I have a great friend who has been writing a science fiction novel for years, plotting and plodding, like writers do, especially those involved in such a big work. He was visiting recently with his family and I asked him, like fellow writers always do, how his project was coming along. He told me (it’s going well); and then we started to discuss what we were reading. He has just finished Pride and Prejudice. I love that! And it’s not what I was expecting my science fiction novelist writing buddy to be reading. But he is deliberate in his approach to reading fine things. He knows it impacts his writing.
I’m reading lots of stuff myself, but particularly enjoying Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration and the Artistic Process, edited by Joe Fassler. Here is a collection of essays by writers about reading, and the works that have inspired their own work the most, often narrowed down to the very three or four sentences that changed their writing lives forever and completely. “Forty-six of the most acclaimed and exciting authors working today answer a simple yet profound question: What inspires you?” says the back of the book.
The chapters are short, and I read them like treats. I recommend this book as a writer, but also as a reader. It has come to me recently more and more this thing everyone has always said — to write well we need to read well. Reading is an essential part of my writing, more than ever. I take time to read first, and time gives itself back to me double as a gift. If I don’t have a scrap of paper and a pen with me now as I’m reading, I get nervous and start to flail around to find one before I read too much. That’s because the ideas will almost certainly come. And if they don’t, well, then, I just enjoy my cup of tea and my book. The inspiration when it shows up, comes from the content itself, because I am deliberately learning as I read about a subject I am writing about. But ideas also arrive because of the beautiful words themselves. How they flow together, or how they bump up against each other in a traffic jam. How they rhyme or how they do not. And just the surprising thing they do, knocking on the door to a part of my brain and helping it make connections and come up with ideas for my own work. (That’s the scientific explanation).
I took notes the other day as I finished up Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder, a novel set in the Amazon that has nothing at all to do with anything I am working on, and probably never will, except it uses words of course. And very, very well and smoothly and beautifully.