I believe reading is an integral part of being a writer. If I don’t read anything other than my own work, how will I ever improve? Who will I pace myself against? When I was a student at Hollins I took several creative writing classes with graduate students and it was humbling to realize how far ahead of me they were. But it also made me push myself. I never wanted to turn up to class with anything less than my best, most polished work.
Reading “The Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss pushed me to carefully craft my sentences, to really think about the words I was using. If Pat Rothfuss can make the beginning and ending of a 1,000 page novel stay with me for years, why can’t I do that for my readers? Rothfuss’ novella “The Slow Regard of Silent Things” became a joke for me and my roommates senior year: “We’ll never do/say/write/be anything as impressive as that title” we’d joke, but it really made me think of my own titles, made me fight to one day have one like it. Rothfuss’ greatest talent, in my opinion, is how carefully his book is written. Every word is carefully chosen, with as much thought as a mother naming their child. It’s inspiring and daunting. And beautiful.
Jane Austen, similarly, has had a great influence on my writing life. I actually saw the movie Pride and Prejudice before reading the book (I’m in love with the Keira Knightley version). Once I read “Pride and Prejudice” it was all over for me. I read everything Austen ever wrote in two months. Austen’s wit and humor, her keen insights into human nature are astonishing to discover. So many think that Jane Austen is a romance writer… “chick lit” I’ve heard her termed. And while the focus of Austen’s story lines are romantic in nature, they’re not romance novels… not in a million years should they be termed “chick lit”. Austen’s novels are a social commentary on the world she lived in, with its strictures and rules, and her heroines have to live with/struggle with/learn from the same things she does. She is, in my opinion, one of the greatest writers in history. Through her I’ve learned how to delve into human nature, how to create characters that struggle with self and societal-awareness, who suffer from selfishness and kindness simultaneously.
Austen and Rothfuss are as disparate as two writers can be. Austen was writing in 18th century England about middle/upper class society. Rothfuss is a current fantasy writer who’s main character is a magic-knowing boy on a quest to find those who killed his family. Even though they are so different, I believe they’re both writers who understand and deeply empathize with human nature. They understand that every one of us is flawed, that each of us make daily choices that create our own story, even if it is a simple, quiet one that will affect only those who write it with us.
I will continue to run toward these writers in my writing journey. They may be miles ahead of me, but I’m going to aim high. My books probably won’t become the great classics of literature that Austen’s are, or one of the defining books in its genre like Rothfuss’, but perhaps like they do, I’ll be able to add beauty to someone’s day. Hopefully my books can help mold someone’s personal story, even a little bit.
Keep reaching for those books that you can’t forget, keep reading those lines over and over. Make your words echo too.