WRITING WALKS 3 – WHY READING IS IMPORTANT & WRITING SPACES TRANSCRIPT

It is 8:16 October 14th today. I am at the North Sonoma Mountain Regional Park. This is Writing Walks. I’m your guide Alex C. Telander. Squirrels all around me, running through the trees and playing around. Beautiful early morning. I haven’t been to this park before, so make sure I don’t get lost. Stick to the trails. When I took my kid to school this morning there was fog everywhere. It was really thick and heavy, and just felt like it was covering the whole county. I watched Sleepy Hollow this last weekend, it reminded me a lot of that. So I thought when I was headed towards this regional park here, it was going to be all foggy and photos were going to be that great. And it was going to be really creepy and hard to see stuff. Deer I keep seeing everywhere too, on the drive up, let’s see a couple of deer now just walking around. But then once I got to a certain elevation, the fog just disappeared. It was like going through a fog doorway and it just ended. And there was the bright morning sun. Everything was beautifully clear. Got turkeys everywhere too. It’s like all of nature’s up and awake this morning, doing stuff. And now they’re running away. Man, it feels like I’m in a Lord of the Rings set here.

Today I’ve got two kind of topics to talk about as usual. I tend to make one more personal about me and the other one more general to writing and how I’ve kind of interpreted the advice and used it to improve my own writing, but I realized when I picked the two topics for today, they kind of work well for both. They’re both bits of writing advice and suggestions, but they also have a lot of personal stuff for me in it because of how I’ve used it over the years. Giant Redwoods all around me. So the two topics are why reading is important for writing and the other one’s going to be about writing spaces.

Why is reading important for writing? I’ve heard a couple of good anecdotes. Well, one’s a quote from Stephen King, from his book On Writing, really fantastic book with advice on writing. It’s actually a pretty short book. And half of the book is actually his kind of biography about growing up and becoming a writer and getting through all that. And then the second half is his writing advice. So it’s even shorter that really it’s like a hundred pages, but it’s really good stuff. One of the quotes that’s always taken from it and shared everywhere. It’s about how important reading is for writing. So the quote is: “If you don’t read, you don’t have the tools or the talent to write.” Another anecdote I’ve heard about how important reading is for writing, I got, unsurprisingly, off the Write Now Podcast from Sarah Rhea Werner. I’m pretty sure she probably got it from somewhere else. I seem to remember her mentioning from someone, but I just don’t remember who. Anyway the anecdote was for in relation to why reading is important to writing. And the anecdote is like saying, is that a chef doesn’t need to eat different kinds of foods and try different things and just stick with making the same thing over and over and over again. A chef needs to try different stuff, different kinds of foods, different cultures of foods, to know how to make different things, how to make new things, how to keep himself fresh in what he or she is making. And the same thing goes for reading, with writing. With reading you learn new words all the time. You learn new ways of crafting a sentence, of paragraph format, of how to structure a book, or if it’s a short story, how to do different viewpoints, how do you use flashback scenes, how to use dream sequences. Every writer’s trying to do something new every time they write, and when it gets published and you get to read that, it gives you the chance to discover that new way of doing something. A little spark, an idea, or a way of writing a story you want to write, or even possibly helping a project you’ve been working on or been stuck with. You can start something off that you never would’ve expected if you hadn’t read this particular story or book.

For me personally, with reading, I can pretty much remember when I started, it was around when I was 13, I’d been a C average student in school. I was doing okay basically, barely average, just squeaking by and I wasn’t reading at all. And then my teacher introduced me to an author named Willard Price. I think I might’ve mentioned him before. Yeah, in the second episode, I think, and starting those books just opened a whole new world for me of an interesting adventure. And that got me into reading. So once I was done with those books, I looked for more and I kept finding new authors and new genres and trying new things, actually down the road, I got into audiobooks and it opened up a whole new world for me and in, so doing it made my reading comprehension go through the roof, of course, but also it led me to start writing and becoming a writer. Here’s a fact: I’ve been reading constantly since I started reading when I was 13. I’m now 40 years old. I’ve never had a moment where I wasn’t reading something or about to start reading something. I’ve always been reading a book or multiple books instead. I think that’s pretty cool. And I also can’t imagine myself not reading. I enjoy it so much. I enjoy getting lost in a book and just forgetting where I am or the world I’m in for the moment and getting lost in the world of that story. And I know every time I’m reading, it’s making me a better writer. It’s making me a better reader. It’s making me comprehend the language more, learn new things about language and structure and how to write.

