Monday, November 14, 2011

Out of Reading, Writers are Born

I’ve heard it many times before, and most frequently from one of my favorite authors Michael Scott, “If you want to be a writer, you have to read.” At first I thought he was crazy to say this. How could writers come out of reading? It made zero sense to me. I had absolutely no desire to write, so I had no concept of how this could be true, or what it took to be a writer. Growing up I hated English class. There’s a reason there’s all those jokes about engineers and English, writing and grammar. Trust me most of us engineers suck at writing, hate it and cant form a coherent sentence, but we learn to do it when absolutely necessary.
I wasn’t a reader for a large portion of my childhood. But I hit the ground running in second grade when my teacher, Mrs. Lovegreen, created a way to make reading fun. She had a solar system on the front wall of the classroom (including Pluto, which was a planet then). Each planet had a number of minutes associated with it, and each week we’d bring in a form filled out by our parents that stated how many minutes we’d read. We all had our own rocket ships and each week the teacher would move them to the appropriate planet that corresponded with our reading minutes, starting at Pluto and working our way towards the sun. When we reached the sun we got a sticker on our rocket, a prize and got to start over again. Looking back the prizes were those cheap dollar store type gimmick items like candy and giant erasers the size of a Hershey’s bar but it wasn’t the prizes that appealed to me like most the other students. It was the giant solar system and the idea that my rocket was traveling the stars. (It’s also where I got my idea for wanting to become an astronaut but that’s an entirely different blog entry.) That year I passed through the solar system more times than any of my classmates, and it was because I was excited by the sense of accomplishment and its link to space. (yea nerd alert, should have seen it coming then!)
Flash forward to high school, because unfortunately it pains to me to say it, but my reading died down from the time I completed second grade until high school and after. Homework became the number one priority and for some reason I wasn’t interested in picking up a book for fun after I finished with schoolwork. Not to mention I am a goal oriented person and unfortunately I saw zero reward for reading, outside of that which was assigned to me in English class. Reading became a struggle for me as I averaged between 1-5 minutes a page and fought to retain details I had just read moments prior. Looking back I know I was wrong in thinking that reading was not rewarding, because there is more to reading than just getting a good grade for reading an assignment. It’s about enjoying a good story among other things. This is something that I learned in one of my high school English classes. Picking them was always a struggle. As I said English was not my thing despite getting good grades in it most the time. However, I was fortunate enough to go to a high school that offered an English class in science fiction, and taking that class was the best decision I ever made. In this class I discovered short stories that wet my appetite for a genre I already loved in tv and movies. The real zest for reading science fiction though, came from our novel assignment, Ender’s Game. For the first time in my life I found a book I not only liked but could not put down. I read ahead of the reading assignments because I couldn’t wait to read what happened next. And when I devoured that book, I ran out and found the rest in the series. Shortly after, Orson Scott Card started releasing a companion series from the POV of a character named Bean, Ender’s second in command. It didn’t take much, but I was hooked and couldn’t get enough. And yet this was the only thing I wanted to read. I struggled to find anything else equally as interesting.
Then came Harry Potter. I know this series is a jumping off point for a lot of people and one that made many young people want to read. Funny enough, I’d never heard of the series until the movie came out. My sister and mother both were reading the series and dragged me to the first movie during Thanksgiving break of my sophomore year of college. I admit at the time I was hugely skeptical. What’s so great about a kid who can do magic? But immediately following the movie I picked up The Sorcerer’s Stone and began to inhale it. Mostly because I kept saying when does Harry get to Hogwarts, when’s he going to be sorted, when’s the troll going to attack, when do they go into the trap door? I was excited to read about all the scenes I’d seen in the movie and see that there were in fact other scenes that hadn’t made it into the movie. Normally I didn’t read for pleasure during school, but once I picked up Harry Potter it came to school with me and I read. I finished the fourth book before I returned to school for the spring semester. Out of Harry Potter a reader was developing. When the fifth book came out I sat on summer break and read nonstop for 3 days, briefly pausing only to eat and sleep. But between reading next books in the Ender’s Shadow series and waiting on Harry Potter books, nothing else interested me.
Then nearly four years ago I stumbled upon an online Harry Potter quest. I met a wonderful group of people who not only loved Harry Potter but also loved reading. They were going crazy about a book called Twilight. Admittedly I rolled my eyes at vampires, but didn’t know much about the book. I went out and bought it though because if people who loved Harry Potter loved this book, then I most certainly would. And I was right! On a four hour plane ride out to Seattle for a business trip I tore through half of Twilight, because I absolutely couldn’t put it down. When I got to my hotel, I walked across the street to the mall to grab lunch and stopped into the bookstore to buy New Moon which I started on my flight home. I’d found another book I couldn’t put down and was amazed. There had to be more books out there in the world I’d enjoy. And of course there were.
From the friends I met during the Harry Potter quest a monster was born. (I mean this in the best possible sense!) A dear friend of mine, Jules that I met during the quest, said to me and others, if you like Harry Potter and magic you have to check out this series called The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel. I immediately ran to Amazon and bought the first two books, and of course wasted no time plowing through them. In the time it took me to read them, she had come up with an idea to start a fan site for the series and contacted the author Michael Scott who graciously not only gave Jules permission to start the site but said he would also come onto the site and answer questions and interact with the fans. The combination of being surrounded by people who had a true lust for reading, finding a series I’d fallen in love with and couldn’t stop researching, working on a fansite, and interacting with one of the most wonderful authors in the world, created my love of reading as I know it today. I was ecstatic to find a genre that I loved and a group of people to talk about these books with.
I found myself surrounded by people just like me and hundreds of books I wanted to read. I began to frequent the young adult section of the book store and especially focus on the science fiction and fantasy novels there. Now the ya section is the only place in the bookstore I go to buy new books. The more I read, the more ideas started forming in my head. I started playing the “what if” game. Asking myself what if we lived in a world where… or what if things weren’t really what they seemed to be… or what if things from our wildest imaginations were real? Out of that “what if” game, ideas were born. Most were small one sentence ideas that I wrote down and filed in a drawer. Others produced a paragraph or two of related sentences. A few produced pages of ideas, a rough outline, or even numerous chapters, that I’m sure ill revisit later. But one single idea took over my life. From the moment I had the idea till just over a year later now, I’ve outlined and written and edited and written and researched and written and written and written. The idea not only came easily but it took over. I’d be sitting in a meeting or in the shower or driving my car, or anywhere really and the story would just start writing itself. I’d find myself needing a pen and paper pronto, because I couldn’t focus on anything except the story. It had a mind of its own! It became a monster that I suddenly was really starting to get to know and love.
So after experiencing a hostile takeover of an idea, I now understand where Michael Scott and so many others are coming from. Writers have to be readers first and foremost. You really don’t know what to write, until you’ve read the works of others and started thinking about all the stories you never knew you had in you, but suddenly want to tell. Although it was never in my wildest imagination to write a paragraph let alone an entire book, or two or three, I now find it high on my list of things to accomplish in my life. Who’d have thought that seven year old girl that used to sit at the kitchen table crying because she had zero ideas on how to finish the story starter assigned to her for first grade homework once a month, would turn into someone who not only wanted to write but needed to? I certainly never saw it in the cards then but after finding my love for reading, and through that a joy for writing, I have to wonder if one day I may look up on my ever growing bookshelf and see a book that says by Jamie Krakover.

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