Books / Self-Help

On Reading

How writing taught me to read.

writing

Text has always challenged me. Regardless of copyright date, I look at books as insurmountable volumes rooted in earth’s history, just as permanent and timeless as a mountain or sea. Even the simplest publications feel as if they have always existed, their authors fables to the present day.

And yet, I had always felt a strange desire to write my own novel; to join the ranks of the immortal mystics, scholars and dreamers before me; to create art in a timeless medium.

I grew up in a world that had just given birth to the video game; whose culture was firmly rooted in television soaps, sitcoms and late night specials; on the cusp of harnessnessing the Internet. It was easy to skirt around the written word with spoon-fed visuals and peer-less interactivity. The attention and focus required to unfold a 40-hour story could be easily condensed into a relatively similiar experience of a 2-hour film so why waste my time. With quick summaries from literary classmates and short prayers that a pop quiz wasn’t in my near future, evading grade-school required reading was easy enough.

And then I discovered music. I joined a high-school punk band, and discovered vast amounts of angst fueled lyrics that I quickly paralleled to poetry. I found a connection to the sharp medium with content that could be as dense as a novel yet consumed quicker than a 30-minute televised drama. I toiled over the deeper meanings found in liner-notes and poems. I fell in love with the tiny format, incorporating it into my own lyrics.

This discovery sent me on a journey through college, attempting to challenge even the most admired poetry with lyrics from underground bands. Using this as fuel, I entered college English 101 with the assignment to write a short 5-10 page fiction. I had never attempted this sort of challenge before. I had never even focused the slightest bit of attention on the short-story format. After presenting my completed work (a piece judging myself through the eyes of a close friend), my professor planted the idea that I should pursue creative writing. I took the notion with a grain of salt and continued to focus on music, film and political science.

During the remainder of my college tenure, I realized that I would get lost in writing long-winded reports about Cuba’s standing with the US, the impact of international gangs or research on comparative politics but hated reading the material. While I couldn’t help but feel I was beginning to miss details by solely relying on lectures, cliff-notes and chapter summaries, I still could not bring myself to focus on the dense works in textbooks or even highly praised fiction.

Was it A.D.H.D.? Had the age of electronic media ruined my ability to focus? Little thoughts like these would trickle into my consciousness. While, others found solace in the great works of Tolkien and Vonnegut, I couldn’t focus on Harry Potter.

Then I found The Egg; a short story so profound I trembled to my core. Immediately after the read, the harsh reality of how much I had missed by avoiding the written word came like a rushing tidal wave. Though reluctant, I decided to set off on a journey for beauty in a world built with text.

Like many, I had fallen in love with the Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. With such respect for the films, I felt a duty to read the source material. After completing The Fellowship of the Ring, I noticed a change in my own vocabulary. Somehow, Tolkien’s words had soaked into my unconscious and allowed me to produce sentences and convincing arguments with gravitas and ease. The impact of reading had become prevalent in my own nature.

I continued hesitating to dive into novels the same way I would dive into a video games of the same length; a realization that left me unable to argue that pouring 20+ hours into any given story was a waste. On top of this, there was a notion that writing was a primitive method of storytelling made better by music, film and video games. Yet, a splinter in my mind told me that there was a single thread that ran though all of these mediums; something that enabled the existence of sheet music, screenplays and punched tape.

The answser was paper. Paper has been a generational through-line for the invention of nearly all forms of art. This was the notion that would propel me to commit to the written word.

Thus, my exploration began. I needed to know how a novelist could invest weeks, months or years into a single piece of work. Just as my technical support training had taught me the inter-workings of computers, I needed to understand the inter-workings of story structure, character development and prose.

I decided enough was enough. If I wanted to understand this medium and conquer my Everest, I needed to write a novel. November 2013 was growing close. I decided to take on the NaNoWriMo challenge.

Since completing the challenge, I have had a much larger appreciation for the written word. That is to say I am beginning to understand the written word at both mechanical and artistic levels. I clamor at the chance to start a new book often times before I finish the last.

Yet, like the scar left on Frodo from the Morgul-blade, there is still a lingering pain in reading. I have not completely tackled the fear that there is simply not enough time to read; that too many profound novels will be left void of my awareness or time before my death that there is simply no point to start reading the wrong ones now.

I love to write. Often times, I dream about the idea of writing for a living. I used to be deterred by the notion that because I was never a reader, I will never be a writer. I now challenge this notion. I offer that it was not until I decided to write that I learned to read. Now that I have learned to read, I hope to learn to write.

Next up: On Writing by Stephen King.

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Originally posted on Medium.com

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Kyle Starr is the writer of TheStarrList.com and The State of Gaming. Find Kyle on Twitter at @_kylestarr.

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