My mother read to me as a child. Actually, she was reading to me while I was still a fetus. I had an early and passionate love of reading as a child, teenager, and young adult. I read almost anything and everything. I wrote little stories and poems.
But when I started college full time at 21 years old, I stopped reading. There was so much to read for classes that I stopped reading for my own pleasure. I stopped reading what I wanted.
As college wore on, I got burnt out on reading altogether. My attention span wasn’t what it was. Even after I graduated, I found it difficult to read. The only thing that I read every now and then was fan fiction. Only because they were quick and easy reads, plots involving already established and beloved characters.
I wasn’t writing much either. I wrote on the side throughout college. Much like reading, though, writing paper after paper for class stole a lot of my drive to do it for myself. For almost 3 years after I graduated, I rarely wrote. At the time, I thought I had been writing all along.
Recently, when I looked back over my notebooks from those years, they contained only doodles, to-do lists, bucket lists and itineraries for elaborate road trips. I felt a little like John Forbes Nash Jr. in A Beautiful Mind. All that scribbling and work and research turned out to be meaningless and made me look like a crazy person.
Only in the past 6 months have I been writing regularly and even polishing off finished pieces. But I still couldn’t get myself to read. Getting a library card was number one on my noncrazy to-do list. Even though I read oodles of articles online every day, all day; I couldn’t sit down with an actual book. No novels or collection of shorts, poetry or essays.
Online, I follow literary journals and authors, MFA graduates and writing professors. Over and over I saw the same advice, the same command: Read and write, read and write, read and write. Besides writing, read all that you can. You can’t write if you don’t read. You can’t be a good writer if you’re not a good reader.
I became more and more overwhelmed with each advice-containing article I read. I felt behind and left out. I felt guilty for saying that I liked to read but knowing I wasn’t doing so. I believed I was a terrible writer since I didn’t read. I was afraid other writers would shun me. I’d read articles and interviews with authors, some older, some younger and they would list all their favorite writers. And mostly I couldn’t recognize one name. I truly believed I was a big, fat fraud.
Like many big changes I make in my life, they more or less happen around my birthday. It has the same effect on my older sister of 3 years. Her birthday is 11 days before mine. So in February of this year, she made a re-commitment to reading. She too had lost her way. She read Anne of Green Gables and after weeks of pestering, I relented and read it too.
Something about L.M. Montgomery and the character of Anne Shirley just made me want to read more. And so with a fever, I started to read everything I could. I got a library card and in a month’s time, I had read 8 books.
It was too much, too soon. I should have started out slow. I got a little ahead of myself.
I currently have 17 books checked out. Most of which I’ve had to renew already. (At my local library, a person may renew their book up to 3 times.) So now I’m slowly reading the books I have; having to return a couple before I could even start reading them. (Another policy is a person can’t renew a book if someone else has put it on hold.) So at the moment, I’m a little burnt out.
A little side note: A habit I have recently started is while reading articles, if I see names of authors, I write them down to read their work later on. All this reading and research makes me feel like I’m back in school. It feels kind of nice. I like learning. Now I feel like maybe I can discuss things with others and not feel like a total dum dum.
My writing has improved and grown on its own without constantly reading. I still write more than I read. When I read and read and read, I actually don’t write anything. I feel a day has to be spent on one or the other. Maybe that’s only me? Reading distracts me from writing.
As far as the influence on my writing, it really hasn’t made much of a dent. I can read beautiful words and feel somewhat inspired but it doesn’t have a huge impact.
Now I’m left wondering if that’s an appropriate response or not. Am I doing something wrong? Is reading supposed to be shaping and changing my writing in some way? It’s not like I’m not letting it.
I mostly write poetry. I’m reading both classic and contemporary poetry and turns out, much of the contemporary stuff sounds similar to mine. Some of it makes me feel like I’m wasting my time being a writer because it’s so good but others just make me go, ‘Why are they published and I’m not?’
I’m tackling more of the contemporary. I want to see what’s going on inside the writing world—a world that I’m trying to break into. There are still many classics I haven’t touched. The classics will take a while. There’s so many of them, it makes my head spin.
I’m still trying to find my groove. Write a lot every day and then read a little bit every day. Maybe write a lot in the mornings and read a little in the evenings. It’s a slow start to forming a habit.
Now my advice to others that have found themselves in my predicament: If you want to write then do so. If you’re not a big reader, don’t fret. Maybe start reading little by little. Even if it’s a page at night before you turn in. Read enough to keep up.
Some people are condescending and smug. Some people are assholes and make you feel stupid and inferior if you don’t read as much as they do. At least, if you are a writer and you read some, you can say you do indeed write AND read. Do it for yourself so you have one less thing to beat yourself up over.
It is a small victory to have rediscovered a love of reading and to recommit myself back to writing. And to do so consistently. It’s as if after a terrible, long and lonely journey, I have found my way back to my first love.