Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What I'm NOT Doing

Current Project: NMMNG
Status: Page 30

Sorry for the late posting! What is the longest stretch you have ever gone without reading a novel? Back in college and graduate school, I would routinely go the 3-4 months of the term without being able to read fiction of my own choosing. I would then spend the breaks gorging on fiction. One of my favorite rituals was the day-after-finals library run. In the last six (GULP!) years though, I have become really spoiled. As you all well know, I am a voracious reader, and my book-every-other-day habit has sustained me through job changes, pregnancy, and early motherhood. For the past several years, I have known that if I truly want to write more, I should read less--it *should* be one of the easier things to let go. However, reading is my main form of stress relief, and I just haven't wanted to make that sacrifice. In the last two weeks, however, I have not finished a book. Instead, bedtime finds me with my book light still in hand, but with a yellow legal pad across my knees as I use the time for writing.

In the past, many of our speakers have lamented the fact that they are no longer readers with any great regularity, and I have secretly vowed to myself that that I would *always* sustain my reading pace, but in addition to simply *wanting* it more, something else has happened in the last year or so: I enjoy reading less. GASP. I found myself chucking more books against the wall, reading more like a writer--dissecting scenes and cliches, and really searching for the gems that let me truly escape. I found myself obsessed with nonfiction narratives about mothering and was stymied as to why until my best friend told me, "Duh! Bethany! Your mind wants you to give birth to and nurture a new book."

A light bulb went on and stayed brightly lit as I plotted this new book. The spark of wanting IT--the golden ring of success--grew and grew until I was willing to make some new sacrifices, and reading time was chief among them.

This worked awesome for about a week and half and the point of this blog was going to be about how the no-reading diet was working wonders for me, but like Debbie, I hit a wall writing wise and other stressors crept in and the NEED TO READ was this palpable beast following me around. I get discouraged that my paragraph by paragraph, page by page progress really isn't that much, and I get ahead of myself thinking about a tough winter term I have and if I will even be able to finish this book. Deep breath. And I need to read to escape those voices in my head. So I have played games with the need to read--I can read read after I write at least a paragraph which often leads to pages as I hit the momentum again. I carry my yellow pad and plotting book around with me the way I do my knitting, and word by word I am getting there.

Do you read less now than when you started writing? Has the trade off been worth it for you? If you read less, what other ways do you reduce stress? By reading less, do you enjoy it more when you do get a chance to read?

6 comments:

Paty Jager said...

Bethany, I was a voracious reader until I became an avid writer.
Now I'm lucky in the summer months to read a fiction book a month. In the winter if things are good, I can read a fiction book about every other week sometimes one a week depending on what else is going on. I read and skim non-fiction books constantly for research.

You askDo you read less now than when you started writing? Has the trade off been worth it for you? If you read less, what other ways do you reduce stress? By reading less, do you enjoy it more when you do get a chance to read?

Yes, I read less now that I write. But with my editing I also read more but it's a different type of reading. It isn't for pleasure. Well, it can be if it's a good story. ;)

My stress reducer is walking, riding my horse, and listening to music. Reading has never been a stress reducer for me. It's been a way to live another life and go places.

I wish I could say by reading less I enjoy it more. But like you, now that I write, I tend to find fewer books that totally absorb me to the point I forget the writing.

Alice Sharpe said...

I read a lot less, Bethany. And when I am in the middle of writing a book, I never read anything I haven't read before and I never read anything remotely close to my genre. It wasn't a conscious decision, it just evolved.

I de-stress hours of sitting at a computer by walking the dog and driving to see my mother or buy groceries. I watch TV some, and re-read old books that take only half my concentration if that. I can't say as I am happy about it, but there you go. Right now, the dh got me started on Travels With Charlie by John Steinbeck, a non-fiction account of his cross country drive with his dog written at the same time of his life that I am in now, and that's a refreshing change of pace. I think I'm going to try to read more non fiction as I don't enjoy fiction as much as I used to. Just like Paty said, I get too caught up in the methods to enjoy the story.

I used to read all the time. I plowed through Agatha Christie and all the rest. I miss those days, I have such fond memories of those books, but it's just not the same and why should it be? I'm not the same.

