Writing & Reading

I’m reading two novels right now. One by Virginia Woolf called The Voyage Out which is free on Kindle…I checked and Woolf’s A Writer’s Diary, from where I snagged my blog title in complete homage to Woolf’s fabulous book for writers, is not free, darn it!

The other is an actual hardcover book, Alice Hoffman’s latest. Both of these novels have a  dreamy stream-of-consciousness tone. Both are short on plot and long on exquisite inner conflict and rich vivid descriptions of the settings. 

Since neither book is anything like what I write, I assumed it was safe to read them while simultaneously revising one of my own WsIP. I’ve read so many times, off-hand comments by published novelists that they do not read fiction while they are working on a book. I never knew how that could be possible. I love reading fiction and could not give it up for more than a day or so. And even then, I’d miss it.

I used to wonder, how could writers notread? Maybe they are scrupulous and worry they will unintentionally plagiarize. Or pick up another writer’s voice. I’ve never worried about those things. And I need novels like I need to breathe.

But this time, this revision, I can kind of understand another reason why it might be good to stick to your own work while you’re working. Maybe the kind of immersion that brings would keep me from feeling like I have to read my ms. all in one sitting, all in one day. If I don’t do that, especially after a number of revisions, I can’t remember the exact sequence of events.

I’ve tried outlining as I go but sometimes it’s the little things that get lost if a writer doesn’t keep perfect continuity. And I can see how reading a couple other novels (or even one!) while you’re working on your own might distract the mind just enough to throw a writer off her game. I kind of get that now. But also I cannot imagine going for weeks or months without reading a novel. Dilemma!

I have never been one to write all day and into the night hours. I write for several hours in the morning and then I break to attend to the rest of my life, which always includes reading. Novels, magazines, blogs, memoirs, books of essays, self-help, whatever! Reading is the way I relax. Writing is about pointed concentration. Reading is letting go.

But I get it now. Some writers don’t want to let go. They need to ride the wave of their own story to its conclusion without distraction. I admire these authors the way I admire friends who successfully finish weight loss programs. Still, for me, it’s just….guess I need the ice cream.


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