Childhood reading stimulates all kinds of creativity. In this reflective piece, Ann Swann reveals how, as a child, her reading scheme was the foundation of her writing career.
Creation of a Writer
by Ann Swann
On my Twitter profile, I boldly state that one of my books seeks to change the world and the others are just for entertainment. Flippant, maybe. True? Yes. Of course it also says I will write for chocolate. And that much is a fib. For years I’ve written for much, much less than chocolate.
But why did I become a writer in the first place? Well, it’s like Stephen King once said when asked why he chose to write horror. “Who said I had a choice?”
It was the same with me. Writing came straight out of reading. And reading has always been my main coping mechanism for … well, for life.
It began in childhood. We always had books. My dad was in prison, but he was quite the scholar nonetheless. He made it a point to have his sister mail or deliver a book to me on every one of my birthdays and on Christmas. I don’t recall him ever being there to read me a bedtime story in person, but in his own way, he was always there. Needless to say, I treasure those books, and all books, as if they were gold.
When I learned to read on my own, I was in heaven. The SRA Reading System made school bearable. Each time we, as students, finished an assignment early, we were allowed to walk to the back of the classroom and pick a reading card from the SRA box. I remember what a feeling of freedom I experienced each time I simply stood—without even having to ask permission—walked back to the SRA table, and chose a card within my color frame.
I think the topics were mostly nonfiction, but there may have been some fiction, too. We were allowed to take the cards back to our desk and read them at our own pace, with no interruptions. It was like having our very own personal library.
After reading a card, we were required to answer a few questions from the back of the card and then we were allowed to self-check the answers. If we answered the questions correctly, we could go back to the box and choose another card! I believe there were ten cards in each color-coded box, and once we finished all the cards in one color, we could move up to the next color level. I believe gold was the top box, i.e. the one with the highest reading level, and I think I got there, but to be honest, I can’t really remember. For me, it wasn’t about competition or moving up. For me, it was simply about the pleasure of reading. I’m certain that is why my very first fully-realized character, Stevie-girl, is such an avid reader. Like me, she even looks forward to reading the backs of the new cereal boxes. Sometimes she—we—would beg for a new type of cereal just to read the box.
As for the SRA Reading System, I strongly remember the sense of accomplishment I felt every time I finished a card, answered the questions correctly, and got up to get another. Now, I carry that old-fashioned classroom with me, always. It’s large, but cozy. One whole wall consists of nothing but tall, tall windows—the kind that were actually meant to be opened—and it’s always quiet there, as if every one of us students was totally and joyfully absorbed in our work or in our SRA cards.
Quite frankly, the memory of that classroom was/is my very own Utopia; I still retreat there whenever necessary, just as I did when I was a child dealing with aspects of life that even now befuddle me. Of course, after SRA, I quickly moved on to other types of reading, fiction especially. I adored The Brothers Grimm, Edgar Allan Poe, J.R.R. Tolkien, Mary Stewart; I could go on and on.
But is reading what really made me want to write? I believe it is. I still find myself in awe of the great authors and their books. And more often than not, I find myself hoping to emulate something or someone who has caught my fancy or touched my soul. It isn’t just that I want to write, no. It’s grown into more of an addiction now. A need, if you will; a need to change the world!
Or it could be that I merely yearn to entertain while nibbling a good bit of chocolate.
Many of us start to write in school - I certainly did, in primary school - but lose it a little as we grow into the world, intending to pick it up later when we have time.
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