Being both chronically slow and suddenly busy, it's taken me this long to get around to linking Mike's post on teaching Intro Creative Writing and Roxane Gay's post at HTMLGiant ("Is Reading Really the Most Important Thing?") to what is really a wealth of thought about that exact thing at Shome Dasgupta's blog, The Laughing Yeti. There are entries there from (most recently) Aimee Bender, John Madera, Paula Bomer, Johannes Goransson, Matthew Simmons, the list really and truly goes on and on (I'm way down there, back in May, along with Matt Bell, Brian Evenson, Shane Jones, Adam Robinson, Amelia Gray; really, just go read and click through for a while).
(More about me after the break)
I have always been an extravagant reader-- "research" for even the shortest fiction can take me months, whereas drafts rarely ever take me longer than a month (the two novels I am working on completing both took about a month and a half to get through a first draft (realize I am talking first draft and not complete work)). I read both during drafting (obviously not "while") and even more extensively during revision. What can I say? I appropriate-- none of these words or ideas come out of thin air.
But lately the balance has shifted. My sudden busy-ness-- going from four days off and thus four days in which to uninterruptedly read and write, to just one such day-- has forced me to give equal time to reading and writing and made me more conscious of the role reading has in my writing process. My all-important "research," I worry, has become flattened, oblong, more frequently wobbly, and my writing given a disproportionate amount of my attention. The language-- never unimportant or in any way tossed-off-- now absolutely paramount; the ideas and emotion simply porous, riddled with language but no longer so sturdy as before.
It feels as though I have skipped a step in my own process, talked out of turn. I read differently before drafting, during, and in revision, and I read different types of work, too. I read a great deal of nonfiction-- as a matter of taste perhaps, who knows?-- and this carries over into my preparation, though not always. I am much more interested in questions of "style" and language when I am drafting-- and will thus read much more fiction, generally of a given subset or genre loosely corresponding to my perception of the subject-- than I might be prior to beginning that draft, and I will probably only read philosophical and theoretical work-- really, ever-- when I am revising. It is an old saw, but still sharp: my writing is a conversation, and just as in person, I am more inclined to listen than to hold forth: I would never want to be accused of declaiming, hogging, or simply exhausting.