Why Reading is Fundamental to Creativity



My granddad is 93 years old. Throughout the majority of my life, we’ve talked on the phone maybe once a week, and I’ve seen him at least once a year. Out of all of those conversations, he’s asked me one question more than any other: “How’s that car running?” It’s always top of mind for him; it’s his thing.

“Make sure you keep oil and water in that car and that son-of-a-bitch will run, run, and run I tell ya….”

I guess I shouldn’t expect anything less from a man who spent over 50 years working in a Ford plant. I have a Ford myself now and while I’m no car-expert, his thesis is crystal-clear: what I put into the car has a lot to do with what I get out of it.

It rings true from big things like macro economics and agriculture all the way down to our individual diets and even karma. It’s a universal law of the world we occupy.

But — what does all of this have to do with reading?

Well, a hell of a lot I tell ya... Not only is reading one of the most important things we do (the average person reads a few thousand words every day just from TV, billboards, street signs, work tasks, etc.), it just might be the key to being creative.

Reading is to creativity what oil and water are to a car.

I noticed a while ago that I am more creative when I read. Doesn’t much matter what I’m creating or what I’m reading, but they seem to go hand-in-hand. It’s my perfect system.

The thing is, when we read, we pick up on so much more than just the plot or thesis of the content. Our brains notice little stuff too, like the cadence of the literature or the tone of it’s delivery and many other things we aren’t even aware of. When we read we’re picking up on punctuation usage, new or forgotten vocabulary words, clever literary devices and more. Reading is a quiet, but conscious, agreement to allow someone’s thoughts to communicate with your own.

Within itself, reading is an exposure to the creative process. Which is why it’s fundamental for creativity.

Think of the exchange like trying to open and pour a can of juice. If you’ve ever done this, you may know where I’m going with this.

If you poke only one hole in the top before you pour, the juice will trickle out of the can slowly and inefficiently. You may even spill it everywhere. But if you poke two holes in it, you’ll notice a much better flow. Why is this?

It’s because the can needs you to be letting air in as you’re letting liquid out. As the juice is leaving the can, it leaves an unoccupied space in the container that the laws of physics must fill with something. With only one opening, the air is trying to fill that space using the same hole the juice is trying to exit. No bueno, it’s clogged.

Reading is to creativity what oil and water are to a car.

With two holes, you allow the air to freely come in to push the liquid out and a balance is struck. It goes from an inefficient pouring exhibit to a perfect system, which could easily be likened to being “in the zone” or the holy grail of creativity: insight.

“unoccupied space”... “clogged” …“inefficient” — these aren’t words that typically describe the brain of a highly functioning creative person, are they? No, they are not.

That’s why you need to pick up a book.

Full disclosure: my grandfather is legally blind. So I’m not sure how much he actually reads, but his truth still remains: if you put good in, you’ll get good out. That’s law.

So, the next time you get writer’s block, or struggle to crawl out of a rut, ask yourself “what am I reading right now?”. Your breakthrough may be right around that corner.

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My thoughts from the worlds of Music, History, Poetry, and Culture. For lack of a wetter bird, I can show you better than I can tell you.

Atlanta, GA

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