Let’s face it: writing is a nasty business. And that applies regardless of whether or not it actually is your business in purely economic terms. It’s an exhausting form of some kind of quasi-entrapment whereby the thought and trend police can spring the trigger and bring the gate to a slamming close behind us, leaving us in their cage like the bewildered squirrels that my father catches to prevent his birdfeeder from being depleted overly quickly (and which he then mercifully — and thankfully from my point of view — releases far enough away that they won’t, presumably, take any more of the birds’ intended food). This toll writing takes on us is partly an outcome of the act itself and partly a result of the emotional investment we put into works over whose reception we cannot possibly hope to have any measure of control. We grind ourselves to a nub and then release our work into the wild with nothing but our own blinkered view of it to go on. This is exactly the type of activity that no sane person would waste their all-too-brief life on; but we are, of course, not sane and so we do. Our question is therefore not “Why do it?” but rather “How to keep at it?”, and that’s what concerns us this week.

The indefatigable Paul j Rogers has often shared with me his rule of not reading any fiction while writing fiction, his concern being voice confusion and the subtle influences that can sneak into one’s mind from how other writers treat and toy with their characters and character interplay. Those of you who have never had the good fortune of reading Paul’s fiction will not know the nuances and deft touches that he brings to his work and so may not appreciate this point. Off to the By Prescription Only page with you! All of the rest of you will, no doubt, grasp the profundity of this rule and the demonstrable good effects it can bring. So we don’t read fiction while writing fiction, reasonable advice and easy to follow. But does that mean that we cease reading while engaged in a work of our own?

By no means! Reading is the primary method by which we can relieve our exhausted brains and shore up our limping imaginations. This goes for us nonfiction writers and readers too, and even if you’re a pure (or nearly pure) nonfiction head like I’ve been the past few years you can take the point home in an altered version. I am not suggesting that we stop reading nonfiction while writing nonfiction, that would of course be folly as we are building on the works of others and necessarily need a research base, I am instead putting forth a strategy of alternating fields. Whatever area I happen to be basing a work on, I will shift my reading away from that field or fields upon finishing. Most often for me personally this has meant grabbing a good history book as a break from whatever applied or theoretical social analysis I was doing (or anyway attempting to do). History is endless fun for me and I only rarely feel the need to take notes when reading it. Other people will naturally have other pet favorites, but I’d be willing to bet that everyone reading this post has at least one in mind now.

It’s very, very easy to sink yourself into a work and let it take over your entire mental life. It’s also very easy to keep yourself there in your mental life, for the higher pleasures of the mind are indeed higher pleasures and immensely rewarding. Let’s not forget to toss in a bit of balance though, and drag ourselves back to earth every once in a while. My advice for that is to go out and get roaringly drunk. Hehehe.

Next week, Paul j Rogers on getting kicked out of rock bar “Mother” while trying to do the above for sporting a James Taylor tee.

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  1. Nick Cody
    Posted April 27, 2014 at 12:10 am | Permalink

    My next post will be a study of Andrew O.’s Paul Rogers obsession :)

  2. Andrew Oberg
    Posted April 27, 2014 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    Hahaha! The man does write well. And I try to respect my elders. ;)

  3. Paul j Rogers
    Posted April 27, 2014 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    A good article about Marquez in the Guardian. He dispels any myths about magic in the creation of his work and likens his writing process to carpentry

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