sit by the firelight's glow / tell us an old tale we know
tell of adventures strange and rare / never to change, ever to share
stories we tell will cast their spell / now and for always
I just finished reading J. Grace Pennington's post on reading while writing and I confess it is something I've thought about idly for some time. I was just arguing with myself last night, trying to reconcile myself to my own sporadic reading habits juxtaposed to Abigail's flogging-molly determination to chug through books. Personally, I tend to go in cycles: while I am writing, my reading will take a dip in attention; while I am reading, my writing will go back on the hob. I don't usually do both well at once, but I am always doing a little bit of one while doing a lot of the other, so Pennington's point still stands even for me: should I write and read at the same time and, if so, what should I read?
I'm as impressionable as the next writer. The tones and topics of whoever I am reading will bleed through into my writing. Taken to extremes, as Pennington pointed out, that is a bad thing: that leads to plagiarism and can steer your plot wildly off course. But this is a danger that can be consciously avoided, and I think it should be. However, just as I have learned that I run dry and crack and break when my spirit doesn't spend time in the Word, I find my creativity empties and flounders in the mud-pits when I don't deluge myself with above-and-beyond-me literature. It is easy to be depressed when comparing one's writing with the masters, but again I feel that is an attitude that can be avoided. The wise spend time in the company of their betters, and grow better for it. I recall sitting with the full weight of The Worm Ouroboros on my chest, feeling as if I couldn't breathe and as if my soul was going to burst out of my body because the prose and world and plot was just too big and too awesome for me to contain. And then I picked myself back up, sat back down at my computer, and began writing again. Writing better. Because I had learned new things, new ways of seeing the world, new chancy images of characters, new magic in spinning words.
I'm reading a mix of things right now: A History of Christian Thought: Volume Two, Bonnie Dundee, The Atonement and the Modern Mind...I just finished the amazing Riddle-Master series by Patrica A. McKillip, courtesy of Mirriam Neal. And all the while as I read these things I am steadily writing, working away at the plot of Plenilune, and I find that my reading is giving my writing new dimension, perfectly pertinent dimension. My writing would be idiotic, flat, meaningless, untrue, without these books and the legions of books that have come before them. My one rule is: be reading at least one fiction at all times; without that slight taste of fiction I find I don't write very well; otherwise I can read whatever I like - histories, theologies, etc. - and the topics will fit themselves as they please into my writing.
I'm all for reading while writing, just as I'm all for reading Scripture while battling through the day-to-day grind. Without that spring of images and imagination, my own waking dreams run dry. What you need to read may depend on your own personality and your own story; you have, of course, no excuse to be reading books that don't challenge, encourage, and stretch you beyond your limits at least a little.
The mind is too precious and immortal a thing to waste on drivel.