Authors’ Advice for a Better Writing Life: Read Widely by Marci Glaus
In an attempt to capture the recursive, complex, messy process we call writing, I started asking authors from my state to do something extremely awkward. I asked them to allow me, and sometimes a small crew, to enter into their personal writing space to film them while they were writing. I also asked them talk out loud about what they were doing in real time. I figured most authors would refuse or just ignore my queries, but to my surprise, almost all of them enthusiastically agreed.
Since 2015, I have been capturing glimpses into example writing processes of writers from a variety of contexts through a project called Wisconsin Writes. More than 20 authors have shared part of their writing process, involving everything from planning, putting a writing plan into action, editing, or revising. Their thoughts were filmed, edited, and then published as short videos on the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s English language arts website.
As a bonus, authors agreed to sit down to answer some basic interview questions related to things like how they receive feedback, different technologies they use to write, and advice they have for student writers. Their answers were also filmed, edited, and published as separate videos.
While reviewing footage from these author interviews, I noticed a theme emerging. When asked what advice they have for aspiring writers, almost all of the authors share the same sentiment: read widely. From New York Times best-selling authors, to poets, to the last known “river rat,” writers from all parts of the state emphasize the connection reading has to good writing.
The following video, created for the Wisconsin Writes series, features a collection of authors sharing their passion for reading: https://dpi.wi.gov/wisconsin-writes/writers-must-read. They talk about the importance of reading in a writerly life. They emphasize the necessity to read outside of our comfort zones to understand our world and histories. They promote the idea that finding texts we admire can help inspire our own writing.
Since the release of the “Writers Must Read” video, authors have been added to the Wisconsin Writes series, and they continue to promote the love of reading and its tie to writing. For example, author of the Freya Series, K.W. Penndorf, promotes the idea of writing what you would like to read. Poet, Fabu describes her personal and scholarly journey in reading and doing research to discover who she is, where she comes from, and what people give to the world before she published her book, Journey to Wisconsin: African American Life in Haiku. Author and elementary teacher, Susan Apps-Bodilly, actually provides a sequence of book talks educators can use to teach writing, including David Lubar’s Character Driven, Mary Knight’s Saving Wonder, Abby Hanlon’s Dory Fantasmagory, Wendy Ewald’s The Best Part of Me, and many more. Historical writer, Eric Schlehlein’s parting thoughts focus on the importance of reading and the value of listening to audiobooks as a way to study tone and cadence, with the reminder that, at no matter what age, being read to is wonderful.
In the span of just a couple of minutes, these authors emphasize so many wonderful things we celebrate as readers and writers. They remind us that reading every day can help us avoid reinventing the wheel, help us find what we want to write about, challenge us to read further to understand the world, use others’ writing as models, and encourage us to keep going.
Marci Glaus is the English Language Arts Education consultant for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. She is a former high school English teacher and middle school reading teacher. Her work has been published in education journals including The Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, The English Journal, Wisconsin State Reading Association Journal and Wisconsin English Journal. You can follow Marci and her literacy consultant counterparts on Twitter @WisDPILit.