I’m a Writer Who’s Struggling to be a Reader
(Or how I plan to fall back in love with books)
Stephen King wrote that ‘If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.’
And he should know, right?
I remember reading Ernest Hemingway’s ‘Hills Like White Elephants’ just as I was starting to write short fiction and it was a lightbulb moment: THIS! I thought. This is how I want to write.
Reading is important when you’re a writer. It’s a cliche, of course, but the best advice often is. It’s true, too, and I know that by reading widely, voraciously, I’ll be able to develop my own style and become more proficient at saying what I mean. Ultimately, I’ll be able to create better stories and characters. I’ll become a better writer.
And anyway, reading a book is cheaper than an MA.
I often forget to read.
I’ve gone book-blind.
It’s not even as if I don’t have the time. I do. I’m in a reading group for Christ sake.
When I do pick up a book my mind wanders. The chair is uncomfortable. The mood is just not quite right. I’d better just put it down instead. I fall asleep half a page in. I could go months without reading. I HAVE gone months without reading. Cousin Bette by Balzac has been sitting on my bedside table for 8 weeks and I’m only on page 40. There’s nothing wrong with it. The prose is beautiful but I just can’t pick it up for more than 5 minutes at a time. I leave it and it stays left.
I’d rather own up to some sordid addiction than own up to this: that I’m a writer who seems to take no joy from reading.
I think that my current atrophy could be down to a number of things.
- I’ve forgotten how to be a reader. In trying to understand how to be a better writer I’m approaching novels as if they’re textbooks and lessons to be endured not enjoyed.
- I don’t make the time to read. Sometimes, I’ll start reading just before I go to sleep but it’s often without any real enthusiasm.
- I’m intimidated by the list of must-reads I’ve compiled in my diary and most have been picked from literary prize shortlists. They’re the should-reads rather than the books that I think I’ll enjoy.
- I’m out of the habit of reading. I forget that I can and that I should. I get too much short-term satisfaction from other distractions like Netflix and Twitter. The book is harder work.
Fortunately, there have been a few changes in my life recently. Good changes, really, ones that have allowed me to see things a little clearer. I’ve actually gone quite zen, and I think meditation and yoga and mindfulness have helped to slow my mind down a little. I think they’ve freed up some space and some will for reading.
I’ve realized that if I want to start reading again then the solution is simple: I just have to pick up a book and do it. The reasons that I stopped can’t justify why I shouldn’t start again and the only person that’s making this an issue is me.
I can fix this.
- I’m going to use the library again.
- I’m not going to take a list in with me. I’m going to browse. I’m going to see what takes my fancy on the day.
- I’m not going to read anything that’s been shortlisted for a literary prize unless it genuinely appeals to me. I don’t care how trashy what I’m picking out is either.
- I’m going to make time to read. I’m going to build-in a reading time to my schedule so that I have a reminder until it becomes a habit again.
- A book has 50 pages to get good and then it’s gone.
- I’m going to be a reader first and a student second. I’m only taking notes if the earth moves.
- One book (or maybe two) taken out of the library at a time.
- I’m going to take it page-by-page.
That’s the plan. I’m going to fall back in love with reading. I want to be the person who carries a book everywhere in their bag. When I’m sitting on a bus or train or when I’m waiting in the pub or a cafe for friends I want to reach for a paperback, not my phone. I want to be a reader again.
Wish me luck :)