Throughout May and June I’m indulging in the written word. Books, books, books!
I don’t read much when I’m writing because I find it unsettles me – I get drawn away from the world I’m creating into other writers’ worlds. Distraction in itself isn’t a problem. But infiltration is. Sometimes, if I’m enraptured, greedily feasting on a novel, the tone, or pace of that prose can overflow into mine, staining paragraphs and pages. So, although I’ve always got a book on the go, when I’m working on writing a novel of my own, whatever I’m reading is relegated to the window ledge by my bed – I read a few pages at bedtime, when I’m sleepy, and somehow, that way, manage to keep those words in the periphery of my brain.
But there’s no question, for me, reading is essential. However I fit it in, however I make it work, I must, must, must be consuming words.
Reading as a writer, not a reader
I’ve mentioned one reason that reading isn’t necessarily straightforward for a writer. But there’s another one: Once we’ve been writing for any length of time, whether it’s conscious, or unconscious, we tend to start reading as a writer. This means, whilst reading, thinking about the structure and methods employed by the writer. It’s one of the best ways of learning craft – to read (anything!) with a writer’s eye: What has the author chosen for their first sentence? What effect did that have on me? When will they ‘start the engine’ of their novel (Sol Stein) and how are they making me care about their characters? Am I confused, or bored, and if so, why??
All of that and more… on and on.
I’ve read a plethora of books in this way, engaging with the story, but once removed, notebook and pen never far from hand. It makes for tiring reading. It’s work, essentially, rinsed through with pleasure.
So how about just reading??
I do need this – to make sure story-telling retains its power and joy! I would hate to lose the capacity to be swept away in the pages of a book, because being swept away is surely the whole point? I don’t want to be perpetually analysing the architecture of a story. I want to feel it; to get lost in it; to be provoked, ensnared and, ultimately, bereft. I want it to feel like a love affair.
So that’s what these next two months are about. And it feels a little decadent. Even though I know it’s counter-intuitive, part of me feels that I should just keep working (I’ve got a new idea for a novel, bubbling away). But since the New Year, (as well as doing my part-time paid work) I’ve set up this blog and created a website for my coaching business. I’ve also written several short stories and entered one of them for a competition. I’ve sent submissions to every appropriate UK-based literary agent in the hope of finding an agent for ‘Petals and Stones’ (my most recent novel).
I have, basically, been staring at a computer screen since Christmas. Spring has arrived and I hardly noticed.
It’s time to take a deep breath and do some taking in. It’s not possible to just keep producing stuff. Creativity is a two-way process. It doesn’t just come pouring out.
Inspiration has to be sought.
It has to be absorbed from out there in the world. I’m lucky to have a 20 year old artist daughter who is a constant source of inspiration and thought-provoking conversation. She is wise beyond her years when it comes to understanding the artistic process, so she helps keep me on the creative straight and narrow (which, it turns out, is far from narrow and as crooked as a wizened oak).
I have friends who do the same, and I’m indescribably grateful to each and every one of them. We all need those people in our lives, don’t we? The people who pat us on the back, give us a hug, or a knowing look. The people who tell us to take a break when we need one.
So, I’ve signed up to Goodreads and will be disappear into a good book whenever I’ve got a spare moment.
One of the things that appeals to me about Goodreads is that I can write a review of each book once I’ve finished. I’m going to use this as a reading diary, which is super-helpful for me because I have a terrible memory for names and titles. I’ve read hundreds of books that later feel forgotten to me. I retain the ‘essence’ of a story, but often not the actual characters or plot, title, or author’s names (secretly, I have long-felt disappointed in my inability to hold these details in my head – making the assumption that it’s lack of intelligence, or sharpness of mind. I was delighted to read Elena Ferrante describe a similar tendency in herself. My relief was palpable. If it’s okay for Elena….!)
My reading marathon began last week with Sarah Perry’s ‘The Essex Serpent.’
Quite simply, it was food for my soul! I’ve reviewed it here if you’re interested.
Do you love to read? How do you find the time? And can you recommend me a good book? Scroll down a little way to comment.