When my mother died suddenly just before my eleventh birthday, I decided that spending time with Nancy Drew was preferable to inhabiting my own life. So I disappeared into my mother’s worn blue copy of The Mystery of Lilac Inn and quickly worked my way through the rest of her collection. I liked to close my eyes and pretend the pages smelled like my mother, though they actually smelled more like mildew. Even then I knew you could always imagine something better than reality.
I think you have to be an avid, joyful reader before you can become a writer, and when I was teaching writing to middle schoolers, some of the kids just weren’t big readers. So we all lugged in a crazy assortment of things to school — novels, magazines, comic books, manga. We swapped everything around and curled up in corners all over the room and read. I brought Nancy, and a couple of my students really took to her.
I revisited Nancy Drew a third time just before I finally pushed aside decades of fear and self-doubt and wrote my first novel in my minivan outside my daughter’s swim practice. I dusted off my entire collection and reread them all one after another, even though they had no real connection to the novel I was hoping to write. They taught me to jump right into the story and to end each chapter in a way that the reader simply has to find out what happens next. And my old, dog-eared Nancy Drew mysteries reminded me once again that once you really, really fall in love with a book, or a series of books, you’re a reader for the rest of your life.
Claire Cook is the bestselling author of nine novels, including WALLFLOWER IN BLOOM and MUST LOVE DOGS, which became a movie starring Diane Lane and John Cusack. She shares writing and reinvention tips at ClaireCook.com.