One of my favorite pieces of reading and writing advice comes from the master of Southern gothic lit, William Faulkner. His advice is plain and simple: “Read, read, read. Read everything —trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.”
Thing is, I’ve been doing a phenomenally lousy job of reading lately. I haven’t read anything in over two months, and for someone who’s never been without a book in his hand since he could read, that’s saying a lot. There’s a reason for that: I’m neck-deep in getting this GODDAMNED WORK-IN-PROGRESS FINISHED ONCE AND FOR GODDAMNED ALL, and I’m wanting to concentrate on writing, not reading. Plus, I’m worried about being “influenced” while I’m writing.
Let me explain: the last book I was reading (not finished) was The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner. I was looking forward to reading this novel, and while I wasn’t quite hooked by the first couple of chapters, something about the opening chapter must have stuck inside me. I later found myself writing something in my work-in-progress that sounded unlike anything I’d written before, and I didn’t like it at all. I didn’t feel like it was anything I would have written.
I realized I basically re-wrote the entire first chapter of The Flamethrowers.
This wasn’t the first time I’d been influenced by a book I was reading at the time, and that influence poured into my writing. And I don’t like it. Some writers may not mind that, especially if they’re reading the works of the writers they most admire. But I haven’t been doing that, it seems.
(Oh, there’s an idea: read some of the works that have inspired you, and maybe that’ll help you’re writing. There. Problem solved. Stop blogging now. Shut up and write already.)
So, until this draft is finished and ready for final edits, I’m laying off any and all reading of novels. I’m going about my writing with just my wits and what I’ve managed to collect over the years. I’m learning to trust my instincts rather than subconsciously try to mimic what I might have just read in the last chapter of the latest Haruki Murakami novel.
I didn’t say, however, I was forsaking all reading, just reading novels. I am reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird (seriously, I think all writers will end up reading this one; it’s like a rite of passage), and The Artist’s Way is sitting on my desk, waiting for me to tear it open. So it’s not like I’m being a complete novel celibate until my novel is finished.
I’m not crazy, am I? This makes sense, right? I mean, go on, tell me I’m going about this strangely. I can take it. Or tell me I taking the right approach. I can take it as well.
Either way, I’m taking a novel-reading break. And that means I might even have to swear off reading Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which comes out next week. Ugh. But, if anything, I better have my novel finished by September, because there’s a trio of novels coming out that month I can’t fucking WAIT to read: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King, MaddAdam by Margaret Atwood, and Bleeding Edge, by Thomas Pynchon.
Seriously, I’m not cray cray, right?