Buzz Poole takes a look at a question which has haunted my creative writing teaching life: How can you want to write when you don’t read?
This piece follows up on one by Macy Halford over at The Book Bench, and it’s a good one.
I make this analogy for students who tell me they want to write but dislike reading (it works for the young writers, anyway): You tell me you want to be Derek Jeter when you grow up, but you dislike baseball.
Reading and writing are two sides of the same craft. You cannot separate them, or negate either.
In [James] Baldwin’s words: “I read books like they were some weird kind of food.” Feasting on stories that on the surface in no way related to the life he lived on a daily basis taught Baldwin how to peel away surface levels and find the less obvious commonalities. Baldwin’s reading habit not only gave him the tools with which he built a tremendous career as a writer; it saved his life because reading also taught him how to be alone with himself, even if at times that solitude was discomforting.
Yes, ambitious, talented writers will continue to exist and their writing will be great because they have read. And yes, there will remain people who have nary an interest in writing but luxuriate in an afternoon of reading. The devaluing of imagination as it departs on flights of fancy brought on by just being with yourself, this is what is changing us in profound, yet to be fully realized ways.
Wanting to write without wanting to read is like wanting to use your imagination without wanting to know how.