Ever since Toys ‘R’ Us came to my consciousness, I have been toying with the idea whether what we perceived through our senses becomes us. Same with the notion that we are what we eat, or in the same token: tell me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you who you are!
Reading and writing are inseparably linked; and are two aspects of the same process—the communication of thoughts, moods and emotions (Shaw, 1973). Reading intensifies and expands our own ideas. Reading may also suggest entirely new lines of thought that, when reflected upon, can be used in our own writing. Reading involves organizing, collating, criticizing, interpreting, questioning, comprehending, comparing, and retaining ideas and impressions gained from the printed page. As Francis Bacon once wrote: “Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man.”
From the first time in school until we graduate from college, or even in later years, most of us read books, articles, news reports, web sites, etc., to learn something new, review what we learned, or just for the enjoyment of reading. By doing so, we might have experienced bewilderment, awe, inspiration, shock, understanding or what not.
It has been said that the human brain cell can hold 5 times as much information as the Encyclopedia Britannica. Or any other encyclopedia for that matter. Scientists have yet to settle on a definitive amount, but the storage capacity of the brain in electronic terms is thought to be between 3 or even 1,000 terabytes. The National Archives of Britain, containing over 900 years of history, only takes up 70 terabytes, making your brain’s memory power pretty darn impressive.
With that power, and if you are an avid reader of a printed page, or in a broader sense, all received ideas, you might have amassed a great deal of things in your head, although there might be times you forget a thing or two.
So the question becomes: when we write, are we only rewriting what we knew, or rephrasing the same old phrases read somewhere into something new? In politics, its called spinning the same old yarn into a new cloth?
It’s interesting to know that on average, people remember only 20% of what they read; as compared to 30% of what they hear, 40% of what they see, 50% of what they say, 60% of what they do or 90% of what they see, hear, say, and do (1997). Thus, if we only remember a percentage what we read, heard, or saw; is it safe to say then that we do write something new for about 80% or less? Probably, but remember that with our brain power, some of what we read or heard in grades school might have become our guiding principles in later years, thus even if we can’t remember where we read or saw or heard them, the idea became ingrained in our subconscious mind.
What we write about comes from our own experiences, observation, curiosity, imagination, and reflection. Naturally, we get many of our ideas from others through discussions or conversation, interviews or lectures, or reading. But we must absorb all this material and make it our own. Otherwise, what we write will not be ours but someone else’s. True originality is not so much a matter of substance as of individualized treatment.
Shaw (1973) summed it as: “Writing is made out of ideas and impressions we have obtained from various sources and made a part of ourselves. . . Personal experience provides a freshness and interest that is hard to equal. . . It is impossible for one to write wholly objectively; the writer necessarily puts something of himself into everything he writes.”
As most of us know, writing has at least two dimensions: literacy and competence. Literary deals with grammar; competence is the ability to form a thought, arrange in order, and clearly explain ideas. Without these two, a writer’s style would be not be developed.
If Toys ‘R’ Us, then it is also entirely possible that Books ‘R’ Us, or specifically: Reading ‘R’ Us!
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