By: Whitney McKendree Moore
Read: It Can Transform Your Writing
Thriller author Tommy Birk says, “Being a serious reader is a prerequisite for being a serious writer.” I agree and would put it even more starkly by adding that it matters what I read. I have discovered that the old computer-geek adage “Garbage In, Garbage Out” applies to me. It’s as though I read to feed — and I am what I eat!
For me, reading either gets my juices flowing – or it does not. It’s an “if-then” proposition: if I read palp, then I write palp, which makes me very fussy about what I choose to ingest.
Zero Calories: Only Good for Diets, Not Writers
The flip side of the same coin is that “Nothing In, Nothing Out” is also right for me. This augments my considerations of what’s next for me to read with discernment as to what’s best for me to read.
Best for me is allegory, whether literal like “Pilgrim’s Progress” or figurative like Thomas Mann’s “The Magic Mountain.” Reading poetry also gets my juices going, especially when it shows me the thin line between us and death. My writing improves the more I confront the inevitability of my own mortality.
Food for Thought
I think it was Robert Frost who described tennis as “a game that is played with the net up.” Reading “words on a page” does nothing to improve my “game of tennis” so to speak. Some writing actually lowers my net into a slouch. In the book I am currently reading, the author turned suddenly oblivious and has removed the net altogether! I am reticent to finish that book because it is doing nothing to improve my game.
Selfish? Maybe. But I’m choosing the word “self-care” instead, now that I am 71, I am better able to own who I am. Like Popeye, “I yam what I yam and that’s all what I yam!” I resonate with what Emile Zola said: that he was born to live out loud. Me, too. And with however many years of life, I have left, I want to do that as best I can.
Singing for my Supper
Writing and singing in harmony seems to be my best “out louds.” When I am doing either one of them or both, I completely lose track of time. I love that juncture, that place of intersection between what I’m good at and what I love doing. I think it’s where activity surpasses busyness and becomes purposeful.
So maybe the word I’m looking for is “stewardship” of that “if-then” proposition. If I am a writer, then life for me is wrestling down to the ground what it is I have to say.
Ernest Hemingway claimed he rewrote the ending to “Farewell to Arms” 39 times before he was satisfied. That sums it up for me.
This writer reads because why? Because reading is fuel for my vehicle. I need it to get past the speed limit sign that says, “Just pay the bills and die.” I need it to avoid pointless detours, such as merely passing the time or filling up time. I need it to propel me in my purpose, like a blade of grass, each one different from the next: each utterly unique in its uniqueness. Yet each of us is reaching upward, toward the same great big sun.
Bio: Whitney McKendree Moore
Whitney McKendree Moore has published numerous articles in magazines such as Cruising World, Connecticut Magazine, YANKEE, Greenwich Magazine, Maine Boats and Harbors, and The Nautical Quarterly.
In 1987, she authored a book entitled Where to Next? that focused on making a successful career change; she also co-authored a book called Academy Days, a history of the school she attended while growing up in Greenwich, Connecticut, and has published twelve books of her own since. She also helps other people publish their own stories onto Amazon using Createspace.
Whitney and her husband, Barry, have been married for forty-six years. They have just one child, a son who was born two weeks after they celebrated their twentieth year of child-free marriage. At the time, they were brand-new in recovery from alcoholism, which is a family disease. For a while, it looked like the disease might win, but God won instead. Now their son has graduated with an MFA in Dramaturgy from Columbia University, where Whitney was born. She and her husband recently relocated from Connecticut to South Carolina, so a whole new chapter in their life has begun.
A (Rather Lengthy) Note from the Editor-in-Chief, Marilyn L. Davis
I appreciate Whitney’s post because it made me think about what I read and why. Reading helps me learn from other people. Books and blogs show me worlds unknown to me, wonders I can not visit, teach me how best to do something, or allow me to escape – a mini vacation from reality.
I read books about writing, editing, secret societies, ancient relics, recovery, and addiction. In each of these, I’m studying word choice, voice, tone, and style. I’m hoping through conscious application of the how-to I can improve my writing, editing, or my life or through a subtle form of osmosis, I’ll be transformed.
I’ll learn a solution, sometimes, when I didn’t even know there was a problem. I’ll experience emotions that were numbed until I read a particular book.
That’s the wonder of books and blogs. Words transform our lives. As you all know, I like quotes, so here’s an unlikely one from John Waters:
“You should never read just for “enjoyment.” Read to make yourself smarter! Less judgmental. More apt to understand your friends’ insane behavior, or better yet, your own. Pick “hard books.” Ones you have to concentrate on while reading. And for god’s sake, don’t let me ever hear you say, “I can’t read fiction. I only have time for the truth.” Fiction is the truth, fool! Ever hear of “literature”? That means fiction, too, stupid.” — John Waters
More Food for Thought
Reading also lets me know that my thoughts may not be unique, but penned long ago. There’s comfort in the words of Niccolo Machiavelli, Italian political philosopher, musician, poet, and playwright:
“At nightfall, I return home and enter my study. There on the threshold I remove my dirty, mud-spattered clothes, slip on my regal and courtly robes, and thus fittingly attired, I enter the ancient courts of bygone men where, having received a friendly welcome, I feed on the food that is mine alone and that I was born for. I am not ashamed to speak with them and inquire into the reasons for their actions, and they answer me in a kindly fashion. And so for four hours, I feel no annoyance; I forget all troubles; poverty hold no fears, and death loses its terrors. I become entirely one of them.” ― Niccolò Machiavelli
Like Machiavelli, I too remove my day wear, slip into jammies – my fittingly attired evening self, feed my extremely vocal cat, Jackson, and, as often as not, read the learned words of others, edit or write, and then read more before retiring.
What Does Reading Do for You?
Comments also fuel the writer. Many times, someone has given me food for thought, alerted me to a book or blog that would be helpful, or shown me how better to do something. Whitney and I have told you why we value reading.
Now, let us hear from you!
Two Drops of Ink: The Literary Home for Collaborative Writing is looking for guest writers – prose, poetry, problem-solving for the writer, and memoir.