I was swirling through YouTube last night, that whirlpool of wasted time and entertainment, where most people actually embarrass themselves in a public format. On a whim, I executed a search for Stephen King. Wouldn't you know it? There are handful of good interviews. One in particular caught my attention.
Mr. King stood on a platform, apparently addressing a mob of collegians and taking questions. On this particular video, the person asked what advice he would give young people who wanted to develop a career in writing. There was this long pause, coupled with a look that (to me) said he wished he didn't have to address the same question for the billionth time during his life. I'm sure that famous authors get tired of the same questions. Can't we ask something that will surprise them? But then, without any snide remarks he graciously responded. You have to do a lot of reading, he said. You also have to do a lot of writing. You can't get around putting in the work. He mentioned that he has little patience for people who say they want to write but have little time to read, adding that with reading there comes this "magical moment" when a person puts down a book and says: "That really sucks. I can do better than that. And that was published." Listening to Mr. King, I found myself laughing and clapping my hands.
He went on to emphasize that reading means "everything", which I interpreted as variety. While a writer needs to focus most of her attention to reading in her specialized genre, she must be willing to read works from other categories as well. This is why I have read works from the Classics, Mystery, Horror and (yes) Chick-Lit, which is not to degrade that genre or its writers. In fact, of my favorite Chick-Lit writers Jennifer Weiner (author of both In Her Shoes and Little Earthquakes) ranks at the top. The decision to read this variety is to keep me balanced and, hopefully, at the top of my craft. If I want to write a scene with sexual tension, I can fall back on my exposure to Chick-Lit. If I want to craft a story with evil creatures chasing a protagonist, I can pull from my readings in Horror.
Reading. As a writer, you can't do without it. As Mr. King said in the video, "You have to do the work."