Marci Glaus, English language arts consultant at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, contributed this post.
In the video trailer for Wisconsin Writes, you will hear Nickolas Butler say “you can’t be a good writer unless you’re a reader.” Through the author interviews and in review of the footage, I noticed a trend developing among most of the authors who participated in the project saying the same thing. The basis for such agreement is simply the idea that we can learn how to write by reading great writing. But it is so much more than just reading.
How many times have your read something and just let the story wash over you with little thought to the structure, word choice, or what the writer was doing to help you get lost in the text? I do it all the time. I found that I really have to step into a text much more purposefully when I am reading with a writer’s craft in mind if I am going to learn anything about writing. If I want to make my own writing better, I need to understand and be able to name what other writers have done so that I can try it out for myself if I find it useful. Even then, my writing can come in fits and starts while I try to tackle what the pros have done in a way that fits with what I am trying to do. It takes practice, but it is possible. Take, for example, speaker and writer Tasha Schuh and company. She talks about trying to start her first book several times, but growing frustrated each time before figuring out how to plan and put her ideas together. She states that while she loves to read, she had to find examples of books that she could use as models for her own. They helped her get started in her writing process which ended with her first book and landed her here, in this video series, working on her second.
Linda Godfrey advises students not only to “write, write write, and write some more,” but to “read, read read, and read some more.” She says this based on her own experience as a writer who ended up writing about things she never thought she would. Through extensive reading and writing experiences, she was able to step into different genres with success. This holds true with other writers who participated in Wisconsin Writes.
Stay tuned for the end of this school year when Nickolas Butler is featured, writing in a genre very few people (including himself) would expect to find him.