Thursday, September 8, 2011

Lately I have been trying a thing

I'm the kind of person who stresses out if he doesn't do exactly what he's supposed to do on any given day, especially if there's no actual moral imperative anywhere in sight: this is a problem for someone who writes because writing is mostly amoral and yet there are always ten thousand things I feel I should definitely be doing. I should be publishing more stuff, I should be writing more stuff, I should be reading more stuff (reading especially: I've read a lot over the last seven years, but much of it was required, so it never felt quite real, and now I always feel behind). Probably I am attracted to this stuff partly because I can make myself so miserable with it. That's what we all need, right? A little more misery.

Recently I've tried something that's helped me out a lot, though: I treat my "reading time" and "writing time" as interchangeable. Every night when I come home, it doesn't matter if I spend the night reading my current book, writing my own book, or going back and forth. Whatever I feel excited about doing, that's what I need to do. In practice, it usually ends up being a mix of both.

Reading and writing are always connected, but explicitly putting them together into the same time slots seems liberating in a number of ways. I remember I used to often feel, when I was reading something really good, that I had an idea I wanted to go write down. I didn't usually do it, though: I kept reading because that was The Plan. And sometimes when I was writing I would hit a dead spot that made me want to go read instead, but I wouldn't do it because now was writing time. This way is better. I also appreciate the feeling of closeness I get with what I'm reading when I can bring it into such a direct relationship with my writing. Right now I am reading Peter Markus' We Make Mud (about which more later) and I really love just letting it breathe into my own writing.

I think that ultimately this strategy is shifting more time into the reading category, which is probably healthy for me. I'm doing less writing in a word-count sense, but I think what I'm getting from each session is more dense, rich, surprising, and alive: certainly it feels that way to me. And experience tells me that as long as I'm being honest with myself about how the writing feels, the reading experience will take care of itself.

Curious if this is something other people do, or if it's more common to cordone reading time and writing time the way I have generally done in the past.


  1. I think my basic approach is not to waste time. When I was ill a few years back and had to endure long periods of brain fog I had to learn to maximise those few hours when I was clear and capable of doing something involved so I would leave routine tasks that didn’t need much brain power – formatting blogs for example – and do them when I couldn’t focus on anything else. Nowadays I’m still prone to mood swings and bad nights so whereas when I was younger I used to be a morning person these days I leave my real writing until later in the day normally but I find the best thing has been to have a stockpile of work that I can fall back on so I never have to get an article or a review done in a couple of days. I still have only a limited amount of time to do everything but if I can’t get my head around something there’s no harm in leaving it for a day or two until I’m in the best frame of mind to tackle that particular task. Reading is just another task and it very much depends on what I’m reading how I approach it. The book I’m on just now is 1050 pages long and so I’ve assigned myself 50 pages a day and that’s as much as I can handle because it is not an easy read. But there have been other books where I’ve read them over two days without any problem.

  2. I more or less combine reading time with writing time. Reading makes me want to write, and writing makes me want to read, so sometimes I'll split my time in half to do each. Sometimes I'll do one or the other. As long as I feel I'm being productive in some fashion, I'm not concerned with what, specifically, I do.

  3. Mike and Jason, I feel the same way. Not long ago, I also combined read and writing, in the interchangeable sense, which I've found is an effective method for feeling productive. I have been writing reviews of literary magazines and so when I'm reading the magazines I know is time spent that will result in future writing. Sure, it's not fiction or poetry writing, but it's writing nonetheless.