A better reason to read in order to write

There are several phrases that have become writer mantras. I could skip meditation all together and “om” myself with them into sleepy bliss. I’ve heard them so many times, they almost don’t mean anything to me anymore. Today, I had a revelation about one such phrase.

In order to be a good writer, you must read a lot.

I was reading The White Boy Shuffle by Paul Beatty when this phrase came to mind, and I realized how true it was. However, previously, I had thought that reading meant reading for the words on the page. Reading was a way to analyze how others had managed to create compelling stories. It was a mathematical way to separate a formula from plot. It was everything that writing is not.

For most of us, writing is feeling. It isn’t done because we have to. It’s done because we want to. Therefor, I say that instead of quantifying your reading experience by deducing the various equations that make up your chosen genre, qualify your reading by how it makes you feel. Read something you enjoy, and do it every day. This exercises your imagination, which is the tool that got you into this authorial mess to begin with.

With the imagination and creative excitement you felt when you first picked up the pen, perhaps you will become the writer you wish to be.


Defining the Graphic Era

If you wondered whether graphic novel means a larger work of comics you would be correct. But life isn’t always so simple.








First, let’s redefine the graphic “novel” and rather refer to these collections of narrative images as graphic books. The word novel implies that the work in question is fiction, which is not always the case (Dr. Rebecca Barnhouse, author of The Book of the Maidservant). Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi is a cleverly illustrated memoir of her own childhood. Wheres as Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series is entirely fantasy.

Graphic books are either intended narratives that extend beyond the typical page number of a comic book and bound using a method other than the typical stapling, or they can also be a collection of comic books that form a sequence of a story and are also bound in a way other than stapling. The difference between comics and graphic books are relatively simple somewhat arbitrary.

The name comic book refers to a collection of picture panels that form a narrative. Therefor, what right do we have to call graphic books anything if not collections of comic books? This becomes problematic when we examine that I define a graphic book in two ways. In the sense that a graphic book is a collection of comic books bound in a different way, it is a comic collection. A book originally intended to be and published as a larger work extending beyond the scope of the typical comic book is still a comic book.

Unfortunately the word comic is associated with a number of juvenile ideas. The largest demographic for the purchasing of comic books are adolescent boys. Therefor we are hesitant to use the word comic to describe more serious works.

But each panel of art is in itself a comic. And each collection of panels is a comic book. And regardless of how it is bound they are a mutually exclusive idea. In the attempt to mature the world of graphic story-telling, we have evolved to use words that are exclusive to adults. You wouldn’t give your child a graphic movie or a graphic video game. The word graphic doesn’t just imply a picture of some sort. It implies that the content of what you are handling is somehow reserved for the eyes of an adult.

To embrace the new trend of the graphic book we usher ourselves into a new graphic era of literature. While some may be hesitant to accept the legitimacy of the graphic book they will very soon be quieted. We no longer live in a world wholly tolerant of information that isn’t quick and easy to access. We are a visually glutinous population of consumers. Literature, as everything else, must evolve as we do if it is to survive. Instead of holding this concept of literary evolution at arms length, we should embrace it as humanity once embraced the advent of the printing press. Sometime in the future, our quibbles will seem like archaic qualms to our descendants.

Tell me, English major, what do you do all day?

Sometimes I wonder if other human beings believe that all I do is sit in a classroom of five or six other fellow English scholars and discuss why curtains are blue in chapter six of x story. I have been outright scoffed at when it was revealed that my degree will be in English. To practical human beings, we are the lazy facet of society, not quite crazy enough to be artists but still very much of a similar caliber. Artists are the shot guns and we English people are the pistols.

People argue the value of art, but no one denies the value of beauty. We care so much about beauty that we’ve dedicated entire empires of commerce to it. We complain about the altering of it in the media. We obsess over the lives of those able to achieve it. But more often is Kim Kardashian discussed in the news than Margaret Atwood. If Atwood had Kim’s ass, how much do you want to bet more people in the media would pay attention to her? But Atwood is still pretty sexy in that picture, isn’t she?

What is the value of the English degree?

If you have absolutely no imagination or drive, there is absolutely no value in an English degree. But the same is true for an entrepreneur. A business doesn’t thrive without diligence and innovation. Neither does the literary community. I won’t tell you to get any sort of degree if you are incapable of imagining a path for yourself that requires it.

The value of the English degree for myself is the first stepping stone to my future. I want to be a writer. But being a writer is not a good day job. I don’t enjoy poverty, as I suspect most people don’t. Therefor it was the closest I could come to my dream career without starving. This first stone was one of several in a series.

So we come back to what it is I do all day.

I read. I really do read alllllllllllllll day. Some of us write too. Some of us play dungeons and dragons. The truth is, we are a diverse bunch. And we spend an ostensibly long time learning about how to read rather than what to read. The purpose of our education isn’t just to have read the most classics offered on Amazon. The purpose of our education is to require us to comprehend what we read, and then to funnel our eureka moments into a feasible argument that supports our theories.

Even English majors complain about having to write papers. Unfortunately, I have no sympathy for these particular people. Becoming an English major is a guarantee that you are going to spend a good portion of your time theorizing ways to not have to write six 20-page papers all due on the same day. I knew this well when I signed up for this major.

As I come to the close of my undergraduate education, I see it as a whole entity. I don’t just sit around reading books all day. I sit around imagining. I read. I think. I connect. I imagine. I stimulate my mind with the possibilities of all of the information I am capable of obtaining. The only difference between myself and a medical student is, I can pretend to be a doctor in my books and get away with it. All I need is knowledge.

And therefor, to be whatever I choose to be, I need knowledge.

I don’t write in a vacuum. I don’t have an exclusively placed cabin in the woods where I can escape to. I don’t sit with a pipe in front of a fireplace reciting Shakespeare to myself.

I imagine.