In order to write well, we believe it is first necessary to read widely and often. We also believe that the desire to write is a natural consequence of maintaining a strong reading practice. Writing enables us to engage and grapple with the ideas and characters we have read about; it allows us both to question and to clarify for ourselves just what it is we do and do not understand about what we have read. It can deepen our understanding of a book, and also teach us to become more careful readers. Eventually, the relationship between reading and writing becomes dialectic: one practice informs the other, which in turn informs the first, and so on.
As writing removes us from what we have read in one sense, it simultaneously gives us the ability to contextualize it within a broader framework. We must leave the all-absorbing world of the book to write about it, but in doing so, we are able to bring the book into the greater world of our lives: writing helps to situate the ideas presented in a book within our own intellectual domain. This is especially important to do for more challenging texts and topics or for anyone reading a high volume of books, stories, essays, etc. It is all too easy to read a piece, then, absent a sense of resonance or immediate identification, set it aside both physically and intellectually.
Writing can also be an important preliminary step in discussing a book, allowing us to collect our thoughts on paper before engaging in conversation with others. We may even discover that we hold beliefs we had not realized! Similarly, when we write about what we have read, we are asked to think about it more deeply, despite the fact that our notes may seem to us to be simple, sometimes even superficial. These simple notes will often initiate a cascade of thinking that both surprises us and enriches our relationship to the text. The act of writing also helps our memory encode what it is we have just read – it can be startling to discover that most of what we remember of a book has been largely determined by what we wrote.
So, as we discuss reading and books here, we also plan to address different elements of writing, as well as the relationship between reading, writing, and thinking. Our first series of posts is all about structure in writing and how to help adolescent writers begin to gain an appreciation for structure and logical organization without giving them cause to dread writing or damaging their innate creativity. Our aim in this series to open up the act of writing, not constrain it.
Check back here next Monday for the first piece and please let us know in a comment below why you write, or what struggles you have encountered in your own writing practice.