Another bone to pick….

It’s me again, Margaret.

There’s nothing like having a bone to pick to rev up the blogging juices again. I know; I’ve been a bad, bad boy–faul, the Austrians would say–lazy. But I have every excuse in the book. Just ask me. I write books.

But something a student said last week rankled me to the point where I had to say something. I kept my mouth shut then; I can’t keep it shut no longer….

There’s this theory rolling around out there that you learn how to write by reading books. My colleague, Bob Mendenhall, teaches that. And apparently our English professors teach that. I completely disagree. Reading doesn’t teach you to write books any more than watching cyclists in the Olympics teaches you to ride a bike. You have to get on that dag-blamed bike. And you have to fall. Lots and lots of times.

I remember when I learned how to ride a bike. My biggest worry was that if I turned the handle bars I would fall. My father gave me a push down the street and suddenly, I was riding a bike. But I couldn’t turn. And inevitable it happened. The irresistable force–me–came into contact with an immovable object–a parked car, replete with a big rain puddle beneath it. I was forced to choose between turning the handle bars and colliding with the car. I chose to collide with the car, and ended up in a puddle, with my dad laughing at me a block away.

Suffice it to say, I did learn how to ride a bike. But it wasn’t by watching someone else. Reading doesn’t teach you to write. But it helps–just as watching your parent drive helps you learn how to drive.

The reality is, nothing and nobody can teach you how to write. That’s one of the funny things about being a writing teacher. I can’t really teach students how to write. Reading helps; that’s sure. And life experience helps–it gives you fodder to write about. I can teach you techniques, how to construct a sentence, how to spell and how to structure a short story. And I can encourage.

But in the end, you have to solo that plane on your own. And crash. Many times.

What’s interesting–and from my experience, the biggest truth–is that it’s not the more qualified, or most experienced or most talented who end up being successful as writers. It’s the guy or gal who is willing to drag themselves from the wreckage of their crashed plane and get back up there. Time and time again.

So I guess that’s the secret of successful writing. Tenacity. The willingness to do it. Again and again.

I read books–lots of them. And I learn from them. But they have yet to write a book, a story or even a sentence for me.

That’s my job.


3 thoughts on “Another bone to pick….

  1. I agree. I think reading tends to inspire me, but it doesn’t write more books and it certainly doesn’t edit them. No publisher will ever consider how much I read when considering my books for publication, nor will a reader care.

  2. I think what I, or the offender in question, meant was more along these lines. I don’t think we meant to say that Reading is the key to success as a writer.

    What I think we meant was more that a writer who reads is like an armature sculpture watch the master sculptors work, learning by observing their actions, and then learning more thoroughly by attempting to imitate, then deviate from and then surpass them.

    I agree that doing the writing is the most fundamental aspect of learning to write. On the other hand, writers who write in a vacuum are unlikely to have the richness of shared and opposing thoughts generated by the community of writers.

  3. Interesting, and I agree. I think that reading doesn’t necessarily teach you how to write, though I believe that it is the gateway to learning how to formulate your own ideas by trying to interpret what it is that you are reading. I believe that reading helps you to think, and thinking is like “internal writing.” I do believe that writing teachers help you to write grammatically correct, but to really “write” all depends on the writer him/herself.

    Then again, what have I to say. I’m just a college student. 😛

    Question: Is Margaret your nom de plume? O.O

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