When I think back about what I was taught about writing in high school and even in college too, I know your basic, you know, subject, noun, verb structure and things like that, but a lot of the more complex sentences and jargon of that and how it’s phrased and wording and all that stuff, I really don’t know. I don’t know the technical term for everything that one would learn in basic English language classes. And that’s because I’ve learned it all through reading. I can tell you when a sentence is wrong and how it’s wrong. I can’t give you the specific term for what’s not being used correctly or how it’s being used and why it’s wrong, but I’ll know when a sentence is wrong or when a tense is wrong or how it needs to be fixed. They say that you have to know the rules to be able to break them. And that is true in writing, you can’t break a rule necessarily to have the wrong tense or the wrong phrasing, if it’s just wrong. But if you know the rule and how it works, you can bend it and mold it to fit whatever story you’re trying to tell, whatever sentence you’re trying to make.

Sometimes you can just break the rules too really. If you have a specific character or story structure that makes it so the reader understands what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. But again, you have to know all the rules and how it works to be able to bend and then possibly break them. And you can take bunches of English classes and learn all the technical stuff. Or you can just read; just read whatever you want. Stories, books, fiction, nonfiction, the more you read the better. And if you’re up for trying different genres that you’ve never consider yourself reading, that’s a good thing too, because you’ll learn something new out of it. Whether it might work for your story now or not, it doesn’t matter. You’ll learn from it. And it will be inside you. Part of your toolbox for writing. You’ll have it put away like a small little screwdriver that you think you’ll never need. And then one day you’ll be working on that story or project. And you’ll have this little thing, this little moment in the story, you’ll want to do something special with it, craft in some way, that’ll make it really stand out. And that’s when you’ll reach back in your mind and pull out that tiny screwdriver that you thought you’d never need and it’ll fit just right. And you’ll craft your sentence just right. You’ll make something unique and special that only you did.

And that’s why reading is important for writing. Plus, it’s a lot of fun. As I said, I love reading stories, going to places I never could have imagined.

So let’s move on to the other topic, which is writing spaces. I know there are websites out there and articles and books on writing spaces, on the spaces that many famous writers had over the centuries. They used to make me feel jealous, honestly, seeing Stephen King’s writing space or Joyce Carol Oates or William Faulkner, or, you know, any other author’s; this awesome middle cocoon they’d made themselves of books and a table and whatever writing implement they used, whether it was a pile of paper and a pen or old manual typewriter or a fancy computer setup. Because they’re famous writers and they get to do what they love to do and get paid full-time for it, which is awesome. But it’s not always something us writers who are trying to make it can do. We don’t necessarily live in a place, an apartment, a house, a room we share, where we can set up a huge writing space like that and make it ideal. It might just barely be a nook, a table, a dorm room table. That’s all you have to use. But I think here you can kind of borrow a little from the reading part I was talking about earlier and imagine your space as being this little cocoon. It can be very tiny if you need to be, but it’s your space that you make for your writing. It can be an elaborate office, but it can also be just the edge of a couch.

Writing spaces are good. They’re good to have. If you can. It’s good to have a place that you can say, this is where I write. And it’s time for me to write tonight or this morning or right now, so I’m going to take whatever I write with pen, paper, laptop, iPad, tablet, even your phone, and go sit in that writing space and write. Cause by making it a writing space that you use solely for that purpose, the more you do it, the more the routine you get into it, the more then you’ll be able to say, okay, it’s time to write now. And you go into that space and it’s a headspace to cause you’re mentally go in there. Just by sitting there it’ll like cause a change to happen and just set you into writing mode Again, the key is that there’s a routine about it, a habit, you do it over and over so that you get used to it.

