12.19.2012

Seven Truths on the Art of Writing: Read Widely

Inspiration strikes, on occassion, in the oddest of circumstances. I was on the golf course last week, pretty much by myself, when I came across a perfect Bridgestone golf ball. Those balls aren't cheap, mind you. I picked it up and looked around. Nobody was eyeing it. Nobody wanted to claim it. I turned it around in the palm of my hand--not a scuff or a scratch or a dented dimple in sight.

I left it out there.

And I just don't do that. I pick up every golf ball that is legally and ethically retrievable. Even the nasties go into a sack of shags I keep in the garage for practicing with at the park. 

But given the bizarre set of circumstances (the ball was sitting on the collar of the green; I mean, that thing was on a silver platter!), I left it.

Why?

I scared myself. I thought of an explanation for why it might be there, and I left it. Stupid? Hell yes it was. But I got a great story idea out of it, and that's the lesson there. Inspiration comes when it comes, and that's what makes life so great. That variability is why each day is a treat.

But what about when you're actively searching for something? Well, the advice that is ubiquitous in writing circles is that a writer needs to read to write. Alas, I'll tell you nothing different here. I read every day and find it as necessary as getting some physical exercise, so it's not an issue for me.

But it always strikes me as strange when students complain about the reading load in the first week of a new literature section.

Yes...you read that correctly. They complain about the reading load in a college literature course. A course they signed up for, presumably, after reading the course description. A course they paid tuition for. A course they purchased books for.

What in the...?

Sorry for the digression.  One shouldn't just read in his or her genre, in my view. That's important for a number of reasons, but so is incorporating variety. I try to build in some nonfiction (usually history and true adventure) in my personal TBR pile. This past year, I read a lot of scholarship. I read thrillers and mysteries. I read gonzo regional literature by folks like Dorsey and Hiaasen. I read tons of cookbooks (and I even make some decent meals!).

But all of that reading coalesces into something akin to the creative rains that stock a writer's personal well. You're not dipping from the work of others by visiting that well (at least no more than they were when they were doing the work on their end, at least). No, you're just satiating the storytelling impulse. Your own tale will be unique, but if the well is dry, than I doubt it's all that interesting... 

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