The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

R is for Reading

Here's one I REALLY need to pay attention to,
myself. It is easy, so very easy for a writer to
forget that he must read. In general, the
minimum safe ratio is ten words read for every
word written. If you don't, it's much like
working out without eating--you can get away
with it for a while, but then your body will
devour itself.

And it isn't just a QUANTITY of reading we're
talking about. It's also the QUALITY. As I've
said before, please note that if you eat steak,
you excrete feces. If you were to BEGIN with
feces I don't even want to speculate what
the end product would be. Yucka.

The point is that your output will be one step
down from your input. You can't read comic
books and write classics. Sorry. Here's a
joke I always tell students:
"If you want to write comic books, read pulp
fiction. If you want to write pulp fiction,
read popular fiction. If you want to write
popular fiction, read bestsellers. If you
want to write bestsellers, read classics.
And if you want to write classics..? Choose
your grandparents very carefully."

Yeah, I know, I sneer at the concept of
talent. I believe only in "hard work and
honesty." True. But there's another side
to it, and that's that obviously an organism
is created by both nature and nurture.
We cannot change that immutable aspect
of Self given to us at birth. So we must
learn to mold our clay most effectively.

For writers, this means reading. Even if
you are screenwriting, your depth of
knowledge of human nature, plotting,
texture, the history of drama...all of these
things are fed by writing, even more than
watching film. Even though you are
manipulating visual and auditory input to
create emotion, you have a responsibility
to know what the craftsmen who came
before you accomplished. And this means
reading.

Me? Sigh. Too damned often, I don't have
the discipline to both put in a hard day's
writing, AND get my reading done. So I
start my day, every single workday, by
reading one Shakespearian scene aloud.
Even if I can't read the 10,000 words I
know are necessary to hit my peak, I'm
still feeding my subconscious some of
the highest-protein quality input on the
planet. Hopefully, I'll cope.

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