Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Reading Muse

I’ve been having a lot of trouble getting my writing momentum back up after moving over the summer. For the first couple of months here, I was preoccupied with finding a job, getting unpacked, and learning my way around a new town. Then I was preoccupied (and stressed) with getting adjusted to a new job. Then with adjusting to another new job. Then with quitting the second job. Then figuring out how we were going to scrape by on my income from only the one job. . . .

So for the past few months I’ve been trying different things to get myself engaged with writing. Some of them have worked – well, sort of – like jogging my brain with a writing prompt to get those creative juices flowing and then immediately shifting my attention to another, more important (to me) project. Some of them have failed miserably, like trying to draft in my head while I’m making the hour and a half commute to work, and then expecting that once I get to a computer I will be bursting with ideas that I just can’t wait to write down.

What I didn’t try, and I now realize may have been the most successful of all, was picking out a book that would match the sort of writing project I felt like working on, and then simply reading that book and letting it be my muse.

I’ve been struggling my way through reading a collection of short stories for something like a month and a half – has it really been that long? A month and a half spent reading one single book! It isn’t that the short stories in the collection are bad. In fact, I like the stories quite a lot; I like the writing style; I like this writer’s dry sense of humor, her poetic voice. But I haven’t been in a short story kind of mood. Well, it turns out that my reading mood matches my writing mood. I haven’t felt like writing short stories, and I haven’t felt like reading them, either. That’s why I spent so much time just trying to force myself through one book.

I’ve been trying to decide between working on the, oh I don’t know, let’s say one millionth draft of a children’s book of mine and a second draft of a novel. I’ll settle on one, open up the file and try to immerse myself in the story, and very quickly my mind will start to wander to one of the many other things I probably should be doing – I just don’t feel inspired. But any seasoned writer will tell you that it’s not a question of waiting for inspiration. If you wait for inspiration you might never write a thing, or you might write so sporadically that you’ll never really improve.

At any rate, I finished the story collection the other day and decided that I felt like reading a children’s book next. I picked up a book I’ve been dying to read for some time now and was almost instantly sucked into a whimsical adventure story. And you know what else? I started getting excited about my children’s book all over again. Delving, as a reader, into the sort of book that I want to write inspired me to get back to work on my own book.

It makes sense. I mean, isn’t that why we become writers to begin with? Because we are avid readers, and because the things we read inspire us? We don’t create in a sort of vacuum; everything that we read and have read informs each new piece that we write. And the things that we read that really engage us send our minds reeling with limitless possibilities, limitless new ideas just waiting to be written.


PancakePhilosopher said...

I think you're right. I fell in love with and wanted to write fantasy because I grew up reading the Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings. And now I'm realizing my prose style is influenced heavily by poetic writers like James Joyce and my subject matter is usually pretty high and serious because I love writers like Charles Frazier and John Steinbeck.

It's easy in an academic setting to sort of forget about that...what with all these classes about writing, finding our voice, learning the craft, etc. In academia I feel we sort of lose the aspect of reading for pleasure.

Ashley Cowger said...

Yes! And I sometimes felt like the books I had to spend all my time reading as an English student - because I was required to read X, Y, and Z, and didn't have time to read anything else - was far less inspiring to me than the books I would have chosen to read on my own. That's not to say I didn't gain something from studying that stuff, but as a writer I probably would have gained more from reading the books I WANTED to read.