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5 Things Writing Has Taught Me About Reading

We like to conduct ourselves with a modicum of discretion and professionalism here at Bookstr, which logically entails a strict fidelity to protecting our writers’ anonymity. It also means we try to write objectively, and without bias. However, if I may transgress this ethic for the sake of the article, I do not think it too unscrupulous of me to reveal, that I, as in Myself (that’s right capital m) occasionally write in my spare time. Phew, what a load off. If you can forgive me for my obscene lack of decorum, here are 5 things writing has taught me about reading.  

When you’re tired of one, you wanna do the other:

If I can get didactic for a second, I do think anyone who aspires to produce great writing has to be perpetually reading, even when they would rather do something else. It’s kind of a crude analogy, but you might think of it like the digestive system. If you read too much, eventually you’ll feel the urge to expel all that information and language through your own brand. Once you’re empty of inspiration, it’s only natural to go back to the shelf. That’s why I’ve found that when I’m tired of reading, I write. And vice-verse.  

The best writing feels like reading:

To put it in obscenely simple terms, good fiction is about getting a reader to feel what you felt during a moment of sublime inspiration, whether that moment lasted 5 minutes or 5 days. Whether it is profound sadness, elation, or a full blown prophecy, it may take years for you to produce a piece of writing that gets anywhere near pure feeling. What I have found is that a good metric for gauging whether you are on to something, is how much your experience of writing has in common with a memorable reading experience. When I am doing what feels like good work, I am excited to know what happens next. I care about the characters. I enjoy living in the world on the page. I want to know how it will all end, but I don’t want it to end. And most importantly, I feel like I am reading as I am writing. 

Appreciate every sentence:

There’s a theory in musical theater that goes something like this: You want all of you scripted scenes to look improvised, and all of your improvised scenes to look scripted. In that same vain, there is an old saying about good writing that says the best reading is the hardest writing. I think that’s true in any artistic field. If the audience or reader can sense a tremendous effort beyond the page, then the artist has not exactly done their job. I find myself going to extreme lengths, spending months at a time on single pages, just to make it enjoyable for myself. When I do this, I find I’m much less likely to gloss over things in other books. When you yourself are making the stuff, you continuously learn that fiction REALLY comes from nothing, and it REALLY happens one word at a time. 

Books are supposed to be enjoyable:

Following the logic of #2, the fun you have while writing hopefully comes across on the page. So if you’re not having any fun at all, it’s hard to imagine a potential reader would. This is enlightening as a reader, who is constantly inundated by prescriptions regarding what is necessary reading. If you’re totally exhausting yourself trying to enjoy a ‘good’ book, it’s either not the right time, or the book is just not that good.  

You may read them left to right, but they don’t always happen that way:

I’ve always wondered how it is I am able to pick up a book and read a favorite passage or two, devoid of context, yet still have as visceral experience as I had upon reading it the first time. That is to say, the best writing seems to have an energy contained unto itself, and I don’t think I understood why until I started seriously writing. I could never have foreseen just how convoluted and backwards the writing process could be. For me, it certainly doesn’t happen beginning to end, or left to right. I feel more like I’m making a massive word composition on a large canvas, and I am drawn to different spaces and corners depending on the day. So when I go back and read the ending of The Great Gatsby, for example, I see that as one of many distinguished pieces within the work. 

Nobody knows where the good stuff comes from

Leonard Cohen once said, on the topic of inspiration and agency: “If I knew where the good songs came from, I would go there more often.” It’s a common trope, the idea of the artist as a vessel with no real agency. While it’s true some writers purvey this idea just to insinuate their own divine status, a lot of writer’s feel like their best work is out of their hands. I have certainly found that when I am really feeling a piece of writing, I hardly know exactly what I am feeling. The same is true of my favorite books. I can much more easily say what I dislike about a book. However, I am generally at a loss for words when asked to describe why I like my favorite stuff.  

Featured image courtesy of Theodysseyonline