Our son is already showing the signs of being a little bookish. He sits and stares at his picture books for long periods of time (by toddler standards), and in the morning he’ll often rotate through his favorite five or six books, having us read them over and over (and over) again until he finally gets hungry or decides it’s time to go outside.
It got me thinking about my own reading habits and how they have fundamentally shaped who I am, and to a further degree, what I do for a living.
From what I’ve been told, I started reading when I was three. I don’t quite remember it, so I’m taking this on faith from my mother, but seeing how quickly my son is picking up reading, I’m not surprised – it seems to be a good enough time as any to start reading.
From there, however, I know I tore a hole in our local library, reading book after book after book. My mother had a rule that I have since decided was genius – our bed time was 8pm but if we wanted to stay up late and read, we could. As long as we wanted until 10pm. And if we ever ran out of books to read, she would buy us new ones or take us to the library immediately to get new ones. Reading was a way of life and I embraced it early. When my grandmother died, I was given dozens of her books (I was 9) and spent the next 18 months reading them end to end.
When I started High School, I made friends in a new school by comparing reading lists. When I started college, I dropped my Computer Science major almost immediately after taking a Japanese Literature and modern American Lit class. I love to read. But I’m also a productive, creative person. I get bored fast, so the only way to really keep my interest is to do whatever it is I show an interest in – in this case writing.
Writing and reading are closely linked. To be a good writer, you need to be an amazing reader. Of course, in my opinion it doesn’t actually matter what you read. Just read. A lot.
My wife read me a story a few years back that stuck with me. It was about modern education. In it, a child decided he loved to produce movies. He was severely ADHD and had a hard time focusing on anything, except for the movies he enjoyed making. His parents bought him all the equipment he needed to keep making movies – to pursue his passion and make a career out of it.
But, he wasn’t getting the kind of feedback he wanted. His college applications were rejected. The point of the article was that schools put too much stock in things like SAT scores and GPA, but that’s not what I got out of it. To me, and to one college recruiter interviewed, it was about a lack of experience. This kid had mastered the art of using a camera, but the movies and clips he made had little or no substance. He was going through motions but he had life experience to draw on or even borrow from to create his movies. Art is not born in a vacuum – it is born of our experiences.
If you want to be a freelancer, you need to experience the work produced by those around you. As a writer, for me that means reading a lot. I set aside 1-2 hours a day for reading, but rarely do I stop there. As a result, my vocabulary is larger and I have a feeling for the language I interact with each and every day. I can tell when I’m reading the content of a reader vs. a non-reader, even when someone has been freelancing for all of three days. It’s in the way they present sentences. The cadence. The flow. The flourish at the end.
There are a lot of things you can fake in this game – I have been faking my fair share for a good long time – but if you really want to be a freelancer, you need to experience the work of other freelancers, whether it’s reading, design or audio/video content.