Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been overwhelmed by the number of books there are to read. As a teenager, I carried a book with me everywhere, even into class just in case the lesson got boring. I was just trying to get through all the books I wanted to read. And I wanted to read everything.
I still do. I have stacks and shelves of books waiting to be read – The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt, American Sphinx by Joseph Ellis, Lit by Mary Karr – not to mention all the books I have to read just for book research. I literally could spend every minute of every day reading, and to be honest, I probably wouldn’t mind that.
But then, I would never write. I can very easily – if I’m not careful – lose myself in reading and miss out on a week’s writing. I keep telling myself that I need more information, that this writer is a good model for my style, that reading Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins will give my mind a break from the heavy emotional work of writing about slavery. All of these things are true, but they are all also excuses for why I don’t write.
As most writers, I hate writing. Dorothy Parker put it well – “I hate writing. I love having written.” Writing is really, really hard. It requires me to still my mind and focus. It requires me to open up a little of my spirit and put it on the page. It requires me to pull all the linguistic skill I’ve ever had and use it to form sentences that are, at least at first, pretty crappy and boring. It is so much easier to just read through the work that someone else has done. I know I”m entering the “no write” zone when I start ordering books like crazy; it’s a sure sign that I’m trying to put off my own writing to enjoy someone else’s.
I am learning to put the books aside and instead suffer through some hours at the page. I don’t like it. . . but I feel healthier, more whole when I’m done. It’s that “I love having written” part. Plus, then, I can get back to my reading.
How do you keep the balance between reading and writing in your professional life?
A Writer’s Desk