On Writing about Reading
How do I write about writing without writing about reading?
So much good writing consists not of writing at all, but of good reading. Language is, of course, communicative by design, and is therefore a social tool, so writing cannot possibly exist in a vacuum as communion involves multiple parties. Given this unavoidable truth, the best writing, in my opinion, is built upon a conscious integration of judiciously selected source material. Take, for instance, writers like Jacques Derrida, or Anne Carson, powerful readers who weave together threads from a seemingly infinite number of reference texts, never concealing their sources while crafting something totally unique. Their writing thrums with ancestral energy channeled in a new way. Is this not the prime directive of all creative writing?
Reading is at the heart of my desire to write in the first place. How can a child grow up surrounded by the influence of written words and not wish to exert their own influence upon and through language? It’s like watching an older sibling jump off the high dive every summer at the pool – how can you not want to try that? Similarly, the more I read, the more keenly I feel the need to participate in the exchange. There is a saying that you must write down one-hundred ideas to get one good one; I argue that you must read one-hundred ideas before you can have an original one of your own. Reading is the heavy lifting a writer does to train for their craft, the base of a writer’s pyramid, and the bones of their practice.
Many of my poems begin with an epigraph. An epigraph is a keyhole view into another room in the house of our culture. Though it is only a glimpse, an epigraph draws an explicit connection between that other room and the one I am about to construct around you. It’s a way of building dialogue, history, subtext, and drama, and this influence should be felt whether readers have encountered the source text or not. Like the tip of an iceberg, an epigraph signals that there is important material outside the confines of my specific piece, which, as mentioned, there must always be. That said, under no circumstance must an epigraph or reference be made to do the labor of writing.
An experienced reader who is not also an experienced writer is commonplace, though perhaps not as common as I should hope. On the other hand, an experienced writer who is not an experienced reader is something conspicuous and a little detestable, like a chef who does not sample the dishes of other chefs to know where their tastes lie in comparison. As a writer, reading the work of others does not constitute approval of or complicity in their ideas, but a baseline against which one measures their own work. Some people think you should not judge yourself by the measure of other people, but I hold there is no self without others, and an awareness of the people who make up your community is essential to defining yourself within it. I’m not taking about making friends on Facebook, I’m talking about exposing yourself to the writing people put their sweat and blood into making. Give that stuff a chance, and I think you’ll find you are giving your own writing a chance as well.
Kyle Flemmer [photo credit: Dean McClelland] is an author, editor, and publisher from Calgary, Canada. Kyle founded The Blasted Tree Publishing Company in 2014, a small press and community of emerging Canadian artists. He graduated from Concordia University in Montreal with a double-major in Western Society & Culture and Creative Writing. Kyle is passionate about social satire, philosophy, and science, and enjoys writing poetry, short stories, and critical essays. His work has been published by NewPoetry, above/ground press, no press, Soliloquies Anthology, Gadfly Online, The Bullcalf Review, and Spacecraft Press, among others.