An ode to writers who don't read

Updated: Nov 12, 2020

For the longest time, I’ve felt that being a “writer” is a part of my identity. Writing has been my passion for as long as I can remember, and up until my junior year of college, I prided myself upon this fact. Lately, I’ve felt haunted by a philosophy I’ve heard often in many classrooms throughout my life, and that is, to be a writer, you must be a reader first. The problem is, I’ve never been much of a reader; not in the way I could sit and listen to music for hours and feel things that only the best parts of life (like music or a giant piece of chocolate cake) can make me feel. Even though I’ve never been much of a reader, I carried around Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar every day for about three months when I was a sophomore. I read it in before each of my classes, on the grass in the middle of campus, and anytime I found myself with a moment to spare. From that year, my memories are black and white, on page 243, mostly, along with my now all-time favorite quote. That book changed me in so many ways. Although I’ve been told that, to excel as a reader, I must obtain a long list of books that I can quote and recall at various, albeit random and sporadic moments that may come in life, The Bell Jar remains the only book that I’ve felt truly inspired by to this day. I don’t know who needs to hear this, but it is perfectly okay to feel inspired by what inspires you as a writer.

My college creative writing teacher once dedicated an entire class to teaching my classmates and me how to be “proper readers.” This meant perfectly parsing and interpreting anything we’d read, whether it was a murder-mystery novel or a piece of abstract fiction. I remember how humbled I felt while sitting in a chair in the front of the class, unable to recall authors like old elementary school friends. Instead, I remembered how Sylvia Plath had spoken to me and assumed this is how readers must feel about every single book in their collection. It seemed that everyone around me had been scholars to the world of the literary arts before the age of 21, and I was scared to the point of a near-existential crisis while I remembered only quotes by Plath and by my own hands.

What if I hadn’t read enough? What if this means my dreams of becoming a writer has been purely in vain and are only distant, wishful hopes?

Looking back, I don’t feel that I truly developed my voice as a writer until I finished The Bell Jar. Reading Plath’s work is like reading a poeticized version of my thoughts. I’m able to relate so closely with her, though not through direct life experiences. I read this book in a time when I felt so alone, as each time I opened the page, it was as if she reached out an arm and patted me on the shoulder. I felt that I could read between the lines of the things she found worth mentioning and understand why. Have you ever heard a monologue in a movie being spoken so poetically that, even if the matter at hand doesn’t directly correlate with your own experience, you manage to realize everything they’re saying draws from the outside world?

It’s as if this is released through an art-form that’s driven by passion in such a way that it even speaks to you? In the very same way, I was able to see that I was, metaphorically, strapped to my very own electric chair & looking into my own blurry future where the world “lay ahead in question marks.” Every time I tried to speak about it, I felt so stupid. When asked, I couldn’t draw from quotes in my mind or rattle off authors she competed within her time. I didn’t study enough, and I should’ve. Still, I could feel her creative energy beneath the surface of my subconscious memory; living things would take form in the fragility of my emotions and the state of my heart, just like she said.

I want so desperately to achieve originality, but it’s not easy, especially with a human manifestation of inspiration like Plath, who causes me to wish that I could find half of the words she could find in her sleep and live in a world where we are told that we must consume to produce. Since that day in class when I was told that, as a non-reader, I would never make it to the end-goal of my dreams, I wondered if it might be okay to remain careful that my words stay my own and not force myself to weed through the work of authors and manuscripts I don’t enjoy. I’ve wondered if it is acceptable to find inspiration by following where my heart actually wants to go.

At the beginning of our lives, each of us is a blank slate. Then, everything built up from there is our own doing. There should be no question about the fact that we are free to do whatever we need to do, and by every means possible, do them. We should find the necessary creativity within us to build what we are proud to share with the world. At some point, I think it might be okay to feel confident enough in what’s proven itself useful to only you. For me, this was The Bell Jar, a piece so beautiful that I never felt the need to find its ideal predecessor. There is no question that it is infinitely important to push our creative boundaries. We should also be careful that we don’t live within another person’s imposed boundaries or conform to a "perfect writer" stigma. If you consider yourself to be a writer, it is because you are. There is no “checklist.” In her unabridged journals, Plath said,

"...everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”

So, what inspires you?

About Katie:

Katie is a college senior with a passion for editing. She's majoring in Public Relations and minoring in English and Creative Writing. When she's not busy slaying the writing world, she's an editorial intern and part-time social media coordinator at Write and Day.

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