This is a post that I’ve been meaning to write for ages then the muse came to visit and demanded I work on my novel and who am I to argue with her? I love my muse, but man does she get bitchy.
Now seems like I good time to bring this up since I’ve finished the novel’s 1st draft and I’m gearing up for the edits. Except, I don’t feel ready. I’m too thirsty to edit. I need a nice, long, invigorating cup of book. I’ve got books. Lots of them–most of which are packed away in storage because my family and I don’t actually have our own place to live. I go through the stack of books I do have and to my amazement every single one of them is non-fiction. Books on writing, on spirituality, on culture… what in the world. How do I not have a single piece of fiction?
This calls for a trip to the used bookstore with my two-year-old. First thing I do is dig through the kids’ section to buy the boy a book, a picture encyclopedia because it contains the vital element: choo-choo trains. It takes a lot less time to pick out my book, a 1st edition copy of Gerald’s Game.
I’m a sucker for Stephen King. Always have been. I still remember vividly the first time I read him. It was Night Shift, a collection of short stories, and for some odd reason I found it on the 6th grade classroom bookshelf.
Last night I opened that bad boy up and sank right into its creamy, delicious folds. Sigh. Bliss. I am not even kidding.
The thing is, I rarely read fiction these days. I did read Life of Pi a few months ago, and while I enjoyed it, it wasn’t related to my genre. It inspired me to write, but I was fast forgetting how my genre sounded, felt, smelled, tasted, looked. You know what I mean, the particular five senses captured in a genre by an amazing writer. I am not going to refer to myself as an amazing writer. Heaven knows I have years and miles before I earn those stripes, if I ever do. Stephen King, however, is an amazing writer. And if I want to know how he does it, I have to read him and I have to do it in the moment.
I’ve read lots of Stephen King. Not even close to all of his works by any means, and most definitely not to Annie Wilkes levels, but perhaps more than the casual reader. I read other writers and genres of course, but Stephen King most closely encapsulates the mood that I want to achieve in my own writing. If I want a fair shot at capturing a similar feel to my work then I’ve got to read him.
The reason I wanted to write this post so bad, had it on my mind for months in fact, stems from a conversation I had with a fellow writer about three years ago. She wrote short stories with dark themes. I really wanted to keep meeting with her because we were in South Korea and I didn’t have a lot of options when it came to writing partners.
When I asked her who her writing influences were she looked right at me and said, “I don’t like to read.”
I thought I must’ve misunderstood and asked for clarification. She followed it up by explaining that other writers bored her and she had yet to pick up a book that she could finish.
“Since you write short stories, what about looking for anthologies?”
She demurred and said something along the lines that she might find something. It was evident she wasn’t that interested.
I was blown away. Really. I couldn’t wrap my head around this. How does a writer who doesn’t read know what good writing is? That killed our writing relationship right there. If a person writes and isn’t willing to pick up a single book, we can’t hang out. It’s as simple as that. And the entire reason is that I can’t let her read my writing in good conscience since she won’t read anyone else.
It goes beyond that of course. Even if someone can’t find a writer who blows her away, then I’d urge her to at least pick up something in her genre anyway to see what she doesn’t like, what she ought to avoid. This way she can be familiar with what other writers of her genre are doing and see what affect those techniques are having on her as a reader. At the very least, when she hits the inevitable, dreaded Writer’s Block, she’ll have nourishment to sustain her as she performs the hard work of tearing that asshole down.
I could feel the dryness of not reading while working through my first draft. Now that I’ve got a book in hand, I’m no longer working through a dry, gaping, text-less void. I’m invigorated. I’m inspired. I’m nourished. I’m ready to break open that manuscript and start on the journey ahead.