On Writing: Why Reading Matters

Today, I’m SO EXCITED to introduce you to my friend and writer/university English professor, Renee Ronika Klug, who is guesting for Rogue Writer.

Renee Ronika Klug
Renee Ronika Klug

Renee and I met years ago, when she started a writer’s group in Phoenix (she currently resides in Colorado). Not to mention, her brother introduced me to my longtime boyfriend.

But onto the stuff you’re here for. After you’re done reading her post, check out Renee’s personal blog, Quiet Anthem, and through her bio below, learn about the writing community Renee founded. She’s currently seeking submissions (hint, hint).

So … please welcome Renee to Rogue Writer:

ON WRITING: WHY READING MATTERS

By Renee Ronika Klug 

“The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.” – Samuel Johnson

Eleven years ago, I went to New York to earn an MFA in creative writing, to learn how to write, to develop craft, to find my calling. I found it on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, in a classroom where before me sat 25 composition students wondering how to react. We overcame the semester, in part, by reading.

During that semester I was also taking two literature courses—one on Russians, the other on Americans—and my only writing was in lesson plans, reaction papers, and final essays. I read at least a thousand pages a week.

The following semester, I sat down one afternoon—after having scolded myself for not writing fiction in over six months—and wrote a complete short story, sixteen pages, in one sitting. It’s the only story I’ve never had to revise. It was also the story that readers most responded to and resonated with.

I believe that by turning over libraries—from Chekhov to Twain to Carver—I received my greatest lesson from graduate school and for teaching: reading well makes us better writers.

It is from Chekhov that we are warned about the gun hanging on the wall in the first act: it must go off by the third; from Twain, we understand that a word can impact the reader either like lightning or like the lightning bug; from Carver, we discover that we are not our characters, but they are us.

Reading good literature—the kind we’d like to write—infuses us with a knowledge that goes beyond what we may learn from textbooks or lectures: good literature settles deep within us so, when we write, we can summon what we’ve received from our predecessors—to emulate, to build.

Think about the books you’ve admired, the ones that have stayed with you in dreams. You can still remember how you felt when you came to the final paragraph. Every idea, every character, every sentence, every word has instructed you on how to write. Now it’s your turn: be confident in your familiarity of craft, in your ability to revise later, in your library within, and write your next story or essay or novel or memoir, illuminating all that you know, all that you are, and all that you’ve been called to share.

MY QUESTION TO YOU: What authors/books have influenced your writing most? How has your writing evolved because of what you’ve gleaned from literature?

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Renee Ronika Klug is a writer and English professor. She has a bachelor’s degree in English from Biola University and an MFA in Creative Writing from Long Island University. Her non-fiction, poetry, and fiction has been—or will be—published in Relief: A Christian Literary Expression, The Blackbird Press, The Penwood Review, and Burnside Writers Collective. In 2010, her short story “Fathers” received an Honorable Mention by Glimmer Train Press. The essays on her blog share what she has learned about overcoming—as a survivor of child abuse, a writer, an educator, a Christian, a wife, and a mother: www.quietanthem.blogspot.com. She is the founding editor of The Anthem Exposition, an online writing community for women to share their stories of having overcome any of life’s adversities: www.anthemexposition.com. Renee’s goal—in life and writing—is to see women healed and communities built. She lives with her husband, a composer and pianist, and their two young daughters. She is currently writing her spiritual memoir.