McDonald: Reading makes a writer better

Since the start of a new school year brings new adventures in education, and since reading and writing are essential to a good education, and since there’s a fair number of people who have trouble with reading and writing, I offer up a case study — myself.

When I was a kid, I read words and letters backward, and sort of rearranged sentences in my mind.

I didn’t concentrate or comprehend what I was reading, and I never really read for fun.

By high school I was considered a smart-enough kid who simply didn’t apply himself. I didn’t read the assignments or do my homework. I learned how to work hard outside the classroom (with jobs and in sports), but in class I was usually bored.

At least that’s the way I remember myself. My teachers would probably remember me as ADHD, though they didn’t call it that back then.

I started writing poetry in junior high. I found satisfaction in the rhymes and restlessness in the rhythms I made up. I loved the creativity — and the girls liked it too, so I kept writing.

Nevertheless, despite my lackadaisical academic success, I made it into college. Less than two years in, I went to see the movie “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and loved it so much I sat down, neglected my studies, and read the book upon which the film was based.

Suddenly, I dropped out of college and hit the road. I became convinced there were big adventures waiting for me and I didn’t have time for school anymore. So I stuck out my thumb and left — often with a paperback I was reading tucked into my pocket.

For the first time in my life, at age 20, I was reading.

When I returned to college in my 30s, I was fairly well read and hungry for the mental discipline that comes with an education. I had no trouble reading and majoring in history, while in journalism, my minor, years of newspaper reading (and my study of history) served me well.

Graduation found me knee-deep in newspaper writing and reporting, with a career in newspapers well under way.

Now I read newspapers every day, two or three magazines a week, and probably a book a month. I’m a slow reader who needs peace and quiet to fully comprehend, so I wouldn’t call my reading habits prolific, but I read more than most.

I guess I overcame my reading problems in unconventional fashion. I like to think it illustrates a paradox in life, that a weakness at one level can be a strength at another. I think I’m a better writer and editor because of the undivided attention I give to each word, one at a time, while parsing through a sentence.

Who knows, maybe I’ll write a book of poetry next. And if the girls still like it, I’ll wonder why I ever strayed from simple rhythm and rhyme.

Tom McDonald is editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange. Contact him at:

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