Stephen King takes a pretty firm approach when it comes to the writer’s reading agenda: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
Okay, calm down Stephen, how legitimate a source are you? How many books have you published? Oh a million you say…okay, well I’ll be sure to chisel out a bit more time.
Of course I read…street signs, labels, tweets and the back of the cereal boxes…but who’s got time for a whole book? I have a growing pile on my nightstand, but there’s this funny thing that happens when I climb into bed. I fall asleep. Or I read the same page about seventeen times before I drift off to dreamland. The other evening, I took to the couch, curled up with Sylvia Plath‘s “The Bell Jar“, and–no offense to the incomparable Ms Plath, I read three pages before snoozing with the book splayed open on my chest.
As far as I know I didn’t absorb the story through osmosis. But holy frick, how fantastic would that be? Just tuck Dostoyevsky under your pillow, and the next morning, BOOM! “Crime and Punishment” is already in your head. And because you were asleep–your mind is relaxed and unburdened, and therefore you were able to keep track of all those Russian names.
Don’t get me wrong, I love to read, and often fantasize about being alone in a hotel room with two weeks and a stack of books. In fact, when I was in the throws of writer’s block and inactivity, I would say that when I couldn’t write I would read…but then I would watch TV.
And now that I am writing, blogging daily, which is not always an easy feat, I find there is little time for the other side of that coin. So I have spread the books across every corner of my life, and simply flip through the piles whenever possible. I’ve got Nora Ephron in my work locker.
Caitlin Moran on the nightstand:
David Sedaris is sandwiched between Moran and Chelsea Handler, which must be a change for him.
Is it wrong that I haven’t even cracked into Chelsea Handler?
Lord help me, I could not get through a single chapter of this book. Everything I learned about good writing I learned from this book…as in “what not to do”. Of course I’d like to know how Brand to came to shag Kate Moss, but I shouldn’t have to work that hard to get there. And that’s when I realized, nobody cares how fantastic the story is, if it’s difficult to follow, if it’s a slog to read, few people will get the the promise land. (I’m looking at you Dostoyevsky).
I love that moment when your eyes have gazed the last sentence of a great book, and when you close it, and revisit the cover. “I know all your secrets”, you whisper creepily. (Oh you don’t do that? Me neither).
When I read “Bossypants”, I appreciated the clean style, and I wanted to emulate it. And this is what Stephen King is talking about. If don’t read “good” writing, you won’t write well. You can’t just write in a bubble (though my team in currently working to build one for me), you have to know what is good–or bad, and construct your writing accordingly. And therefore, with limited time, you have to know your genre. In a pinch I go straight for non-fiction. I enjoy humorous essays, as you get a whole story in ten pages, and then can walk around for the rest of the day feeling smug because you actually read something besides celebrity tweets and the back of a Shreddies box. And then you have something to write about. And hopefully the writing improves as the pile of books on your nightstand grows higher. But maybe someone will develop my literature through osmosis idea, then you would be an unstoppable force, your head full of fact and fiction, with so much spare time to write for others to absorb.
That’s not a bad idea. When my bubble is complete, I’ll get my people on it.