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.

AUTHOR BIO:
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 http://alisonwalkley.com/