The real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing; one comes to the country of the writer with one's papers and identification pretty much in order. Constant reading will pull you into a place (a mind-set, if you like the phrase) where you can write eagerly and without self-consciousness. It also offers you a constantly growing knowledge of what has been done and what hasn't, what is trite and what is fresh, what works and what just lies there dying (or dead) on the page. The more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen or word processor.
This quote is from On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King. I'm about halfway through this book for the second time and his advice to read stands out even more than when I read it a couple of years ago. A woman whose early identity was largely entertwined with reading, I haven't thought of myself as "a big reader" for several years now.
It's as if blogs and how-to articles online have taken the place of books for me. I still read a lot. It's just what I read that's changed.
While the things I read are important to me, this shift away from those years of thinking of myself as a voracious reader isn't setting well with me. I'd like to blame it on the typical busy-ness of life, but I know this is just a lie I tell myself. I am not reading much because I watch TV. Having gone complete years without even owning a television, I've once more fallen into in a rhythm that includes picking up a remote control several evenings each week, instead of a book. Or prior to the book, since I am reading this particular one each night before I fall asleep.
Enough. The end of the year with its questions of "What worked and what didn't?" and "What will be different about next year?" swirling around in many of our heads, is a perfect time to call a cold-turkey elimination of TV addictions.
Can I do it? I have to. Writing this novel matters a great deal to me. Now that I finally got started, I want to do it right. I want to keep the early momentum and push on, through the writer's block surprises and "man this is hard" stretches, and self-doubt phases. If Stephen King says reading is a way to help get myself there, then reading it shall be. Plus, "the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen or word processor" really got my attention. We bloggers are used to making fools of ourselves on a fairly steady basis. At least I tell myself it's not just me. But in my novel? There's far more weight to an actual work of fiction. It might be work to occasionally pen something of actual merit for a blog, but if I'm working this hard on a novel? Yea, best to take that as seriously as possible.
Fortunately for me, the "threat" of a stack of books is kind of like the Uncle Remus Br'er Rabbit's briar patch...