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? 😉
This weekend, I was honored to be included in the witnessing of a boy become a man in the eyes of his culture.
The ceremony was warm with nowness– the intimacy of a family of many generations all standing proudly in the present, and rich with a culture as ancient and deep and withstanding as the sands and the seas.
During this time, I was also brought to remember lessons of humility and grace when dealing with the ambivalence of others–specifically, those whose viewpoints do not align with your own–those who would consider you an outsider to their world, despite how very within it you are, even if in a small auxiliary way, like a blade of grass underfoot on your lawn.
The two events I speak of do not coincide in the way that you might think–in fact, they had little to do with each other–but they did in fact happen close together. Such is the way of things.
I cannot say I dealt with the altercation ideally, at first. But the way that I ultimately chose to handle the ambivalence was the same as if the events had been connected–with grace, and humility, and with the understanding that I do not know all things, and no one else does either, and this is fine. This is working as intended. We’re all working with what we’ve got going on here, you know.
Of course, this made me look inside myself a little–a good thing to be done from time to time–and it made me think about writing eventually.
When we write, we want to be credible. Even in life, we want to be believed. Heard. But especially when we write, when we are creating worlds very different from our own, we are making a bundle of unspoken promises to our readers.
Firstly, that the world, even within the boundless stretches of our imagination, is real.
Secondly, that the people who live within the world are real.
Thirdly, that the world, and the people, are both real and coincide really with each other.
After all, no one in the story was beamed down before the first page was opened, rummaged quickly through a thick pad of scripting, practiced a few lines, and then jumped in not understanding the world they have been assigned to. They existed before the page, or so it should be heavily implied, right? It is a story about them, and their world, which is of course real and spinning somewhere, maybe. Hopefully. Or so it should appear.
That’s just a few promises a storyteller makes. There are undoubtedly others. These promises all assure the reader that what they are about to read has sprung fully formed, and correct, and is totally true.
So what do writers do when they want to be correct? We research and try to make everything connect. We argue with the words and with ourselves and with our characters, bargaining and rationalizing and compromising until it is correct. We know from being readers ourselves that if we can see the strings, then the magic is concluded. If we stumble on something that doesn’t make sense after following the promises that everything is functioning properly, we go spinning out of the story. We become outsiders again.
This is actually the biggest hangup in getting my writing done a lot of the time, because like any prudent action it can be overdone, and boy, do I overdo it. I spend so much time trying to be right in my writing that I often end up with a mess of words I believe even less than the original words where there were holes and gaps. I needlessly overcomplicate things.
We are all imperfect creatures. Even the people who might call themselves the best of us lie, and double back on our words, and say hurtful things–sometimes even on purpose. Sometimes we make it only too easy to see our strings when we are pointing out the shoddy infrastructure of others, and the moldy-lined duct-tape holding the frayed or splintered or broken pieces of ourselves together that we have not gotten around to actually fixing, either because we are lazy or busy or afraid to do so. Sometimes we tell people they are outsiders to our worlds when they are very much within it. Often do we forget about the other points of view that are not our own.
It happens. And then it happened. And then it is now. And soon is yet to be decided.
But this imperfection is functioning correctly, and as a writer, I believe one should learn to own this in their writing. Do not struggle indefinitely for that last right word. Don’t struggle so fiercely to have it perfect to the point where it does not happen at all. No one, not even people of fiction, can function within the idea of perfection. Perfection is, well, perfect, and has no room for improvement, does not need to move and breathe and live. Not like people and worlds and writing do.
Instead, strive to have it be your best in this moment. as the person you are right now, as both the things that you know and that you do not know. Try to be graceful and humble in your writing, just as much as, and no more or less than you are proud and bold. You don’t know everything, and neither does anyone else, and this is fine.
This is working as intended. 🙂