Sunday, March 18, 2012

Featured Author in the Madhouse: A.J. Walkley

Reading – Imperative to the Life of a Writer
By A.J. Walkley

As a writer, the majority of advice I often come across regarding writing is simply to “Just Write.” I see it tweeted and posted on Facebook, blogged and talked about in writers’ circles – to succeed as a writer, you must write and write often, daily if possible. 

There is, however, another, just as important aspect of becoming a successful writer, and that is to read.  Most, if not all, writers became such as a result of loving to read, being entranced by stories they came across as children, teens, young adults and into adulthood. Why write a book if you don’t enjoy reading as well? There is a delicate balance between reading and writing as a writer, though. If you read too often you won’t have time to write. If you don’t read often enough, you risk being distanced from other writers and potential readers.

I also venture to suggest that a lack of reading as a writer could make you become stale. It is important to be aware of the market – what’s out there, what’s being read and what’s being published – especially if you are a writer who aims to have your own work read by others at some point.

There is an argument that reading others can be detrimental to your own voice. I believe the opposite to be true, though. The more I read of other authors writing in similar genres to my own, the more I have been able to hone my voice. I see how my all-time favorites go about crafting plot and characters (for me that includes the likes of Jodi Picoult, Barbara Kingsolver, John Irving and Wally Lamb, among many others). I pay attention to their styles and am more aware of how my own writing fits in with them. As I become engulfed in their stories, I realize why my writing is still needed on the same shelves their books sit.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not intend to imply I am of the same ilk as these great story-tellers – yet. But I learn something new from each of the manuscripts of theirs I pick up and peruse. I take in what makes their work so all-encompassing to the point that, when I finish one of their books, I feel like the characters have been a part of my life for years. I seek to incorporate those same facets in my own writing.

I went through a period of time when I wasn’t reading anything. I had piles of books that kept stacking up on my nightstand – Chanukah and Christmas gifts, birthday gifts, books friends bought for me knowing I’d enjoy them. I was in the middle of editing a book I am still working on – a portrayal of the life of wrongfully incarcerated Elizabeth Burke, based on a woman I have been writing to for 3 years, currently serving 77 years at the Mountain View Unit in Gatesville, Texas. I found myself feeling less and less eager to get back to my manuscript as the days and months went by. That is, until I put my own book-in-progress aside to read The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb. I hadn’t realized when I chose this particular book off my shelf that part of the plot surrounded the incarceration of a woman in Connecticut; once that aspect came up, however, I instantly felt reinvigorated to return to my own tale.

Sometimes we writers get so close to our own work that it is essential to take a break and see through another writer’s eyes for a while. We need to remind ourselves of the power of words that aren’t necessarily our own, in order to assure our own writing retains that same power.

A.J. Walkley is the author of the newly released Queer Greer (2012, Rocket Science Productions), as well as Choice (2009, iUniverse). Follow her on Twitter @AJWalkley, and check out her website