In the latter half of my elementary school days, I had a teacher who took a vastly different approach toward the spelling portion of the curriculum. Instead of opting to just feed us with a standardized weekly list of words to study and memorize by the end of the week for testing, he decided to tie in spelling with the other disciplines.
My teacher would basically have us prepare our own spelling list via the required reading we did every single day. Each day in class and then again at home that night, we had to silently read. It was our job to choose a book that challenged us and made us better readers. One way that we knew a book was challenging centered on if we were not familiar with every single word. This condition for helping us choose silent reading books became the crux for our spelling program. You see, for every single word we came across in our reading that we did not know, we had to jot it down in our spelling notebook. At the end of our reading session we revisited the word, looked it up in the dictionary, wrote the definition down, wrote the sentence it was used in the book down, and then came up with our own unique sentence for the word. Every couple weeks we would transfer all of our new spelling words onto flash cards and we would turn in our spelling notebooks to the teacher. After a few days of studying, he would then give us all individual spelling tests on a sample of the words we turned in.
Of course there was a third component of this process: writing. Even though it was elementary school, I don’t know if I ever wrote more than in that class. Each week we had a writing assignment due and built into the grading rubric for each paper was how we incorporated past spelling words into our writing. It quite nicely tied together the two other disciplines that had already utilized the new words. Reading gave us the first glimpse of the words, spelling helped place them in our vocabulary, and writing enabled us to actually use them.
As I grew older, I had more than one voice tell me that our writing potential directly corresponds with our reading potential. This is one of the few statements in this world that I can agree 100% with. The best writers are those that spend hours each day reading. Book after book after book after book. A few newspapers each day. Several magazine subscriptions each week. Numerous online articles. The premium writers in society read billions and billions of words penned by other people to help influence their own few written words. Yes, as I learned early the vocabulary we use in our writing is shaped by our reading but much more comes out of this relationship besides a strong lexicon. Important writing concepts such as style, technique, and voice all become built through our reading experience. Ask any superstar writer from Stephen King to Dave Barry to J.K. Rowling what they prefer to do when they are not writing and I guarantee you they will say reading.
I bring this point up today because I want to recommit to reading more. I have always considered myself an avid reader. However, over the past year or so, my time devoted to reading has shrunk. I can point to many reasons for this decrease including being too busy, focusing on other things, feeling too tired at night, dating my girlfriend, watching ESPN, blogging, texting, traveling, and wasting way too much time on my iPhone. But you know what? I HATE excuses. And even if I could settle for accepting one of the items I just listed I would be cutting myself way too short for this one major reason…
My writing is suffering.
It kills me to say this because in no way is this a good strategy to get you to continue to read my blog but I do feel like I owe you my honesty. Although I say my reading habits have declined over the past year, I can’t necessarily say my writing skills have directly gone downhill in that time span. Rather, I think I have gradually become aware of it over the last several months. I think it took a while for my dismissal of healthy reading habits to catch up to my writing but it has now happened. Shorter posts, run on sentences, less originality, too many dead verbs, lazy habits, and just general junk has seemed to creep into my writing on a more consistent basis.
It is time to change. I am going to start reading all the books my mom passes my way. I am once again going to make sure to start reading front to back the magazines I subscribe to. I am going to read more of the newspaper in the morning before work and listen to less of talk radio. I am going to make every best effort to read every piece of material that someone gives me.
Time to clean up my writing and start reading more. Not only will my readers enjoy the smoothness and freshness of my writing, but I will also have better topics to write about as what I read always generates some of my most interesting posts. Thanks for putting up with me through my writing slump. You can always send me your book suggestions! Don’t Blink.