Much has been written about how important reading is to the writing process. That might seem to some like putting the cart before the horse; but in the case of writing, it makes perfect sense. Of course, it’s entirely possible to read simply for the sake of reading, to soak up the narrative in search of the moment when the mystery is solved or the infidelity discovered. This type of reading does not take much into consideration beyond the story; and that’s fine, if one reads merely for pleasure.
For writers, however, reading is different in ways that can’t be adequately explained. Yes, writers also read for pleasure. But something else happens along the way that has nothing to do with the destination and everything to do with the journey there. Writers tend to notice things, usually unintentionally, that have to do with voice, style, sentence structure, and even the more mechanical aspects of a text such as punctuation and spelling. But what came first, the writer or the reader? And is it accurate to say that, for some, the seeds of the writing craft had already been planted and it just took the fertilizer in the form of thousands of written words to feed and nourish it?
I’m not sure how many writers would agree with this, but I have decided that writing, at least in its early formative stages, is more mimicry than anything else. A budding writer remembers what he or she has read in such a subliminal manner that it works its way into whatever he or she writes. This is a totally involuntary reflex, and yes, it comes from long years of reading that involve many different authors using a multitude of writing methods in the many different literary genres. To write poetry and write it well requires long years of reading poetry before an author finally finds his or her own mode. What started out as simply copying another’s style evolves eventually into a totally new one once the author finds the courage to speak in his or her own voice. The same goes for fiction or any other type of writing, for that matter. The first tentative baby steps involve imitating someone else, while the subsequent larger more assured strides are taken through new territory but that lead directly back into the writer’s own psyche.
In my own reading and writing life, I’ve noticed that it’s also possible to take that a step further. In my case, my love of nature impacts and transcends just about all that I do. Not a day, or even a few moments, go by when I’m not focused on some aspect of nature or not being distracted by something going on outside the realm of the human experience. And now, I find myself even looking for it in my reading, and when I find it, it’s almost a reason to celebrate. At such times, I say to myself…there it is, that reference, direct or subtle, to nature or to some aspect of her personality, or how she relates to our experience or to her influence on our perceptions of life and the world around us. I think it’s safe to say that there isn’t much writing, if any at all, other than the most technical sort, that doesn’t touch upon nature at some point or at least gives her a passing nod.
Right now, I’m reading Oscar Wilde’s “De Profundis,” a long letter he penned, while serving a short prison sentence, to a friend and alleged lover in which he mentions nature many times. I would not have expected to find such references within those pages. But Wilde, as so many other classical writers, routinely inserts mentions of the natural world in the form of gardens, flowers, woodlands and birds, in nearly all their works, because they knew instinctively that there really is true division between us and nature, and that no matter what we think, where we go, or what we do, it somehow and in some way, has to do with nature.
It’s thus a serendipitous joy for someone with a great love of nature to come upon these references and allusions in her reading. I’ve gone beyond wondering now if it will happen to almost being sure that it will, which makes my travels through the writings of others all the more pleasurable.