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How Do You Read?

January 6, 2009

It’s a misconception that the creative process is actually creative. It is, rather, a process of reorganization and performance. The input comes from everything around us—our home, our family, our friends, our neuroses, our parent’s habits, our friend’s foibles, the bedroom from our childhood, the odd accent of our 3rd grade teacher…you get the picture.

The creative process is really just the way our minds (or souls…or what have you) filter, combine, splice, recombine, marinade, and ferment the various inputs, in the attempt to create something interesting. And while we do control the output to some degree, it’s also directly affected by what we choose to put into ourselves.

By design, this blog tends to focus on the output of the creative process; nurturing the fragile writer’s ego, to help us output something we will be happy with. But we shouldn’t neglect the input side of the equation. As writers the easiest way for us to influence the input into the creative process is by choosing what we read.

How do you choose what you read? Are you one of those who carefully choose the next few books? Or do you zip off in new directions on a whim? Is your reading list guided by the random fluctuations of the local library? Do you stick to one genre, or move freely between the sections of the bookstore?

There is a idiom in writing that you should read what you want to write, so it follows that if you want to write something particular, you should read books that will nudge you in that direction.

I tend to read in mad bursts. I’ve always been a heavy reader. Several years back—out of college, but before I had a family—I kept track of my reading for one year, and it amounted to 276 books. But from the time I arrived in Raleigh until April of last year I read almost nothing. Right now I’m on a tear, averaging about a book a day. If I find an author I like, I’ll probably read everything at the bookstore by them before moving on. Often, browsing the citations of an author will send me off a wild chase through a less-traveled area of the bookstore.

This leads to a rather disorganized bookshelf. My to read shelf is crammed with wildly disparate titles. And some books that I very much want to read, will sit untouched for months as my subconscious chases down one elusive idea or another. I just counted my to read shelf—72 books.

This all leads to a wild streak in my own writing—one I have yet to tame (and truthfully, I’m not sure I want to). I will simultaneously work of a humorous sword and sorcery story, a hard sci-fi, a psychedelic story about insomnia, and a character-driven non-genre short.

So, how do you read? And how does it affect your creative output?

4 Comments
  1. January 6, 2009 8:52 am

    I’m currently addicted to reading Young Adult books. It has been my dream for several years to develop a Young Adult series, so I am surrounding myself with these kind of books.

    And you’re right – I do tend to read what I write. Last year I wrote a novella about a medicinal herb garden and I read dozens of books on the subject!

  2. January 7, 2009 10:00 am

    Having 5 young children who are all homeschooled, I find that my reading is more of a slow and steady approach. I try to alternate between easier and shorter things, and longer more meaty books. For example, over Christmas I read Mr. Ives’ Christmas, then One Day In the Life of Ivan Denisovich, now reading The Things They Carried,/i>, next will be The Bridge of San Luis Rey and then Resurrection by Tolstoy…..which will then be followed by maybe a play,probably some literary non-fiction or a biography, and a few shorter or easier to read novels. And then perhaps a stab at Proust or Stendahl. I find that alternating helps me to not lose my momentum and end up with big chunks of time where I am not reading. And I MUST be reading, I kind of die a little when I am not reading enough.

    Reading doesn’t so much effect my creative output–that’s nearly all determined by external factors–how much stress there is, what stage the youngest child is in, whether or not I am pregnant or how well I am sleeping.

  3. January 8, 2009 11:53 pm

    I have a ready target of two books a month or 600 pages. I have a couple of books in mind that I want to read, but I go with recommendations from other people (my two favourite books from last year The Time Travellers Wife and Snow Crash came compliments of recommendations)

    While I was struggling with understanding how to create a sci-fi world it helped to read some books – Snow Crash being the best one (and most contemporary) to help me do it.

    I have noticed that what I write is influenced by what I read – especially if it’s the first pass by of an author or a genre (when I read 100 Years of Solitude for instance and my first brush with magical realism)

    The target came about from needing to make a committment to reading as part of my development as a writer.

  4. January 14, 2009 9:20 am

    I am a compulsive reader, reading about 2000 pages a month of nonfiction, fiction, young adult, and children’s books. But this has been to the detriment of my writing. I realize that to let go of the reading in order to let my writing “out”. I really am feeling that reading so much stifled my creativity.

    Of course, reading good writing also helps me learn what actually is good. I can see just how far I have to go….

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