Writing without Writing

Photo courtesy of Chapendra (flickr.com)

Standing at Elena’s crib, with my hand on her belly, gently jiggling her to sleep—and yawning big yawns myself—I pondered the next hour of my life.  I could do laundry.  I could do dishes.  I could do YARN stuff.  I could nap.

 

I could write.

Or nap.

Write.

Nap.

No, Kerri, really you should be writing.

Ah, yes.  Writing.  That thing I’m supposed to be doing.  Because I’m a writer.  If I’m not writing, how can I call myself a writer at all?

But at one in the afternoon, after getting up at five in the morning, the thought of writing seemed, well, exhausting.  But I had to write.  If I didn’t write, I would lose all respect for myself, and all contact with the story I’d been poking away at.  It was already fading in my memory.

Which was when I remembered.  There was some reading I had to do before I could really move forward with my story.

Reading, I sighed.  Yes, reading I could do.  As I left Elena blissfully snoozing, I felt a surge of energy as I went to grab myself a cup of tea so I could settle down under a blanket on the couch, with the book in question.  That was more like it!

And I was writing.  I’ve long considered reading to be a form of writing.  This is a more obvious connection when, as in the instance above, the reading is directly related to the writing project.  This is research reading, and if you want to know more about that, see Dorothy Hearst’s excellent essay on the topic, which we published a few weeks ago.

But when you’re a writer, all kinds of reading counts as writing.  Reading for your English or MFA class?  Definitely writing—especially because you’re going to discuss it in class and thus learn something about the way it was crafted that you can apply to your own work.  Reading a novel for book club—same thing.  Reading for YARN—similar thing, since I know that for me, the process of editing is intimately related to the process of writing (but that’s a subject for another blog).

What about reading for pure pleasure, you say?  For a writer, it’s still writing.  As long as, some time in between and/or after the hours you’ve spent wallowing in the pages, you ask yourself “Why did I like that so much?”  Or even “Why did I stop liking it on page 230?”  Or “Why did it drag in the middle then get better again?”  Or “Why didn’t the rest of the book live up to the promise of the first chapter?”  Or any other kind of craft question the book poses for you….then, my friend, you are writing.  Of course you also have to answer the question.  Every time you ask and answer a question like that for yourself, you are learning more about the craft of writing.  And that’s essential to your becoming a better writer.

This is all true in a global/general sense for your career as a writer, but in a more specific sense, it’s been while reading and answering questions like those that I’ve had some major breakthroughs with my own writing.  I’ll be reading, reading, reading…..and something about a character or scene will spark my imagination, and hey presto!, I have a solution to a problem in my own writing.

Of course, at some point, you also have to sit your butt down at the computer, put your hands on the keyboard, and type.  But sometimes even then, the typing can start out as reading—I heard or read once somewhere (can’t remember where any longer) about a writer who gets himself out of writer’s block by simply typing out the last page or paragraph of the novel he’s just been reading…And that sometimes unblocks him, gets him back in the groove.

Kerri Majors, EditorSo read.  And don’t feel guilty for taking time from the computer to do it.  It’ll help you in the long run.

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  1. Shannon Marshall says:

    This is so true! Reading teaches technique, inspires creativity and celebrates what we love to do!

    It’s fun too 🙂

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