There’s an old Russian joke that goes something like this:
A young student is applying to a prestigious Creative Writing program at a university, and the admission board is
quizzing him about the scope of his literary education.
"Have you read any Tolstoy?" they ask.
"No," says the student.
"How about Dostoyevsky?"
"Haven’t read him, either."
"Pushkin? Gogol? Chekhov?"
The student admits that he hasn’t read any of them. Exasperated, he cries out:
"Don’t you get it? I’m not a reader. I’m a WRITER!"
It’s safe to assume that, unlike the student in our joke, most folks who care enough to write fiction are already avid readers anyway. To become any good at all, one needs to be familiar with the classics – whether it’s Shakespeare and Joyce for a literary author, or Asimov and Tolkien for a spec fic scribe.
For me, at least, familiarity with the genre wasn’t the hard part. The concern was more along the lines of "Holy crap, this writing thing takes up a lot of my free time. You know, that time I used to spend reading books." I used to devour books, sometimes going through as many as 2-3 novels per week. And now … I just don’t. There’s never enough time. I’ve fallen so far behind on my reading that I haven’t even gotten to some of the books released by my favorite authors in late 2010.
Recently though, I discovered something wondrous. Whenever I find a little extra time to read, I also tend to write more. Reading fiction appears to help clear out my writer’s block better than any other activity. This past week I’ve been on a real reading binge, working my way through a terrific "Void" trilogy by Peter F. Hamilton.
Hamilton is a master of writing sweeping, intelligent space operas. His books burst with interesting ideas, are engaging, and nearly impossible to put down once the story really gets going. They are also, on average, the size of a phone book. Seriously, you can kill someone with those things. If I hadn’t been reading the Void trilogy on the Kindle, carrying the books around could be legitimately considered a rigorous physical activity. So as you can imagine, finishing the entire Book 2 and making significant inroads into Book 3 all in one week took a giant bite out of what little free time I can scrounge up these days.
And yet, I’m making better progress with my writing than I have in a long time. I finished a science fiction story and tackled a magical realism tale I’ve been pretending to work on for weeks; it’s almost done now. A fantasy short I submitted to the Shock Totem contest is back with readers’ feedback and I’m now finalizing edits on that one, too. It is entirely possible I will submit not one, not two, but three brand new stories to different magazines next week. And look – I’m even updating the blog today with this rather lengthy post.
This correlation between reading and writing is welcome news indeed. It gives me an excuse to try and carve out just a little more time each week to spend doing both, and that can’t be a bad thing.