I started writing my first book when I was ten. And it was about a year later that I realised I had no vocabulary, voice, or mode of expression whatsoever. I quite simply could not say what I wanted to say. It was hopeless. I was hopeless.
Ever since then, I've made a habit of reading daily. When I hit about fifteen, I started seriously looking at classics. And they weren't just Watership Down and Black Beauty either. I read Milton's complete works. I read Mansfield's complete works. I got into the Shakespeare, Spenser, Homer, and Ovid. I tried to consistently read books from all of the literary periods. Every time I found an exciting old author I hadn't heard of, I would look them up and hunt for their book.
Classics are awesome. You learn so much from them - you learn about people and about the world around you. You learn words, sentence structure, grammar, character development, and plotting. But best of all, I just learnt how to speak out. I developed the skills to say what I wanted to say, without having to sit there rubbing my head for hours on end. I learnt to be a writer by spending time in the heads' of other writers. And by reading books from all of the literary periods, I learnt not to be cliché. I feel now that I don't write like the authors of every other YA book you pick up. Sure, I try to be hooking. And I still write more briefly than the classic authors did. But there's something different there. Publishers don't always like it - maybe it won't sell.
I don't really care. Reading classics has allowed me to become rooted in literary history, so that when I say something, there's a depth to it. I'm referencing something, paying homage to something. I'm becoming part of that world.
I'm not brilliant. But I can feel myself growing with every new book I read. It's exciting and fun.
I'll leave you with some quotes. Some of these are by my favorite authors of all time.
I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me."
The Odyssey (Homer)
and ate within your cave were surely not
the comrades of a coward. You have caused
much grief; and it returns to haunt you now:
you did not hesitate; hard heart, you ate
your guests within your house; therefore lord Zeus
has joined with other gods to batter you." (1990, translated by Allen Mandelbaum, pg 184.)
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew!
Or that the Everlasting had not fixt
His canon 'gainst self-slaughter! O God! God!
How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
Fie on't! O, fie! 'tis an unweeded garden,
That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature
Posses it merely. That it should come to this!"
The Mayor of Casterbridge (Thomas Hardy)
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (J K Rowling)
'Yeah, OK,' said Ron, in exactly the same sceptical tone as Cedric. 'Only you said this morning you'd have done it last night, and no one would've seen you ... I'm not stupid, you know.'
'You're doing a really good impression of it,' Harry snapped. (J K Rowling, 2000, pg 252.)