Continuing Literature Education

I’ve been off the reservation for a while, but not in the fun, action movie sort of do my own shit kind of way. I’ve mostly been writing and reading. Well, I was writing until Becky and Spenser and I took a trip to Vegas at the end of March. I didn’t write much while we were gone and when I did, I started to see some problems with the plot that needed immediate work. All of my supporting characters were off doing cool stuff and getting into shit and propelling the plot along while my main character and his girlfriend sat in a casino and didn’t do much else. So I tried a couple different ways to get them out of the casino and I think I finally found one that works and I’m back to where I left off before we went to Vegas.

Vegas was interesting. I was kind of disappointed while I was there, it didn’t at all live up to the vision I had in my head, but since I’ve been back I’ve missed it and think about ways I can get back. What I’d really like to do is go back and do Vegas the way your supposed to. With a lot of money. Get a nice car to ride from the airport to the fancy hotel. Stay in a suite. Play the high limit tables and get good seats to a show. That may be a bit off in the future though.

Today though, I was thinking about something at lunch that I wanted to talk about and thought this might be the place to do it. Somebody I work with commented on how much I read and asked how I found the time. I explained it in relation to our workplace. The doctors we work with have to do so much Continuing Education to maintain their licenses. This helps them keep up to date with the latest techniques and skills and keeps them fresh. That’s what reading does for a writer.

You can read all of the blogs you want and read the trade magazines and Writer’s Digest and all of that, but the only way to really know what’s being done in the world of fiction is to get out there and read fiction. And not just in your own genre. See what they’re doing in sci-fi, fantasy, romance, memoir, whatever. I never understood the bullshit about writers who don’t read or who stop reading fiction once they start publishing. The minute you aren’t aware of what’s being done currently is the minute you start the slip toward stale, rehashed prose.

So while I’ll agree that for a writer, writing every day is important, I think reading every day is even more important. Harlan Coben calls it filling the vessel. He says that at the end of writing a book his vessel is empty and he needs to refill it by reading and seeing movies and going to plays at looking at art. You can write a hundred pages every day, but unless those pages are coming from someplace deep inside you, someplace filled with material from your reading, the sentences will fail.

A while ago on one of the blogs or another, Paul Guyot got chided for a comment that I think was spot on. He said (and I’m paraphrasing here with a crappy memory) that anyone who has to ask where a writer gets their ideas from will never be a writer. He said writers become writers because the ideas bubble around and jack up the brain so much that they just have to come out and writing is the only way to do that. And I think the only way you get those ideas bubbling is by reading. Every day.

End Public Service Announcement.