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.
I 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.