The Importance of Reading

When writing it’s easy to get micro-focused on the word count. Numbers are good and can  give you a feeling of accomplishment, but don’t lose the forest for the trees. You hear all the time that a big problem with writers is their failure to “butt their butts in the chair and write.” While that is true for some, it’s also important that doing “non-writing’ things are not only helpful but necessary both to inspire and increase word count.

When I was younger, I played a lot of tennis.  Playing someone less skilled than myself did nothing to help my game. It’s only when I played someone better (and there were many that fit that bill) that I would work harder and learn from watching what they did. As a writer I do similarly by reading.

I can’t read books like I used to…for pure enjoyment…now when I sit down with a book I see past the words at what the author was doing – like being a magician and watching magic shows, I look where others don’t and see the slight of hand. I’m a self-taught writer. I didn’t go to college for writing, and my first post high school collegiate experience in the area of  literature was a single class at George Washington University that I attended only because it was the prize for a competition. I wanted to see what I had been missing. Besides, I’ve always idealized “university life” so getting off the Metro in the heart of DC and hanging with the other “students” at the local coffee shop was a fun distraction in the dead of winter.

Now that I’m finally getting into my rhythm with Rhune, I’m returning to my old routines.  Part of that routine is reading, both for inspiration and for motivation. In addition to Stephen King’s The Dome, which reminds me to reveal the story through the characters living it, I’m also reading Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. It’s probably the longest read I’ve ever done,  because I’m rationing it. I force myself to take just small bites, so that I can make it last as long as possible. I find the writing amazing, especially in its simplicity. Reading it makes me want to be a better writer.

Steve Jobs once said (or maybe he said it often), “It comes down to trying to expose yourself to the best things that humans have done, and then try to bring those things in to what you are doing.”  And that’s how I feel about what Roberts created.  So I guess my message for the day for any aspiring authors out there, to take the time and find your own Shantaram, that work that inspires and motivates you.  You’ll be glad you did and your writing will be better for it.

On to Chapter 5…

Perks of the Profession

My house was a disaster area.  I’m not talking about messy, but starting to border on unlivable.  My wife has been tied up with a number of things and hasn’t been able to do much of anything.  My daughter is visiting a friend in Japan, and my son has taken ill and as such is sleeping around the clock.  I’ve been trying to get into a rhythm and that left pretty much nobody when usually there are multiple contingencies for pitching in and getting things cleaned up.

For over thirty years, I was the stay-at-home dad and since my wife was working very long, hard hours at an extremely high-pressure job I made sure that she never had to do anything when she came home.  She often told our friends that she felt like a “husband of the fifties” arriving home with dinner on the table and no cares for the evening except maybe unwinding watching some television.

Once my wife quit her day job, the roles have started to reverse themselves.  It hasn’t been easy for Robin, she’s been pampered for a long time so we’ve shared the various household tasks. But nowadays she wants to keep me writing (and since that’s what I want to do it works out well).

So, yesterday, I came down and plugged in my iphone to the speakers, an indication I was about to roll up my sleeves when my wife stopped me.  She was in the middle of doing a final review of the copy edits for the Rose and Thorn, highlighting areas that I needed to address and accepting/rejecting the “easy stuff.  She told me to go write, that I’d have the file to edit in a few hours, ad then she would be cleaning up.

Not having to ask me twice, I went to my office and started back at Chapter 4.  I decided to add a new (unscheduled section) to it because the first section was more or less a “setup” for the excitement of the last section but I didn’t want them to go back to back.  I had no idea what I was going to put there, so a walk through the woods got that going.

With the morning dedicated to writing new stuff, I had the afternoon to go over the edits for The Rose and Thorn.  Between my exceptional copy editor at Orbit, and the groundwork my wife did, it was easy to  go through.  While I made my way through the file my wife swept, dusted, and scrubbed my office and adjoining bathroom, then moved on to other areas of the house.  From time to time I’d call her in to ask a question.  Evening game and she had a baked chicken dinner waiting for me.  Hmmmm I thought, this seemed vaguely familiar…and nice.

I now find myself in the position that when I start to “do things around the house” my wife shoos me away.  Considering my writing (for my books, blogs, and online sites)  is what I like to to the best, I’m pretty happy with that arrangement.

So I’m now starting to feel like the pampered one…not such a bad thing.  Well that’s it for now. Chapter 4 section 3 is calling to me.  For all the writers out there I hope you have a “significant other” in your life that likes reading your stuff so much that they try to chain you to your desk.  It’s a briar patch I highly recommend being thrown into.

And on the seventh day, he rested…

sullivanspub

For six days of the week, I’m primarily focused on getting words on the page. I’m concentrating on my word count (whether editing or writing new stuff) and getting the book that much closer to the finish lines. But Wednesday is a special day for me.  Usually I won’t schedule interviews or worry about word count (although I might get some down in the morning). But the main point for Wednesday is to give me a break so that I can “think.”

Wednesday is my day out.  It doesn’t matter how cold, rainy or nasty it is out, because although I may dread it while sitting in the confines of my cozy office, I’m always glad I did it after I finally step out the door.  I have about a mile’s walk (maybe a bit less) from my house to the Metro station and it’s a nice one.  It goes through a forest, over a stream, then down a pedestrian path used by bikers and walkers to commute.  This is great “me” time and I generally am either running over what I’ve written over the past week, or thinking about what is coming up next and planning for that.

I never take a laptop, and even though I have my ipad I almost never use it. This is a time for pen and notebook.  For jotting down things and letting my mind make connections.  If I leave the house early in the day I’ll go to North Side Social (a coffee shop in Clarendon) or Iota (another local haunt best known for its music).  For some reason being out keeps my mind awake (as if I’m home I’ll get drowsy in the late afternoon.

Come evening, I’ll head to O’Sullivan’s (no relation) and get a Guinness and some dinner.  I know everyone there, a very “Cheers” like atmosphere for those that are old enough to remember the old television show (maybe it runs on Nick at Night).  I might make some more notes, or chat with whoever’s there.  There are many who know I go there on Wednesday so often a fellow writer will stop by and we’ll chat.  It’s also my “writer’s group” night so I’ll sometimes go there to offer input on someone work’s that’s being critiqued.

All in all, my “day off” is usually my most productive and it either clears a roadblock or paves the way for the next week’s writing. I’m not sure if such a technique will work for others but I’d thought I’d at least put it out there.