Whether or not you read Stephen King books and whether or not you like Stephen King, I am certain he will be remembered well into the future as one of the most prolific, if not one of the greatest novelists this country has ever produced. I used to paraphrase Mr. King as saying, “If you don’t read, you can’t write.” A bit of research reveals his method for success. What he actually said is,
“Read and write four to six hours a day. If you cannot find the time for that, you can’t expect to become a good writer.”
I for one would not challenge his advice.
I want to focus on the ‘reading’ aspect, and I’ll return to my original paraphrase: If you don’t read, you can’t write. I have been an avid reader since childhood. Among my favorite authors are Nikos Kazantzakis, Steven Pressfield, Mark Helprin, Victor Hugo and Ron McLarty. Each writes in different form and each writes about different subject matter, but each is a master of the art in his own ingenious way. I do not seek to emulate any writer, but I am certain that the more exposure one has to literature in all genres, the better-equipped one is to write and to develop her own style.
Just recently, I received a letter from a woman writing her first novel and asking for some advice. She told me she was an avid reader, but had not read anything since she started her manuscript because she did not want “to be influenced” by another writer.
Frankly, I disagree. If I read good literature and it influences my writing, then I am a better writer. We certainly don’t plagiarize in any way, shape or form. However, Steven Pressfield once told me, “It’s okay to steal as long as you make it better.” Touché. I’ll admit, I’ve adapted a sequence or two from Les Miserables and even one from Mr. Pressfield’s Legend of Bagger Vance in two of my manuscripts. My ‘theft’ didn’t make the original concept any better, but I believe it made my stories better as I envisioned them and eventually put them on paper. I’ll challenge you to identify the book/s and — I think even more difficult — the specific scenes. [My son Brad is excluded from the challenge.]
When I completed the fourth re-write of my first manuscript, The Olympian: A Tale of Ancient Hellas and believed I was finished, Mr. Pressfield advised me, “You might want to check out this book The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman.” I’ll discuss Mr. Lukeman’s book in greater detail in a subsequent post. He devotes an entire chapter to ‘sound,’ which he likens to rhythm. After reading Mr. Lukeman’s discussion on rhythm, I learned to begin each day reading poetry to help me establish rhythm to the prose I would write that day.
As I wrote The Olympian, I began my early morning reading Lord Byron’s The Pilgrimage of Childe Harold. I’m embarrassed to admit I can tell you nothing about the poem, but I am convinced that it greatly influenced the rhythm of The Olympian in a positive way that made the book more ‘authentic.’
With four novels under my belt and well into the fifth, I am convinced that Stephen King is absolutely correct: you cannot expect to become a good writer unless you read every day.