Last week, I read five books, back to back and strictly for pleasure. And it was amazing.
The upside to looking for employment is that I’ve had a bit of downtime in the meanwhile, and I’ve been using it to work through the pile of books I’ve promised my attention for the past year or so. In the past week I’m happy to say I made a pretty nice dent in it…though naturally by weekend’s end I had buffed that dent out by adding more books to that pile. Such is the way of things.
I finally finished Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, which pretty much blew my mind (an increasingly common feat for Gaiman’s books at this point in my life). Charlie N. Holmberg’s The Paper Magician series was quickly devoured thereafter–a charming series that you should totally give a go if you are into magic realism and romance and wonderfully written characters. The other was a more explicit romance novel about Scottish werewolves. Because why not?
I also heard somewhere recently (I think somebody quoting Stephen King on Twitter) that if you don’t have the time to read, then you don’t have the time or tools to write.
The ultimatum made me pretty ambivalent on principle (that little ornery voice in my head going “don’t tell me what to do rawr!”), but I can’t say I disagree. While I read this week, I also did a lot of writing. More writing, perhaps, than I’ve done in months. I found new words, new ideas, new possibilities I was not aware of before. This isn’t an isolated incident or a new revelation, either. Whenever I have done a great deal of reading, I’ve always done a great deal of writing as well.
I know some of us–or at least me, at one point or another–would like to think that the ideas just come from a pure, untouched well inside of us, but that’s far from true. The pieces come from all around us, I think. That well is gloriously muddy with the stir of life. Even dreams come from all the little fragments of everything we process in our daily lives and all the states of our memory–like a newspaper thrown in a food processor and recomposed, one random piece at a time.
This realization used to, sometimes still makes me very nervous as a writer, believing that each and every thought has to be completely, purely original from me and never done before. And it used to, sometimes still does depress me when I realize that’s just not possible. That like it or not, I’m completely intertwined with the world I’m living in, right down to my thoughts and perceptions that are, because or in spite of, the world around me.
That anxiety only becomes another excuse not to write (or read) at all, which, last time I checked, never helped any writer. Not really. So I cannot disagree with the assertion that if you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time or tools to write.
At the same time, I’m just personally…squicky about implying to people what the best use of their time is, or being told what the best use of my time is, because I am aware that it is so valuable, but feel that value varies from person to person, so, what is the best use of my time is probably a huge waste of time to someone else, and such.
So for the time-sensitive of us, maybe consider a different perspective.
The human body is a magnificent thing. It’s tough and resilient. The better you take care of it, the better it will take care of what you need it to do. Food, rest, exercise, etc. make for the constant giving and taking of energy that the body does to keep itself alive. If you stop sleeping, or eating well, it will still do what you want it to do. But not as well. If you fuel your body sufficiently with what it needs to carry out the demands you make on it, it can only become stronger and more efficient at its tasks.
Take what I said a moment ago about the newspaper in the blender. It doesn’t have to be a newspaper. It doesn’t have to be a blender. Do you see what I mean?
If you do not read as much, you still have the ability to write, just like your body will still likely keep functioning if you don’t get enough sleep or food. But it will probably be different. And it will probably not be a good kind of different.
If you fuel your mind sufficiently with the words and the thoughts and possibilities that it needs to create new and original from the world around it, the result can only be stronger, more thoughtful writing and thinking. (Not to mention supporting other authors who have worked hard to share their stories with the world.)
Make reading for your writing as necessary as eating, sleeping and exercising for your energy, but most importantly, make reading necessary to your quality of life in general.
There’s really no downside to it.
Speaking of reading and writing a lot…isn’t Camp NaNoWrimo around the corner? 😉