Writing advice is not unlike clothing: almost none of it fits universally. One common piece of advice I have followed this year, however, is reading like my life depends on it. 36 books, 31 graphic novels, and various essays, stories, etc. (Also, a side order of 36 movies). What’s it all about?
Common wisdom is that you have to read a lot to be able to write well. I’m not sure if that’s true, and I’ve seen some decent arguments to the contrary, but the flow of words through my brain seems to have gotten the writing juices flowing more smoothly. It’s not enough for me to have read X many books in past, apparently; cultural or professional literacy is not the same thing as a regular diet.
It’s also about, not to put too fine a point on it, fun. The last several years have, regrettably, included very high quantities of not-fun, sustained at times for months at a go. My focus was divided in a few different directions, and I definitely wasn’t focusing on doing exactly what I wanted in terms of reading. Often I was trying to read things for purposes other than pleasure, and maybe it showed in my less-than-eager reading habits. I am, in any case, reading more novels than I have for a long time, and the sense of ebb and flow, of slow build, are things I have missed during the years when I focused more on short stories.
My “jar of fucks,” it also has to be said, has run low. I’ve started reserving my attention for the things I care about, and the things I both can and want to do. An inevitable (and largely, if not wholly, pleasurable) consequence of this is less social media. As other have noted, when I’m not online as much, suddenly I have significantly larger quantities of free time to do with as I will.
To take that a step further, when I now do dip into Facebook or Twitter or whatever, I notice:
- Time runs away like water. I look at the screen, and 45 minutes later I’m not sure what happened. Which I’m now OK with, because I plan for it, not just… let hours go by, scrolling.
- The negative thoughts and feelings I notice in myself after more than a few minutes on social media are real, observable, and have effects on the rest of my day. Knowing this? I’m less likely to log in.
- I love seeing vacation pictures, hearing about friends’ successes, and laughing at funny memes… but they seem to be nearly inseparable from Id, trolling, and flag-waving.
- I am much more prone to check in on a handful of people, not necessarily the same from week to week, and then move on. The news feed, or stream, or what-have-you, is as apt to surface trash as treasure.
All that to say, this year (especially this summer) I’m more likely to be reading a book than be on Facebook, and it’s done me a world of good. I have a few things coming out later this year that I’ll post about, but for right now I’m mostly head down, either in a novel or a Word document.