Fall has arrived, all the kids are going back to school, and President Oboma is talking about taking personal responsibility for education. Welcome to September. All this educational energy is making me think about my own continued learning. When I grow up, I want to be a writer (it doesn’t matter that I’m already a fully grown engineer). So I have been attempting to master the craft of writing.
I know several wannabe writers who have MFA’s in creative writing. Fortunately, I know enough successful authors without MFA’s to keep me from running out and earning another degree. It’s not like I’m uneducated or anything, its just that classes like Steel Design, Principals of Concrete, and Soil Mechanics don’t have much to do with creative writing.
Most self taught writers learn by reading. There are a ton of “how to write” books on the market. I’ve read a couple of them (exactly 2), but didn’t find them overly helpful. Being told to avoid clichés like the plague, use adjectives sparingly, and not to write a passive voice, really doesn’t improve the quality of a story. It just gives new writers a list of rules to follow so the can madlibs out an unoriginal tale.
Still, I have taught myself to write by reading, or more accurately listening. I think the best way to learn how to write a book, is to read a book or a lot of books. In the 30 years I’ve been alive, I’ve probably read somewhere between 200 and 300 books. I know this number is discustingly small, but I didn’t learn how to read until I was like 20, so cut me some slack. I have also listened to at least 10 times that many books, maybe as many as 20 times. And that is why I know how to write. I know stories. I’ve listened to thousands and thousands of stories in my life, and I understand how they fit together without needing to read a check list of beginning writing to dos.
I have an aquantence who recently decided to become a playwrite. This happened after she had spent several decades working as a screen writer. She has written many made-for-TV movies, and even got an Emmy nomination once. The lady can write. But the silver screen is different than the stage. So when she crossed over to playwrite, she started reading. She set a goal for herself to read 100 plays in 100 days. After day 100, she extended her goal to reading 500 plays in 500 days. She tries to downplay this accomplishment by saying that plays are short and only take like 2 hours to read, and writing is her day job so she’s got time.
But I don’t think this action should be down played. I think it is the only way to go. Obama is right. We as American’s need to take control of our own educations. Sure that means kids need to do their own homework and teens need to not drop out. But it also means that writers need to read. All of a sudden the fact that I read 3 books over labor day weekend doesn’t feel lazy at all.