Nina Garcia on the Power of Reading and Writing: "It Opened Up My World"

Why we shouldn't let the keyboards and phone screens take over.

Nina Garcia on the Power of Reading and Writing: "It Opened Up My World"
(Image credit: Marie Claire)

There are a lot of things I said I would do (and never do) when I had kids. I kept a running list in my head: My kids would always be well-behaved; I would never raise my voice; my apartment would remain clean and tidy; and, most importantly, my kids would never be the ones screaming in the grocery store. 

And then I had kids. And they had other ideas.  

I slowly learned to let my list go, except for one item.  I wanted my kids to know the pleasure of reading and writing like I do. 

My love of reading and writing began when I was a young girl living in Barranquilla, Colombia. Our house was full of books.  My parents always had their noses in a book or a newspaper. They had pads of paper and pens throughout the house so they could write down their ideas. And they loved having their writer friends over to talk about their work or their favorite novels. 

It was all so fascinating to me that I read every book I could get my hands on, and I soon understood what was so magical about it—each story opened up my world and made me see that there was a life beyond my own, beyond my family, beyond my hometown. There was an entire universe out there to be explored. I marked up my books with a pen when I loved a particular quote or passage, just like my father did. I would write my own stories, trying to imitate or emulate my favorite writers.  

Years later, when I had my own children, I worried that they wouldn't know the same joy that the written word could bring. I wanted them to know what it was like to turn the pages of a real book, to smell the history. I wanted them to take a pen to a paper, to let their thoughts flow without the ability to just press delete or to overwrite their initial feelings. But I also knew I couldn't demand that they love reading and writing...I learned very early on that demanding children to do anything has a frustrating tendency to backfire.  

I thought about what my parents did and the answer became so clear: Show them. So, even when life is really busy, I make time to read to my children.  I also make time to read my own books and write in my journal. And I encourage my sons to do the same. We talk about story ideas and our favorite characters in different books. We talk about how a book could have a different ending if a character made another choice. Sometimes we write our own endings. 

This has made both of my boys better readers—it has stoked their creativity and their confidence. My sons understand that everyone is a writer if they sit down with a pen and paper and are brave enough to put their ideas down, which is something we often forget as we grow into adulthood. At some point we start to think that writing is for other people. I've been trying to figure out when this happens and how we can stop it. 

First of all, we can read writers who inspire us.  I especially recommend two books that speak to the art of writing, and by default they speak to the art of life.  The first is On Writing by Stephen King. The second is Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Both King and Lamott beautifully explain the writer's journey—and why it matters. 

Secondly, we can value writing in the classroom and at home. I'm proud to partner with BIC's new Fight for Your Write campaign to encourage children to write and save handwriting—if you sign their pledge to help save the art of writing, BIC will donate a pen or pencil to a classroom. 

Lastly, we can remind ourselves that even if our children scream in the grocery store, even if our homes aren't always immaculate, even if some days we feel like we can't balance it all…if our lives are full of books and paper and pens, we are doing okay.