Posted by: Robin | March 20, 2008

Why This Writer Writes, Part 2

Young Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin grew up the daughter of two literary parents–William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. I did not. During her formative years her father’s house was filled with a who’s who of Regency England’s radical intellectual and artistic elite. My house was over a funeral home with entertaining limited to extended family and a few of my parents’ friends when Dad wasn’t busy. Mary had free access to her father’s extensive library, and she made good use of it. My parents’ library filled part of a shelf in the family room. When sixteen-year-old Mary ran off with a married Percy Bysshe Shelley he spent their first two years guiding her in an intensive reading program in the liberal arts and sciences that included hundreds of titles (See The Journals of Mary Shelley, 1814-1844, Eds. Feldman and Scott-Kilvert, for reading lists). My equivalent education took quite a bit longer. In July 1816, challenged to a ghost story contest, eighteen-year-old Mary’s reading and life experience exploded, first in a dream and then onto the page, giving birth to her first novel Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus. Few novels are as extravagently wrought in response to an author’s intensive and extensive reading sifted through her life experience with such unexpected results. In my forties and faced with the prospect of a life severely curtailed by illness, I experienced a similar idea exploding fully formed in my consciousness.

I don’t know if this is universally true, but among the numerous authors I’ve studied, all were extensive readers as well as writers. It is a symbiotic relationship, each fueling the other. I not only read a lot and eclectically, but I rarely read passively. Reading has been the most consistent thread in my life, as true at five as at seventeen, thirty or fifty. For me reading is a conversation. It stimulates, touches, challenges and engages. My books are filled with notes and comments in the margins. When I read I take what I can use to keep growing and keep my worldview growing.

As a writer reading teaches me prose style, pacing, character development, dramatic tension and a range of human experience outside my scope. I learn who I am as a writer and my limits. The day the idea for my five novels burst into being and demanded to be brought to life, I soon discovered it was a synthesis of many ideas inspired by years of reading: Chretien de Troyes and Mary Stewart, Chaucer and Shakespeare, Austen and Faulkner, Sayers and Tey, Tolkein and Lewis, National Geographic and Entertainment Weekly, medieval history and physics, Christian contemplatives and social justice. Someone once said we are the sum total of our experiences. I am not sure if I buy that entirely, but I agree that our experiences play a formative part, and for a passionate reader, her experiences with the written word are an integral influence. For the reader who writes it is among the necessities that allow her to thrive.

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Responses

  1. […] System 13 wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerpt Young Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin grew up the daughter of two literary parents–William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. I did not. During her formative years her father’s house was filled with a who’s who of Regency England’s radical intellectual and artistic elite. My house was over a funeral home with entertaining limited to extended family and a few of my parents’ friends when Dad wasn’t busy. Mary had free access to her father’s extensive library, and she made good use of it. My parents’ lib […]

  2. […] The Peregrinations of a Wandering Mind added an interesting post on Why This Writer Writes, Part 2Here’s a small excerpt […]


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