I’ve had some really nice writing spaces in my time. When I was living with my mother-in-law many decades ago. Well, a couple of decades ago, not that long ago, um, in her house, I remember it was over the summer and it was this little breakfast nook off of the kitchen that wasn’t really being used. So that was great. I could set up my desktop computer there. I had it all set permanently for that summer and was able to just kind of go to it every day as needed and just write away there with windows looking out on the street below and being able to just enjoy my little space there with the research books I needed. I remember the book I was working on there. It was a historical fiction work called Wyrd, which is old English/Anglo-Saxon for fate. And that book is probably about a third done now, still sitting there waiting to get finished. It’s a kind of retelling of the Arthurian myth, but much more in historical context and less than a fantastical one. And I can remember where it left off with the Anglo-Saxons arriving and meeting with Arthur and the people around him. And it just ended with a big kind of celebration party that night in the mead hall they’d built there with Hengist and Horsa. And then it ended with Arthur leaving in the morning. Actually I call him Arturus in the book, because of his background and coming from, uh, the Near East kind of, Byzantium and that area. And he’d just taken, I can’t remember if it’s Hengist’s or Hosa’s daughter, Rowena. She’d gone willingly too. And I’m pretty sure that’s the last scene I wrote. And for 10, maybe 15 years now, it’s been waiting to get more scenes written. One day I hope to get back to it. Anyway, so that was that little writing nook and you can see there by that little space, how much I attached to it with this novel I was working on.

I can remember another nook I had in a apartment we had, which we moved out of an old place to a newer place. Cause it was a two bedroom bigger space for, I think a little less in price. Wasn’t as nice for the neighborhood though. But that’s actually where my cat ended up getting run over. So it’s not great association for that place, but that second bedroom, which we ended up actually renting out to a friend who had come on really hard times and had nowhere to live. So we let her live there for a year or whil,e six months. Um, anyway, before that it was a office, it was a library. We had all our bookcases in there and books everywhere. And I had a table that looked out the window out onto the pool below I think it was, but it was this awesome writing space, but I don’t have any associations with that one because I can barely remember writing in there. I can’t remember writing on anything specific there. I think I used it a bit, but not as much as I could because I think with work being stressful and hard, not being in such a nice area, going through a lot of stuff, I wasn’t as creative then and I didn’t use it as much. And yet here I had this perfect idyllic writing space like you’d see in any of these books on author writing spaces. So I think that kind of says a lot where I have two different spaces here, which are kind of great, but one was really well used and full of creativity and life. Whereas the other one, which definitely would have been considered better than the other one than the original one. Um, it was barely used. It was lacking and we ended up using that room for a roommate who needed it at the time. And I don’t think I felt that bad about it. She enjoyed also being surrounded by books and sleeping in there. But then I think about writing Ostium, which I’ve been doing now for the last three, four, five years, is it? Four years? Maybe five. And I think about, Oh, what’s my writing space for that. And I don’t really have one. It has been the end of the couch. It’s been the kitchen table. It’s been random Starbucks or coffee places. It’s been wherever I had my laptop and made myself write. And it’s definitely taught me a good lesson that it’s great to have a wonderful writing space, but you got to use it. If you don’t use it, it’s just another room you can use for something else, but also anywhere it can be your writing space, clearly your writing space is in your head. It’s your mental writing space.

I could have brought my laptop or my tablet with me today and just sat on this hill and made it my writing space and written for an hour, even though I’m not going to come here every day to do it because it was a long uphill walk, but I could have if I wanted, because I could have mentally gone there as my writing space and started writing. Now I’ve actually in my condo, made a bit of a writing space again. Um, it’s actually where I do my recordings. I have my mic stuff there when I can set it up. Um, and it’s a table in my bedroom and I didn’t always want to leave being close to my wife when I was writing because she’d be working on her stuff and we’d be, at least be nearby. But now she kind of has her writing space where she goes into the kitchen at her desk or kitchen table there and works there. It works really well for her. When she sits down there, it switches over and she starts writing, and I was writing on the couch in the living room, but now I’ve kind of made a space up in the bedroom there cause I have a desk there and it’s again a good place where if I step in there and sit down with a laptop, I know I’m either going to record or I’m going to write.

