How Early Reading Shapes Future Writers

This is an essay by Emily Ruth Verona.

There are many ways that people come into writing. They are drawn into from different backgrounds and demographics. Some start young. Others begin later in life. There are those that write poetry, fiction, articles, or memoir.

There is no right way to become a writer. I can only attest to the way I became a writer and it started before I knew how to hold a pen.

I write aggressive fiction. My characters are deeply flawed and often unreliable. In school, I studied both creative writing and cinema studies, both of which fed my narrative interest. The films I watch are dark dramas with gritty, often painful conclusions. I’ve even been known to distrust sentiment.

But the first story I ever heard was “A Little Princess” by Francis Hodgson Burnett. My mother read it to me when I was very young, and it was the book I learned how to read on. It is the story of a girl sent to an elegant boarding school. Her life is ideal until she is abruptly orphaned, and everything changes. It is a story about believing in magic. And books. And friendship.

Since then I’ve read the classics, from Jane Austen to Fyodor Dostoevsky. I’ve read contemporary fiction, poetry, newspapers, textbooks, cereal boxes. Still, I am able to claim with confidence that “A Little Princess” is perhaps one of the most endearing novels ever written, and it remains to be my favorite to this day.

Early reading has a way of shaping people, particularly writers. Reading as a kid taught me to know enthusiasm—to recognize how passionate I felt when absorbed in a good novel.

Even before I could construct sentences I started composing stories in my head, and in later years scrawling them in my terrible spelling and illegible handwriting in notebooks. I modeled myself after the books I read. I knew story before I could define story; rising and falling action before I knew there to be terms for such thing.

In a creative writing course, a professor once asked us to define a narrative term and not a single one of us could, because our schools never taught us. They did not turn us into writers. We were drawn into it through reading. It pulled us willingly into its arms and have yet to emerge since.

Novels for children encourage creativity and original thought, both of which inform an individual’s way of reading and writing as an adult. I may not write now the sort of books I read when I was nine, but the evolution of my writing skills based on that early reading have helped to form the writer I have become.

The promotion of reading for young children does not just raise articulate adults; it is a foundation for writers. It changes us, lovingly, irrevocably, and with shaky hands and frenzied hearts guides us along the way.

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Emily Ruth Verona is a fiction writer. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing and Cinema Studies from The State University of New York at Purchase. She lives in New Jersey.

4 thoughts on “How Early Reading Shapes Future Writers

  1. That is so true. I read to my children starting when they were babies. They are 10 and 12 now and writing has become a natural extension of their love for books.

    1. Hey Karen, It’s always so great to hear that. I had three nieces and one nephew. My oldest niece and nephew are about that age and I always encourage it with them.

      1. Oops, nothing more embarrassing than a writer with a typo. REVISED:

        Hey Karen, It’s always so great to hear that. I have three nieces and one nephew. My oldest niece and nephew are about that age and I always encourage it with them.

  2. Nice article, Emily. Reminds me of something Zadie Smith said when asked to give advice to writers: “When still a child, make sure you read a lot of books.” I was a keen reader as a child, and fell in love with depressing Russian literature as a teenager, and don’t think I’d be a writer today without that preparation. I have to thank my parents for giving me that early encouragement to love books and reading.

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