Today, I’m honored to have another of my students in the Online Creative Nonfiction class be my guest blogger for today. I imagine many of you will relate to Becca Rowan’s passion for reading and how it feeds her writing. Enjoy.

I can’t remember a time when I haven’t loved to read. My parents tell me I made a complete nuisance of myself constantly begging for someone to read to me, and that even before I could walk or talk, I would pull on my mother’s long poufy skirts as she stood ironing or cooking or talking on the telephone, and point adamantly at a book or magazine left lying on the table. When I became ambulatory and could choose my own books, I was rarely without one clutched in my hand and would go surfing around the house looking for an adult with a free lap I could climb into.

Time and time again, the power of words amazes me. How else can you meet interesting people, travel to exotic places, go back and forth in time, and be entertained for hours, all without leaving the comfort of your favorite chair (or lap, depending on your age?) Books create magic every time you open them up.

It seems only natural that people who love to read would also love to write. At some point when I was totally immersed in a story, or wandering through the library with my eyes aglow, it must have occurred to me that I could write stories of my own, that I could spin words out on paper and make my own magic with them. When I was four years old, my father brought home an old Remington manual typewriter from his office and put it upstairs in our attic. I started typing “stories” that day and I’ve never stopped. Although I’m not famous by any means and few people have ever read my stories, I keep writing because I love doing it.

“Reading is the creative center of the writer’s life,” contends Stephen King in his book On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft. As readers, we read to lose ourselves in a good story, gain insight into ourselves and the world around us, and let our imagination take flight. As writers, we read for all those reasons but with the added incentive of looking for ways to enhance our own writing. Maybe it isn’t overt – most of the time I don’t read with a pencil in hand, making notes about plot development or sentence construction. But by reading ravenously for more than 50 years, I’ve been exposed to many different writing styles that have helped me develop a sense of what works and what doesn’t. Reading great writers makes me aspire to those heights; reading mediocre writers makes me mindful of the pitfalls that await.

Nothing inspires me to write more than reading a well-crafted piece of writing by someone else. At this moment, there’s a copy of Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri, on my desk, along with Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. I definitely aspire to Lahiri’s understated and elegant style, while Lamott’s practical and humorous take on the writing life encourages me to keep plugging away at the keyboard. Whether it’s one of my favorite novelists, essayists, or bloggers, if I need a creative kick-start all I have to do is settle in with a book or call up a favorite website and before long my brain starts to sparkle with ideas.

“If you want to be a writer,” Mr. King advises, “you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” He calls this “The Great Commandment,” and I wholeheartedly agree with that assessment. Reading immerses me in the world of words so that it becomes as familiar a milieu as my own neighborhood. When I lay down my book and pick up my pen, I’m already well acquainted with everyone on the street and ready to join the conversation.

Reading continues to thrill me just as much as it did when I was a toddler. I no longer have to pester my family to read to me, but I still feel that itch to stop whatever I’m doing and pick up one of the many books scattered throughout the house. I get up early so I can start my day with an hour of reading, and fall asleep each night with a book in my hand. Reading entertains, enlightens, and educates me. Knowing that it helps me become a better writer makes it all the more exciting.


Becca Rowan is a medical technical writer by day, but her creative side thrives on the internet where she can be found blogging at Becca’s Byline and Bookstack. If she’s not reading, writing, or playing the piano, you’ll probably find her out walking her two Shih Tzus or riding her bicycle.