When I decided to write a book, I looked for help. I turned to an online writers' programs. I applied to UCLA's Writers' Program Online and took classes offered through Writers' League of Texas. I will talk about that experience in a later post. For now, let's just talk about the importance of reading.
Reading is a writer's foundation. Remembering back to my childhood, I can still sense the magic of reading. I know that sounds cliché because everyone says it. You know what they say, "You open a book, and voilá, you are transported to a different time and place!" Kind of magical what our brains are able to accomplish with imagination.
When I was in third grade, our teacher would take us to the library and tell us to pick out a book. Naturally, I looked to the book shelves that were just my height. There, I spotted a big, fat book called Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, which by the way, was first published in 1868. So there I was in 1969, a little Catholic, Latina girl reading and falling in love with the March sisters who lived such fun and interesting lives in New England during the American Civil War. That book was 101 years old when I picked it up and enjoyed it so much. The story was 101 years old, not the actual book. I mean if it were the actual book, it would be worth a lot of money and wouldn't be on the lowest shelf of Windsor Park Elementary in Corpus Christi, Texas. Anyway, you get my point. Or maybe you don't because I went off subject, but my point is that themes are universal and timeless. What is the theme of Little Women? One theme is: girls can create their own futures; they don't have to stick to cultural stereotypes. I remember thinking it was so odd and interesting (and frightening) that Jo left her family to pursue a writing career in New York City! Another theme of the book is: genuine love, kindness and compassion, not wealth, leads to true happiness. Oh Amy! She was so beautiful, vain and stuck-up! But in the end, she discovered true love and the beautiful bonds of family and forgiveness.
These themes are timeless and can be conveyed by so many genres, characters, plots and settings. What book are you reading right now? Can you identify the themes? I just finished reading In the Name of the Father by A.J. Quinnell. It is an exciting, fast-paced thriller in which the life of Pope John Paul II is at stake. It's theme? There are many, but one theme perhaps is: some people justify evil deeds in order to bring about a greater good. Again, a universal and timeless idea. Perhaps you can think of other stories with that theme that have nothing to do popes!
So that to me is why reading is a writer's foundation. Themes transcend time and place. Yes, settings and characters can touch us deeply, but meaningful themes are what profoundly shape our souls.
So here you are now, wanting to write a book. What book are you reading at the moment? Can you identify the themes? Can you take one of those themes and think of a different story that would illustrate that theme? Write down your ideas! Now you're beginning to write!