Convincing yourself you’re too busy to read is almost worse than convincing yourself you’re too busy to write. The truth is, you are never too busy to do either. Yes, there are things that may shrivel if they aren’t tended to. Creditors might start calling, friends might stop calling, a few pounds may be gained and your menu de jour may suffer, but I’ll tell you what won’t bloom if you fail to stop and sniff the dust jackets – your dreams.
A writer must do many (oh so dauntingly many) things to hone and cultivate their craft, one of which is, you guessed it, writing. But the other is reading. It’s crucial to a writer. What to do, and often times more to the point, what not to do, can be learned from losing yourself in someone else’s work.
For what seems like forever, I’ve been depriving myself of this easily accessible and potentially enjoyable education. Except, it hasn’t been forever. As a child, teen and young adult, I was a gluttonous reader. And, when my own kids were young and I was only slightly less than housebound, I devoured whatever I could get my hands on; Anita Shreve and Frank McCourt kept me company even while furious fingers and miniature mouths savagely suckled syrup-sweet sustenance.
Yes, while flying in planes, riding in cars, enduring long waits and relaxing under stars, I would read; an insatiable, undeterrable, indisputable addict of the written word.
So, what changed? Put simply, me.
When did I change? Just so happens it was during the most crucial time possible; the time when I began to think about writing in a more serious fashion.
Why did I change? I’m not sure even I understand it completely, but here’s the gist. I developed a mindset – if I wasn’t writing my own stuff, I didn’t deserve the privilege of reading others’.
Big, no…enormous mistake. Reading is inspiring, enlightening, developmental and motivational. Why would I deprive myself of that?
Well, it’s also shaming.
A writer’s writer hat rarely, if ever, gets tossed onto the banister or into the back seat. We read with writing on our minds. We taste each word with a different condiment. A boatload of gravy; “Awesome, that’s the way I would’ve written it.” A pinch of salt; “Ooh, I wish I’d thought of that.” A dollop of sour cream; “If I’d actually sit down and write, I could come up with something just as good.” Too much salt; “I am so jealous, my mouth is puckering.” So much rich chocolate sauce it gives you a bellyache; “I will never write as well as that.”
In all honesty, dreaming, talking and writing about writing will get us nowhere. It takes focus and intent. It begs experience and exploration. It demands we eat, sleep and breathe our craft and that of likeminded others. Never forget this. As writers, we not only deserve to read the work of others, we owe it to our own readers even more. Without it, we are just babbling buffoons.
If you need a pivotal place to partake, I hear that Khaled Hosseini guy is pretty proficient.
Oh, the shame.