Maybe somewhere out there is a writer who wasn’t also a voracious reader from the very earliest basic-reader days (show of hands here: how many of you got scolded in first or second grade for “reading ahead” in reading group?), but most of us start out as bookworms and stay that way. Proto-writers have the mental digestive systems of goats, or maybe sharks — if it comes our way, we’ll read it — but we seem to find some books especially tasty and nourishing.
Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, for example. I know I’m not the only female writer out there who imprinted on Jo March at an early age. I loved Jo for her temper and for her unwillingness to be humble and “make nice”, and I seethed with rage on her behalf when those qualities lost her the chance to go to Europe with Aunt March. If I’d lived in a house with a finished attic, I would have gotten myself a thinking cap like Jo’s and worn it when I went upstairs to write. (Alas, we lived in Florida, and later in Texas, and all that we ever had in our attics was a fan to cool the house.) I read Little Women multiple times, and then I went on to read all the sequels.
I didn’t just identify with Jo, I wanted to be her when I grew up.
For a young writer, there are far worse role models: Jo doesn’t just think about writing, she actually writes, and writes a lot, starting out by emulating other writers and moving on to find her own subjects; she shows her work to outside readers, and takes their advice when she finds it good; she submits her material for publication; she doesn’t let rejection stop her for long; and when she achieves success she handles it with grace and good will.
Jo March doesn’t just survive; Jo wins.
(Do young male writers have their own equivalent of Jo March? I feel sorry for them if they don’t.)