Mill Park Publishing of Eagle, Idaho was created in 2003 by author Elaine Ambrose.
The company facilitates fee-based book publication and marketing for local authors
and organizes writer's retreats.

Wednesday, 08 June 2011 20:37

If You Don't Read, Don't Write

At a recent writing class, a young woman asked if she could be a good writer without reading classic literature. I tried not to gasp out loud as the agitated ghosts of former teachers immediately began to clamor for attention within the musty cobwebs of my cluttered brain.

First came the apparition of the invincible, ruler-wielding Mrs. Kaufmann waving her tattered copy of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. Then feisty Miss Luke appeared, telling me to write why I was Jo in Little Women. She was bumped aside by Mrs. Eaton whose booming voice pleaded to the High Heavens for her class of scraggly farm kids to understand how Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men brought the characters of Lennie and George right there to our humble town of Wendell.

To answer her question, the class instructor eyed the young woman and calmly stated the Great Truth: "If you want to be a good writer, read good writing." My ghosts then retreated, slamming the door behind them.

Decades before the distractions of video games, the Internet and Facebook, young people actually went to libraries and brought home books, every two weeks. I started with the Bobbsey Twins and read through the Nancy Drew Mystery series before finding children's literature that would change my life. I cried the first time I read:

"It seemed to travel with her, to sweep her aloft in the power of song, so that she was moving in glory among the stars, and for a moment she, too, felt that the words Darkness and Light had no meaning, and only this melody was real."

That excerpt from Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time is the crux of why I read and why I write.

L’Engle joins all my former English teachers and favorite authors who amuse themselves inside my head and emerge sporadically with witty phrases, ticklish ideas, and red-pencil admonitions. Sometimes I talk to them, but never in public.

There are excellent modern writers, and we are fortunate that many of them live in the area. But, they, too, have bookshelves bulging with well-worn volumes of classic literature.   To find your voice as a writer, read good books and then write. With that foundation, you'll understand L'Engle's words: "You've been given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself."

Published in Elaine's Blog

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