Previously, I wrote about writing, and how it is an intimate experience. In fact, let’s stretch that, and say that, in the act of creation, artistic pursuits in general – composition, visual art – are intimate experiences on their own. But at the moment, I am reminded of something my professor in English Renaissance Literature told the class about. Once, she overheard some Creative Writing students adamantly refusing to read anything because it might influence their writing. Another local writer claims the same sentiment: you do not have to be a wide reader to be a writer. These attempts at justifying not reading comes off as weird to me, since reading should already serve as a springboard for the act of writing. It doesn’t help that big-name writers actually advocate reading a lot. I am here to reassert the importance of reading, and how it goes hand-in-hand with writing. You can’t separate one from the other, in other words.
Reading is as much an intimate activity as writing, though in a vastly different way that writing is intimate. Both acts involve the self and the text. Whether it is one writing the text or one reading the text does not matter – what matters is that we recognize the fact that one cannot read for another as much as one cannot write for another, in the purest manner possible. What I’m trying to say, in other words, is that when you read, you are engaged in an active exchange with the text. When you write, you are engaged in an active exchange with what you are writing. Both are not simply centered on what the material is. Both are centered on what you are, what you think of, and what you do with the material.
That’s all fun, but how significant is this? Since we’re focusing on reading and its importance, let me get one thing clear (and I don’t think it has to be said because it’s obvious, but I will still say it for the sake of emphasis): reading is an intellectual and active experience. Maybe physically you’re just sitting down, but your mind flits here and there, examining the cracks in the text, examining the text’s texture. Whether you notice it or not, when you read a text, you are developing your own understanding of it. Your own interpretation. This interpretation cannot be invalidated by anyone else, because it is how you understand the text to be structured – only that you have to assert your interpretation by picking out supporting details within the text (and even, in certain cases, outside of it), and strengthening your argument as to why you believe in that certain interpretation. Literary theory is filled with a lot of ways on how to read or understand a text – psychoanalytic, Marxist, feminist, to name a few – but literary theory does not always hold. Reading, in short, develops your own ability to understand a text. It develops your ability to discern particular details, figure out puzzles, find explanations, and string them into a whole that will, hopefully, make sense. And the important thing here is the linchpin: you. You read primarily for yourself, and you think primarily for yourself. Combine this with a text that can be interpreted in a number of ways virtually infinite, and that’s just a daunting map to navigate.
As for reading not being a necessary thing for one to write? That’s an easy way to get out of the act of reading itself. Influence is inevitable, and it comes from everywhere. Reading makes you understand how a text is supposed to work – or not work – for you to be able to write something yourself. It’s not helpful if you don’t read. The nuances of texts will escape you, and the effectiveness of writing will follow in its wake.