Read/ing to Write

“When you don’t read, you don’t write.”--Helen Barolini, The Dream Book

The simple relationship of input to output, or ‘You don’t get something out, if you don’t put something in.’ It’s certainly easier to write if one has been ‘feeding oneself’ with ideas, images, subject matter background, and the views and approaches of other writers.

The fact is we learn from others and what they have done, said, and written before us. I’m sure you can recall, for instance–with little effort–your favorite poems and poets of childhood, school, university, or leisure reading . Reading others–especially the good and great writers–allows us to have contact with and become familiar with the sounds, images, ideas, styles, and sensibilities of those who have written before us. In other words, we read to learn and we read to learn to write.

What we, in turn, manifest in our own creative writing are often echoes, refinements, and nuances based on our choice of authors and readings. Most often, this is reflected in subject matter, diction, technique, and style choices.
If you look back at the great poets, they themselves frequently cite writers and works who influenced them. John Keats read Chapman’s Homer, then wrote a famous sonnet about his reading experience. T. S. Eliot poured much of his reading into his masterpiece The Waste Land as shown in its numerous allusions and satirical references to previous writers and their works.

So, who or what do you read that influences your writing? Emily Dickinson? e.e. cummings? Margaret Atwood? Quirky newspaper stories? Magazine articles about issues? Song lyrics? Online writing blogs? The possibilities are endless. What we read uniquely leaves its various influential, tell-tale marks and echoes in our writing inevitably.

“No poet, no artist of any art has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to [other] poets and artists.”--T.S. Eliot, The Sacred Wood

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