So I’m definitely happy now I’ve got myself a writing space again. I won’t say that I definitely needed it because I was able to write wherever, but I’m happy. I’ve got it. I’m happy I’ve got a place I can call a writing space, that I’ve put up bits and pieces, some artwork, a card I got from a fan who wrote some really nice words about Ostium and my writing. I have a little things there that I’m adding to make it a more lived in writing space. Flock of geese flying by.

So here’s what I think you can take from writing spaces. If you have the space to create a writing nook for yourself, go ahead and do it. But the key is you got to use it. If you’re designating it as a writing nook, that’s what you got to do there. And then you got to use it. Whether it’s every day, every night, every other night, once a week, whatever it’s going to be, I’m going to write on these days at this time, and then you’re going to go to your writing nook and use it and use it just for that. But if you don’t have the opportunity to create a writing space, anywhere in your place, where you live, that’s fine too. You can create a mental writing space, whether it’s at the kitchen table, on the edge of the couch, on the bottom of the stairs, in a café, wherever it works for you, just occupy that space mentally as a writing space, tell yourself, this is where I’m going to do writing today. And once I sit down wherever that is. I’m going to write. By doing that, when you have times where you don’t want to write, but it’s your writing time and you make yourself do it, you’ll get some writing done. It might not be good. You might hate it. You might just want to delete it the next time. That’s fine. But the key I think is the routine. You keep doing it. You keep making your mental writing space and your physical writing space. If you can. And by doing that, you’ll have less times where you won’t want to write or less times where you’ll get really stuck and just want to stop writing for awhile. It’s like exercise. Some people really love going to the gym. I kinda like it. I try to go twice a week. It doesn’t always happen. Sometimes I go once. Sometimes I don’t go at all, but I know I’ve got to do it. And by doing it over and over and doing it as a routine, it becomes automatic that I feel bad when I don’t do it and that I should be doing it. And it makes it easier to actually go and do it each time. Writing is a job. Writing is work. It’s not a fun, easy thing to do. And just like anything else, that’s hard. Whether it’s a sport, a particular kind of game, you play. Your job. The only way you get better at it is by doing it over and over. So that means doing the writing. And that also means reading. Do lots of reading, do lots of writing, and then you’ll get better at it. I was thinking of talking a bit about balancing your time with reading and writing, which Sarah Werner has done in one of her episodes. But I think I’ll save that for another episode, with my thoughts on that.

So to sum up: you want to be a good writer. If you want to write well, read a lot, read all the time, read when you can, read on a break, read when commuting, and hey, audio books count. That’s reading: listen to a book, listen to a podcast even, it all counts as reading because you’re listening to creative works that way. And if you can create a writing space, make one in your place where you live and use it. That’s the key. If you’re not going to use it, don’t waste time on it. But if you can’t make a writing space, make a mental writing space and then switch over to it when it’s writing time and do it over and over, get it to a routine and then you’ll be writing regularly.

Wow, it’s really beautiful here. And that lake of fog is still hanging there. I think that about does it for this episode. Thanks for listening in. If you’d like to support me at all, I have a Kofi or the Patreon I’m working on, I’ll start putting photos and stuff up there too. Maybe some little writing pieces, but, uh, you can support me there. And again, this is separate from the Ostium Patreon. That all goes to Ostium. This one is just for me. So any support I get there, we’ll go for me, which I would really appreciate. Again, you can support at any level a dollar, two dollars. Um, I’ll have to check. I think I’ll set some levels on there too, for what you might get out of it. And if you’re interested in getting something out of what I can give you, what advice or writing advice I can give you or help, um, at certain levels, suggest that to me and I’ll see if I can accommodate you, but any, uh, any support is really appreciated. Thanks for listening. And I’ll see you in the next episode on Writing Walks. And the good news is the way back is all downhill.

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