Words by Jenni Curry, ACTWC Blogger in Residence
Surely, this is a question which has been around as long as the printing press. When a writer can’t think what to write, should they consume previously published words? Or restrict themselves so the creative process isn’t tainted by the works and thoughts of others?
The trouble is that reading and writing are linked. One cannot exist without the other. If there were no readers, there would be no writers and vice-versa. It is also highly unlikely that there has ever been a successful, published author who refused to read at all. Writers are, first and foremost, readers.
This bond between reading and writing is strengthened by the fact that, as children, we are taught the two together, with reading coming only shortly before writing. Throughout our schooling years, the two remain best-friends; one never being seen without the other. Most English classes contain book reviews where students are expected to read, and then deconstruct the book. In this way, reading is not focused on the story and the characters, but on how the story and characters have been built. And this is how writers need to read.
Reading not only teaches us about writing style, vocabulary and grammar, but it gives us ideas. Reading stretches our minds and introduces new ways of looking at the world. This flexibility of thought gives rise to new creative concepts and a strong imagination, which are the foundations of creative writing. When mixed with personal insights and experiences, what we have read can turn into something new, something original. And isn’t that something which all creative writers strive for?
Shirley Hazzard, a noted Australian author once said, ‘The greatest literary influence lies in arousing us to words, to expressive speech. That comes through reading, through the pleasure and excitement of reading that creates receptivity.’
The most common piece of advice given to aspiring authors is to read. Read often, read widely. Assess what it is that you like and don’t like about a book so you can make your own writing better.
So, it seems that as reading can help improve writing skills and imaginative thought, so too can it help alleviate writer’s block. The trick, then, is to know the difference between actually having writer’s block, and simply wanting to read because you’re up to the climactic part of the book.
Jenni Curry has a Masters in Creative Writing and is a 2014 HARDCOPY alumni. She writes fiction novels and short stories, many of which have been seen in Australian and UK anthologies including Time to Write and How Higher Education Feels. She finds fiction simpler than reality and continues to search for the perfect world to live in.