I hope this works out for you. Maybe you've been reading like a banshee in preparation for writing -- maybe the writing time is here and the reading time is just going to have to learn to wait its turn.

Genene Valleau said...

I love this perspective, Alice: "Maybe you've been reading like a banshee in preparation for writing -- maybe the writing time is here and the reading time is just going to have to learn to wait its turn."

Like the rest of you, I read much, much less now that I'm writing. And I tend to dissect books UNLESS they totally suck me in. If my internal editor is silent as I read a book, it's a keeper.

What are my stress reducers? Shrieking at my guides to help me with an attitude adjustment. LOL!

Actually, I'm at a magical time in my life when I love the things I'm doing. If I'm stressed, it's because there's a life lesson I'm not learning and I've allowed my physical/ spiritual/ emotional "pieces" to get out of balance. Reiki is my cure-all. It brings me back into balance and back on the right track. Unfortunately, sometimes I go far down the stress road before I admit I'm lost and ask for directions. Guess that's not just a guy thing. :)

Congrats on carrying around that yellow pad and plotting book. Word by word is perfect!

Piper Lee said...

Bethany-- I used to read 2 to 3 novels a week before I started writing and learning how to write. Now, I don't even get to read one a week, but it's not just writing/learning that keeps me from reading, it's life. Kids, their schedules and homework, church and my duties for it, then wife/mom stuff combined, I stay plenty busy, unfortunately. I've devoted a lot of time to writing this week and it's been enlightening and fun. :)

I, too, use reading to de-stress and relax. Escape. But as the others have said, I find it hard to not tear a story apart if it kinda sucks. But, like Genene said, if it's a good story and written well, I totally get sucked in and can't wait to read more by the author.

Sounds like you're on the right path, B. Keep it up and we'll be attending your book signing before you know it! :)

Elisabeth Naughton said...

Bethany, I definitely read less now. I'm like Alice, when I'm working on a book I don't read and if I do (off chance) I definitely can't read something in the genre I'm writing. I find I tend to read 2-3 books after I finish a project, but once I'm working on something in-depth, my pleasure reading goes by the wayside.

I've also become way more critical of the books I read. I tend to lose interest really fast these days and find myself gravitating toward books I've already read and loved (like Alice) or authors I know personally. For me a lot of fun in reading these days is hearing the stories through my friends' voices.

As for how I destress? I run. This is a HUGE stress reducer for me, and when I can't run (for whatever reason - schedules, injuries, etc.) I notice a big difference in my mental health (so does my hubby. LOL). I also started doing a yoga/pilates class about a year ago that is also helping with my stress level. It's very calming and I always feel relaxed on the days I go. This week - because of crazy schedules and my deadline - I haven't been able to take my yoga class and I can definitely feel a difference in my state of calm (so can my kids).

Deborah Wright said...

Bethany, I'll make it unanimous (at least so far). I, too, read far less than I used to before I started writing. Like everyone else, I used to be a voracious reader, finishing several books a week. Now, I'm lucky if I get one a month read! Last year I pushed myself and kept track of the books I read and I only made it to 40. Used to be a time when that number would easily be in triple digits for the year.

And I'm also in the camp of not being able to read books in whichever genre I'm attempting at the time. It's just too distracting from the story going on in my head. Like Alice, I find myself turning more to non-fiction. In my case, I'm finding a fascination with history, something I never would have guessed would happen a few years ago. I guess I see it as just more fodder for future stories. :-)

I'm also more picky about what I'll read and there have been a few books recently that I've either stopped reading after a few chapters or had to grit my teeth to finish. I haven't been able to decide if it's me--that I see more flaws now that I'm trying to avoid them in my own writing--or if I'm just choosing the wrong books/authors. I do find myself re-reading old favorites when I'm desperate for something good. Sometimes I won't even read a whole book, just turn to favorite passages and read them.

I'm clinging to Alice's suggestion. All our previous reading was to prepare us for the next stage--writing our own books. Well, that and all those books sure brought a lot of pleasure. Now it's time for us to pay it forward.