My favorite Bible verse during college and medical school was Ecclesiastes 12:12. It seemed to me that there was no end to the books I had to study, and the process certainly wearied my flesh. Then, irony of ironies, after I completed my medical training, it wasn't long until I began to write. During my medical career I produced over 100 professional papers, wrote numerous textbook chapters, and edited or wrote eight best-selling medical textbooks. All that reading and study had prepared me to write.
Has this carried over into my non-medical writing? You bet it has. I've been a voracious reader of fiction for over half a century. So, when I had to learn how to end a chapter making the reader want to turn the page, I'd already learned from some of the best: Robert B. Parker, Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, Earl Stanley Gardner, Lawrence Block, John Grisham, Michael Connelly, Donald Westlake and a host of others. Then I began to read Christian fiction, and the list expanded: James Scott Bell, Brandilyn Collins, Brandt Dodson, Alton Gansky, Terri Blackstock, and many, many more. I've learned through the example of others.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Part of the process of learning to write is reading--good books for their example, even bad books to demonstrate things to avoid. The English lexicographer Samuel Johnson said it very well: "The greatest part of a writer's time is spent reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book."
If you're a writer and you haven't closed out your New Year's resolutions yet, please add reading to the list. I commend it to you highly.
Let me add one sad note here. Donald Westlake passed away this week. Westlake was a prolific writer, producing more than 90 books over a career spanning half a century. He wrote under his own name and a number of pen names, choosing to do so because he was afraid people couldn't believe he could write that fast. Westlake's work exemplifies the other activity I would emphasize for writers--write! Read to learn how it's done, then write and keep writing until you get it right.
I wish for all my readers a wonderful 2009, and for the as-yet-unpublished writers among you, may this be the year when you get "the call."