I had a wonderful opportunity not long ago to hear a presentation by Katherine Paterson, author of Newberry award winners such as Bridge to Terabithia and The Great Gilly Hopkins. On top of the fact I got to meet one of my favorite authors, her speech was inspiring to me on so many levels.
Without going into details, because you need to go and listen to her speak for yourself, I'll tell you the most important message I walked away with that day.
Read. Read. Read.
It couldn't have been any clearer. Reading was the most important reason for her successes. It gave me hope on the most basic level that I too, can one day become a successful novelist.
When I first started to write creatively my only goal was to... Write. Write. Write. And then... Rewrite. Rewrite. Rewrite. While it's obvious nothing will ever be published without these two very important parts of the writing process, I neglected another. I neglected reading. It was a hard-learned lesson, because my writing wasn't taken seriously until I focused more on reading, especially reading critically those authors who are already successful in the genre I write.
In my favorite novel by Katherine Paterson, The Master Puppeteer, the parallel between reading a book for enjoyment and reading a book critically can be best summed up by the main character, Jiro. Jiro is the puppeteer's assistant. Not long after going to live in the theater, the Hanaza, and training under the master puppeteer, Jiro has a revelation about what it takes to perfect the craft of a puppeteer. A quote found approximately midway through the book reads like this. "The first time he had stood and watched this scene, he had thought it magnificent, but as a child judges something he cannot understand. Now he knew; now his blood raced to his arm, and he could feel his own fingers and wrists moving with those of the puppeteers."
I kind of felt this way the first time I read The Master Puppeteer. It was fantastic. A great read. A book I didn't want to put down. But by the time I read the novel the second, third and fourth times, I truly came to appreciate the story Katherine Paterson had crafted on a much deeper level. I was able to see more clearly why Katherine Paterson is a master storyteller.
She has developed great characters. She has seamless transitions. Her pacing is perfect. She uses layering and suspense. And she has developed a plot that reads like reality.
So why wouldn't I want to read more? Why wouldn't I want to learn from someone that has already done what I am attempting to do and done it so successfully?
These days, I follow Katherine Paterson's advice. I read. I read as often as possible. I read for enjoyment as well as to learn the craft of writing. By doing that, I hope that maybe, just maybe , one day I might be able to put together a novel bordering something close to those written by Katherine Paterson.
To learn more about Katherine Paterson, please visit:
Some of Dave's other favorite reads: any Katherine Paterson novel, Kit's Wilderness, Skelig, Clay, Trigger, Hatchet, Yellow Star, Feed, The Hunger Games, Holes, Maniac Magee