to write about later.

Ways Reading Helps Writers

If you want to be a writer, start by being a reader. Why? Because:

  • You’ll be learning the craft as you absorb how other writers phrase things to move an article or story along.
  • Reading the work of other authors helps you develop your own cadence and style. You’ll develop your own unique writing voice.
  • Reading helps you differentiate between good writing that is creative and compelling versus writing that is dull and confusing.
  • Reading supports other authors, especially if you bought their work through a magazine subscription, at a bookstore or via on-line source of reading material. Or maybe you’re supporting your local library by checking out reading material there.
  • You’ll learn something, which keeps your brain alert and active.
  • You’ll increase your vocabulary.

If you want to be a great writer, pick up a great magazine, paper, or book. Some of my favorite writing tips are available on my website page, Writing Tips for Authors.

What clues did you have in your childhood that suggested what you might end doing as an adult?

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