Why Reading Is The Next Best Thing to Grow As A Writer

Why Reading Is The Next Best Thing to Grow As A Writer

You already know what the best thing is.

I often used to watch my grandfather with a book. He was either writing one or reading one.

My grubby toddler hands would wrap themselves around a tome that he had discarded, and I’d flip the pages to find what fascinated him so much. To my dismay, it just contained black lines. What was he doing staring at pages full of lines? It made no sense to me.

I used the books for a while to reach for the cookies. Soon I was enrolled in a playgroup where the black lines began making some sense.

Every afternoon after I returned from playschool, I would spend time with Grandpa. I had his undivided attention. Sometimes he would lull me to sleep with fanciful stories he made up or some tales from India’s rich mythology. I often had questions, but sleep overpowered me.

On other afternoons, I would be excited about learning a new alphabet and proceed to conduct my own ‘class’, which he dutifully ‘attended’.

“Repeat after me, A for…” it would go. He used these moments to introduce new vocabulary. Say A for Alphabet..all the way to R for Read and W for Write.

Seeing him with a book and curious about the new words he slipped in, I wanted my own book. It came on my third birthday with a notebook, pencil and the liberty to scribble gibberish at will. I was left to my own devices to discover words and copy them.

My learning began with my messy first draft.

“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”
― Frederick Douglass

Reading lets your imagination travel where you can’t.

We had a room full of books at home. I was also a member of a local library and the one at school. A book was always within reach. Nobody ever told me to read. They just had to remind me to read school textbooks occasionally.

The textbooks never lit up my brain like the other books did.

A well-written passage, a beautiful story or a wild character who mirrored mine held my mind captive for days. I could not wait to toss my school bag aside and dive into a story I had left halfway, almost salivating till I opened the right page.

Well-written whodunits are a rabbit hole I disappear into even today.

From my bed, I travelled far and wide. I sometimes rode horseback with the cowboys or looked over a heroine’s shoulders as she navigated moral situations in Tagore’s stories. I cried when Uncle Tom died and laughed when Jeeves saved Bertie from yet another disaster.

Why did they keep such gems away from us at school?

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.”  ― Stephen King

Reading builds empathy…

Reading has always been a way for me to experience being someone else. To understand their pain, fears, joys and sorrows.

It takes me one step closer to an understanding born of empathy. This is far better than waking up as another person, as they show in the movies. I can be myself and live someone else’s life simultaneously.

Reading allows me to be someone else for a day and pick up their perspectives, beliefs and intentions.

Some books stand the test of time, and their messages last eternally. They are seminal works you can count on fingertips. More than anything, they change the world.

These books help us understand who we are and how we behave.

“We read to know we’re not alone.”   ― William Nicholson

….and writing encourages you to know yourself.

It is true that people are drawn to certain characters in the story and don’t hesitate to pick up the characters’ unfinished business — whether it is people to find, debts to pay or life choices to make.

In their writing, readers fulfil the promises these characters fail to keep.

I picked up the pen when I reached this point in my reading journey, itching to see what I could produce.

I wanted a fictive mirror image of who I thought I was. All the characters I had read about merged into my person seamlessly.

When I began writing regularly, I attempted to construct a wholesome picture of who I wanted to be.

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.” – George R.R. Martin

Be adventurous to tap the pulse of your readers and your preferences.

India was in the middle of a balance of payment crisis in 1991. It resulted from excess reliance on imports and rising crude prices due to the Gulf War.

That was a tumultuous time for the country, and I was just beginning my college years. Books helped me make sense of the angst felt by my generation as I became aware of what Indians were experiencing at that time.

Writing about it helped me channel my observations and feelings. The more I wrote, the better tuned in and receptive I felt.

Would I be the brave hero who questioned the system or the academic who predicted the outcome of the crisis? Or perhaps the sportsman winning medals for an aspiration-starved young India, slowly opening up to the world. Even better, a statesman who would build bridges across borders.

The scope of my reading increased to include nonfiction and current affairs, and my writing too meandered across topics. I started writing for the college magazine, eventually submitting pieces to local journals. My pen even produced a play (which never saw the light of day).

Become a reader to become a writer to become a reader. It’s the next best thing.

Reading helped me pick up the pen. Now writing was helping me become a better reader.

In India, we have a local saying — Try everything on your plate before you refuse a second helping.

Over the years, my cup filled up nicely with reading and writing across genres. I began to gravitate towards topics I enjoyed more than others. They helped me become a better reader, writer and encouraged me to question myself.

I find that my well-entrenched reading habit complements and enriches my writing.

Many of us love to curl up with a book, coffee in hand, letting the words seep into us.

Every book leaves something of itself in you. Quick, catch it before it disappears, poof!

And when you put the book down, write.

Only by writing can you leave a little of yourself in the world.

An oh, you already know what the best thing to grow as a writer is.

One Reply to “Why Reading Is The Next Best Thing to Grow As A Writer”

  1. i am re reading this since what i left here the last time is lost in cyberspace somewhere. i cannot recall the sequence of the words but i do know the memories it brought back.
    i , too was introduced to the joys of reading by my grandparents , especially my dadi. for a brief period me and my sister were staying with our grandparents in delhi while our parents were overseas. this period of time in my life is my first memory of “change”. my dada was practicing at the supreme court and typically his study had walls lined from top to bottom with the beautifully bound books on law , case studies etc. i used to slip on his glasses , sit at his gigantic table with its beautifully laid out (leather )planner , pick up one of the books that i could reach and pretend to make sense of the words! my dadi observed this and gently introduced me to the magical world of androcles and the lion , enid blyton , aesops , tinkle , amar chitra katha , russian folk tales…there was just no turning back. i could finish a book before she could say put it down and do your lessons!a trip to bahrisons in khan market( did i take you there when we were stranded in delhi for that one day?) to procure the next book was my reward for completing my lessons , sure enough i secured top grades that entire time and filled up a few walls with book shelves of my own as well!
    i wanted to share the joy with all my friends once i moved to jamshedpur as these books were not available there . by that time i had earned myself a substantially large collection. would you believe that i actually started a library from my home. i used to happily take 1p,2p whatever coins that they could get for borrowing a book and i gave back the coins once they returned it. hahaha! I think i still have some of those coins with me somewhere in my treasures..for books that did not come back to me because someone liked reading them so much that they wanted to hold on to them forever.that is what i recall making me super happy
    over the years as our state of mind and being alters so do our reading preferences.I can only be thankful that no matter what I enjoy reading today , i enjoy reading..
    just the way i am enjoying reading the thoughts and experiences you pen down.

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