It’s hard to be a good writer without being a great reader.
The man who taught me that was a family friend and high school teacher who lived down the block from me while I was growing up. He and his wife were over for dinner one evening when I brought up the subject of how writing was taught in our high school.
I’m afraid I was rather rude about it — being all of 16, and knowing everything. The man was not an English teacher (he taught shop), but I’m sure some of the English teachers were friends of his. My criticisms could have easily seemed harsh to him. Nevertheless, he surprised me: Writing, he gently agreed, was not taught “optimally” in our high school.
He went on to explain. It was the fashion in education to teach writing by diagramming sentences. The theory was that diagramming taught students the principles of grammar and good sentence structure — lessons they could transform into good writing.
But in his opinion, the best way to learn how to write well was to read good writing in order to actually see how it was done.
For me, it was one of those moments when someone says something that makes everything else fall into place. Suddenly, I knew what to do if I was to become a better writer.
Tragically, that was one of the last lessons he ever offered anyone. A few days later, he without warning died of a heart attack while still a relatively young man.
Rest in peace, Ben Haddock.