In an online discussion about the relationship between writing and reading, I used the phrases in the title of this post to describe how those two go together…for me, at least.
Then I started to ponder the writing process itself. I’m lazy by nature, so writing…at least the start of it each day…takes a little effort on my part. A bit of pump priming. Hemingway, it’s said, began each day rereading everything he’d written so far on the current manuscript. That seems excessive, so sometimes I read the chapter I’m writing before starting each day’s work. Hemingway never had to contend with the temptations of the Internet…of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Goodreads, Library Thing, and all things Google. When those diversions are set aside, I finally stare at the blank screen and the work begins.
Getting the words out, even if they’re imperfect, is important for this one, over-arching reason: they lead to more words. A writer’s brain is not all that dissimilar to anyone else’s brain, I suppose, except that we use connections that occur and create stories from them. Everyone has experienced what I’m talking about. You see a person on the street. They don’t remind you of anyone, except they’re wearing a scarf just like the one you saw in a shop window a few days ago, when you were with your uncle, who stopped in front of a comic book store and talked about how he loved comic books as a kid, that The Flash was his favorite super hero, and that reminds you of a cartoon series you loved as a kid, parking yourself in front of the TV every Saturday morning with a bowl of Count Chocula, your favorite flavor, and also the favorite flavor of that girl you dated in college, the art student, who always dressed in black, although she didn’t go totally goth, but strove to be serious all the time, because life should be taken seriously, and you wonder if she ever cheered up, if she graduated, maybe started teaching art when she discovered that living as a practicing artist does mean living in poverty, and after all, why should she be denied life’s comforts, when she could live in a comfy suburb with a rich husband, even if he does manage a hedge fund, is just one level below the worst of the Wall Street crooks, who manipulate the economy and oppress the middle class, of which your father was a shining example, and with whom you now maintain a simmering feud because of your diverse political beliefs. But that person you see on the street is not your father, he’s older, far older, more frail, closer to the end of his life, and maybe because life is so fleeting, you should call your father and let him know that despite your differences, you love him and will always be grateful for the life he gave you.
That’s how the reading-writing duality parallels my process. One word or phrase swings me toward another. Like breadcrumbs on a forest path, I keep moving forward, picking them up and adding them to my basket, only to spy another one farther down the trail. They lead to such wonderful places, sometimes by plan, but often inadvertently, and those unplanned destinations can be magical, causing me to lean back in my chair and fold my arms over my chest in triumph that I achieved more than I had hoped. Just as reading others’ work can often provide insight, clues to what I’m writing, my own words as they flow can chart a course toward those that should follow. Writing challenges me, makes me grimace, groan and grit my teeth, but also makes me smile, sometimes even laugh out loud. The rewards, even for someone as lazy as I can be, more than make it worthwhile.
Congratulations to all my writing colleagues for making that effort each time you sit down at a keyboard or pick up a pen or pencil, for all the rewards you share with us.