Tuesday, January 23, 2018

When I'm not reading, I'm not writing

There was a period of about two years, when I began seriously writing The Ax and the Vase, that I was not reading for leisure. Research absorbed me in a very special way, I read the work itself, I talked about it a great deal. And I've always read a great deal online. But sitting down with an unrelated novel in my hands, taking an evening or a whole DAY ... I didn't do that. My enthusiasm was all for my own work in progress. Maybe I feared reading other people's writing, even on different subjects, would influence - maybe even compromise - my own voice or story.

Some of this, I think, is new-writer superstition, or more charitably, maybe it was just a different process. There is this, either way: I can TELL you the day I read again for the first time just for myself. What the weather was, what time, where I was, what the novel was. (The Dogs of Babel, by Carolyn Parkhurst.)

My (counter)point is probably a matter of course for most writers: if we are not reading, we are not writing. Say it with me now: "Duuuhh!"

I have not been reading. "There was family visiting" ... "I've been occupied for months with two big meetings" ... "My stepfather's been failing" ... "Holidays" ... it's all the usual load of dingoes' kidneys. The more insidious truth is that I have not been ALLOWING myself to read. I think, ultimately - never knowing why, probably - that was why I didn't read for those two years, back when. I felt like reading was a luxury, or an adultery against my own work.

What we all know is, of course, to BE a writer, you have to be a reader - and suspending that is painful to the process.

So is viewing *writing* as a luxury, as an adultery to the life you're living.

Today, I stopped work and read at my desk. For a few months now, I've been avoiding this; working through, doing other things. Generally acting like That Guy, like what I do is so important it must never be paused - at work and in real life too. In my family, I'm behaving like my stopping to read on my own time may be disrespectful to the difficulty my mom is up against as a fulltime caregiver. At the office, I've had occasion for some guilt nobody has put on me, and I'm overcompensating for acts committed that I know perfectly well nobody holds as sins.

And so, today ... sitting down with just a few pages of LeGuin's Orsinian Tales ...

Ahhhhh. Not merely a luxury, not merely the indulgence of cheating on my job or even my own writing. It was - of course it was - inspiration.

And I found a scene in my throat, urgent as pain, which at first I thought might be a letter to Mr. X, and then I found ... was a scene a certain character really needed. Two of them, in fact. And I learned a little something new about one of the most important events in my WIP. And I learned how to feel from inside a man's skin, for this particular moment. And I saw what it meant, ultimately and really *meant* for the woman he's feeling for, for years and years and long after he is gone from her.

The scene, oddly enough, is all about something incomplete, something un-built; a whole, sought.

It doesn't work out, in the novel. No building, no completion.

But it worked its way out of my brain. No small thanks (eternally, consistently, recurringly) to Ursula LeGuin.

“Incomplete. It’s like building something. Unfinished.

And sometimes, putting a brick against a brick, you end up with a building.


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