When Writing Precludes Reading

One of my favorite movies is Quills, the 2000 film about the Marquis de Sade. I first watched it when I was fifteen, and it’s been one of my favorites ever since.

A line that always stuck with me was uttered during one of Abbé de Coulmier’s many arguments with the Marquis. He notes the irony of the Marquis himself barely reading, and classifies him with disdain as “a writer who writes more than he reads.”

That quote stuck with me as excellent writing advice, and over the past 16 years since I saw the film ( … damn …), I’ve read and written in a ratio of roughly 5:1. I am a voracious reader. I move in ebbs and flows in terms of how much I read, but on average, I can read a book a week when I’m otherwise unoccupied. I read on the metro, at the gym, and before I go to bed. I check out 4-5 books at a time from the library, because otherwise I run out of reading material too quickly.

This was the case until roughly September 2016, when I started Please Give.

Since then, it has taken me weeks to finish a book I would’ve finished in less than a week. The last book I finished, Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run, would’ve taken me 2-3 weeks, and it took me three months. It’s an odd feeling, as one of the reasons I read so quickly is because the urge to read just comes to me. I love to read. I feel incomplete without a book in my hands.

I suppose one fixation supplanted another, as now I feel incomplete if I go a day without writing. I daydream about my stories while I ride the elliptical at the gym. I type up passages on the metro on my way to work. I write, revise, and read my stories before going to bed. I’ve replaced the stories I read with the stories I’m creating.

However, there’s a part of me that know the stories I’m creating wouldn’t be there without the stories I’ve read. As such, I am trying my damndest to still read, even when I have to turn off the story I’m writing in order to focus on the story I’m reading. I fully believe it’s important to have both in your life at once, even as one competes for the attention of the other.

Right now, I’m reading Stephen King’s On Writing, which my parents gave me for my birthday. It’s admittedly easier to focus on memoirs and nonfiction while I write my fiction pieces. I also hope to read Roxane Gay’s Difficult Women once my library gets me a copy (I’m currently 14th in line on a hold list). Sometimes, taking a break from my own words helps those words flow more freely when I return to my drafts. As such, I try very hard to take the Abbe’s advice and try not to write more than I read.

If you have any book recommendations, let me know — I’ll respond with a book recommendation in kind!

3 thoughts on “When Writing Precludes Reading

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