Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Relationship Between Reading and Writing

As a passionate writer and reader (and a teacher of English, also known as writing and reading), I find the connection between the two to be fascinating. It's all about words, about language, about story, and it occurs to me how valuable the written word has been to me throughout my life.

I have a confession to make. My English classes have fifteen minutes of free book choice silent reading three days a week, and I have been known to at times work on writing my current novel-in-progress in lieu of reading. The fact that my kids get this tells me that they understand the relationship between reading and writing; the line dividing the two is blurry, to say the least. I try not to do this, though--modeling good reading habits is extremely important to me as a teacher (and my current at-school book is Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants, which I absolutely can't put down, so any potential writing I might get done at school is on hold for awhile).

My brother Adam is an extremely talented writer. His potential is limitless, but he never developed a passion for writing the way that I did. He won a schoolwide Young Author award as a fifth-grader, a feat I never accomplished (although I usually got honorable mentions), and the pieces he did for some of his college coursework were just breathtaking. However, writing never became part of his life the way it has for me, a daily act basically as necessary as breathing.

Adam does not read. Well, let me rephrase that--Adam does not like to read. At least, Adam does not like to read fiction. He enjoys sports magazines, biographies, and encyclopedias (yes, I'm serious ... please don't ask), but he reads slowly and never made reading an integral part of his day. The fact that his strongest writing pieces are fiction (and generally in the fantasy genre) is just fascinating to me.

My brother is proof that you can be a strong writer without being a strong reader. I have students that are much the same (amazing writers, apathetic readers) as well as the opposite--those that are extremely strong readers but who profess to being unable to write.

Having never been anything but a voracious reader (and a nearly obsessive writer), I find that I'm quite curious to hear your input on this. Sometimes I think it's hardest to look with an unjaundiced eye at something near and dear to your own heart.

How important is one's life as a reader to his or her life as a writer? Can you be a truly committed writer without being, at least on some level, a strong reader as well? Do you think being a writer enhances your life as a reader?