Last month I sent a couple of stories to a friend, telling him that the first was a recent contest winner, but the second, in my opinion, was a better story. His reply intrigued me — while he agreed that the newer story was better, he still preferred the first one because he felt a strong, personal connection to one of the characters.
Writing is, nearly always, a solitary endeavor. All on our own, we commit ideas to paper, and then we hammer, chisel, and buff what we’ve written, much the way a sculptor chips away at a chunk of marble, hoping to reveal a Madonna hiding within. Even if our final draft is the best we can do, it can still fall short of what we hoped for. Sometimes no amount of tinkering can bridge the gap between our final outcome and what we envisioned when we began.
Reading, too, is a solitary endeavor — that personal enjoyment is part of what keeps us returning to the cadence of poems, the grand sweep of historical narrative, or the guilty pleasure of mystery and adventure. Good writing engages us, but great writing does more — it crosses the blood-brain barrier and goes walkabout, wrapping around our hearts before moving on to the center of our being, where it will coexist with us, carried along wherever we go.
It’s easy to forget that the cloistered writer, fueled by coffee and a mental mish-mash of clamoring ideas, has an unseen partner on the other side. When our writing goes out into the world, we have no way of knowing how it will land or the effect it will have. That silent partner — our gentle reader — is the only one who can determine how our work will be judged. We all aspire to be that writer, the one whose words can shake and create someone’s reading experience.
Before we were writers, we were readers too. Writing allows us to construct castles from nothing at all; we are wizards with words, transforming the impossible vision inside our heads into something others can see as well. Reading helps us connect with ourselves and others; it informs our growth, our sense of self, and our place in the world.
Writing begins a grand adventure, taking us into the world and even into the cosmos beyond, should that be where our hearts lie. Reading, then, comes along to ground us — it brings us full circle and helps us make sense of an increasingly hectic world. Writing sets us free, and reading helps us find our way home.