Quit reading

The other day on Facebook, I noticed another writer post something along the lines that they were done reading for the year; now was the time to write.

A few years ago, I worked through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, a 12 week program to getting connected again with your artist self. It was extremely helpful to me at that point in my life, and I even did a modified version of it the following year. It’s always something I go back to when I feel stuck.

Julia Cameron recommends a week-long reading deprivation. No books. No magazines. No e-mails. No blogs. No Facebook. No Twitter. No texts. Instead of filling our well with the words of others, we give ourselves the space to fill it with our own. “In a dark time, the eye begins to see,” Rotheke said.

After the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, I wrote in a flood. I wrote a lot of long and winding poems about a couple who tried for a long time to get pregnant only to start have recurring miscarriages. It was a sad and lovely set of poems, but they couldn’t sustain. I couldn’t write that sort of sadness forever, especially when my life is/was so filled with beauty and joy. So I stopped, but I felt all this jilted momentum, of, “Well, what next???”

So I started a novel. I have the outline. I have the characters. I have a few scraps I’ve strung together for a couple of chapters. But then I hit another wall. “I’ve never written a novel before. I need to read more.” I started reading, and as soon as I started reading, I stopped writing. I also started criticizing. “could have written this book better.” “This person wrote seven more books just like this?” “They got how much of an advance?”

As soon as I read my fellow writer’s post on Facebook, I knew I needed to stop reading. I needed to give myself the space–the clunky, awkward, this is never going to be good space– to muddle through the novel I’m loving writing, and just like that, the words returned.

To say I’m writing in scraps is a good explanation. I’m writing scenes, more like, but scenes that are all going somewhere. I wrote several today that occur near the end of the book, for example, while everything else I’ve written was nearer the front. I kept trying to force myself to see this writing process as something linear: I start with chapter one and just write forward! But that’s not how I write. I’m making all the parts and will need to add in the glue later.

For right now, I’m done with reading. I’m enjoying the space where instead of curling up with a book, I write, I have a dance party, I decorate my house for Christmas, I sing lots of songs loudly and badly, I remember that despite this seemingly record of rejection I’ve had this past month from literary journals and manuscript contests, I’m heading in the direction I want to go.

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