A Worrying Confession

Sometimes I think I don’t like books enough to be an author.

They say the best way to be a good writer is to read everything in sight, including the work of your contemporaries, because that’s how you know what sells and what doesn’t, but that’s just not me.  While I might be familiar with the hottest names in my genre, mostly through Twitter, the agents and publishers that are promoting them seem to have an all-consuming enthusiasm for books that I lack.

lotusI can’t remember the last book I read that wasn’t my own.  I’ve been writing The Spoil for a year solid, and for two years before that, I was so addled by other things that I was unable to keep my eyes on a page.  I have no interest in the paranormal, in urban fantasy, in other people’s characterizations of the perfect kick-ass woman with her uncanny lack of everyday flaws.  I gave away three dozen books while moving without any emotional strain.  I don’t even watch Game of Thrones, nor have I read the books (and I can’t even tell you how much flack I get for that).

My excuse – no, it’s a valid reason, I think – is that I can’t read or watch fantasy while I’m trying to write it.  I can’t have other people’s ideas in my head, because I’ll run with them, and some people call that plagiary.  So I lock myself in a little mental bunker and pretend other books and other authors just don’t exist.  It also helps keep the jealousy monsters at bay, as long as we’re being honest.  Hearing about other people’s successes can be discouraging when you’ve been staring at the same half-formed sentence for six weeks, convinced that you should just go crawl into a hole and cry.

That’s not to say I don’t have a strong literary foundation, or that I don’t know anything about the industry.  I spent my entire teenage decade reading voraciously, soaking up ideas and cadences, myths and sorrows and words and action scenes, living in imaginary worlds that were far more attractive than my 10th grade English class (sorry, Mr. Perry, but you know what you did).

But I also spent those years convinced that I would never be able to write.  Maybe I just didn’t have the discipline; maybe I was afraid.  Of failure.  Of losing my tenuous grip on the real world.  Of being mocked.  Of not being any better than the people I did mock.  I got a B in my creative writing class in college because I couldn’t critique my fellow students’ short stories without being incredibly frustrated and more than a little mean, so I just didn’t hand in my homework.  I have since found a way to moderate myself in such situations and actually be constructive, but that was a lesson that took a lot of time and effort to learn.

Now I write.  I write a lot, and convince myself it’s okay that I don’t read.  But it still bothers me that I don’t spend time in the bookstore, even while desperately hoping that I join all those authors on the shelves someday.  I don’t keep a paperback in my purse to read at lunch.  I don’t have stacks of non-fiction volumes propping up my ceiling.  My Kindle is empty, and gone are the days of sneaking some snacks up to my room and staying awake with a story until 3 in the morning.  Now, when I’m up until the wee hours of the night, it’s because my own stories are filling my head.  I’m producing, instead of consuming, and maybe there isn’t anything wrong with that.  Maybe it’s just one more quirk to add to my list: I can only have the switch flipped one way, while most people can do both.

Am I the only one?  Am I selling myself short?  Or should I just stop freaking out and finish my manuscript already?  Yeah, I think I know the answer to that last one.  I’m almost there.  Really.  Shush, you.

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7 thoughts on “A Worrying Confession

  1. I think your thoughts and feelings on this are quite valid, and, thought provoking. I purposely DO NOT read magical realism for similar reasons: I just can’t let the originality of my magical realism be tainted in any way whatsoever. But I still read every OTHER thing that I can get my hands on that is, per say, of literary quality. You should read, “On Writing,” by Stephen King (I am about to review it, actually). He argues that a writer MUST read voraciously in order to evolve as needed; we must “cultivate” ourselves, after all. Don’t you ever fear that you will cease to grow rapidly toward that “great authorness” that I sense is inside you? Miss out on mind-opening ideas and techniques that could explode your own writing? I will jump from contemporary books, to classic to books (just read “Crime and Punishment” … yes, I know I’m nuts) and on books on writing (see my review of Donald Maass’s book on Amazon, “The Breakout Novelist:” http://www.amazon.com/The-Breakout-Novelist-Strategies-Fiction/product-reviews/1582979901/ref=cm_cr_pr_top_recent?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=0&sortBy=bySubmissionDateDescending)

    I found an article about you on Createspace, and, I was so impressed with your growing determination and success as a self-published author, and, by your award-winning novel premise and book cover, that I bought your book. I am reading “The Sound and The Fury” by Faulkner now, and, guess who’s book I’m reading next?!

    Well … like your blog very much. Keep up the great work!

    Yours in literature,
    Jesse Giles Christiansen.

    • Thanks, Jesse! I appreciate you taking a chance on my novel.

      I guess I just feel like I need to dig deep and find what I need inside rather than look for it externally. I’m not so interested in evolving as in perfecting the voice that I enjoy using right now. Putting on the blinders helps focus me. I need less input in order to function, not more. No offense to Stephen King, but I think that’s just what works for me right now.

  2. Well, I look forward to reading your book and to perceiving via the voice that you are evolving. And, with your permission, I would like to blog on this very topic in the future … maybe even take a survey on what other writers think about this. I do think that the idea of drawing from within solely and creating a certain author vocal purity does have its intriguing merits (makes me think of Rene Descartes’s philosophy applied to authorship). Definitely do what works for you!

    Just on a side topic, because now I am so curious (no hurry responding at all). Do you believe in a mind-external reality? Or that perception is reality, for the most part? Hmm …

    Have a great day and enjoy working on your new novel! Which reminds me, I need to work on my book now! (A prequel to a book that my agent is shopping among publishers now).

    Yours in literature,
    J.G.C.

  3. For what it’s worth, I have the same experience. Writing fiction seems to require total immersion that undermines my interest in other fiction, especially when the plot and characters I’m working on are complicated.

  4. I’m pretty much the same way. I don’t read a lot of fiction, and when I do it’s usually the same few series over and over again. While I was writing my book I even avoided watching TV shows of the same genre because I didn’t want to be “contaminated” by other people’s ideas.

  5. I have the same struggle. I generally start to pick up the voice of authors I’m reading, but I try to use that to my advantage. But yes, get that manuscript done. Just write and spit it out 🙂

  6. Agreed~ sometimes I think I am a bit too malleable, and would be influenced or thrown off track if we were reading a similar work. I totally get where you’re coming from on this. I think some people are methodical process writers (have rules, use rules, like rules) and others are more free spirited and flow or fly-with-it types. I don’t think either is wrong, unless you are trying to write in a way you weren’t “built” for.

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