I worry that I don’t read enough.
It’s not a new worry, or even strictly simply that I don’t think I do enough reading. I have always been plagued by a fear that I do not read widely enough, that the books I pick up aren’t varied enough. And as a writer, it’s one of a clutch of fears which pursue me like the hounds of hell.
A great man once said:
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.“
And whilst as a breed I regard so-called writing rules as largely hokum, but this one rings true. This one I would put my faith in.
I read a lot of genre fiction; a lot of horror, a lot of science-fiction, a lot of fantasy. It’s what I love, and what I write, and the language I think in. I wouldn’t ever be without it, but the fear of stagnating my own imagination is something I find inescapable.
I remember when I started secondary school, early on in my first term, there was an assembly. I can’t remember who gave the talk, or what it was ultimately about, but I remember the analogy of a former student who for five years of schooling ate only chips and gravy from the school canteen for lunch. They gave him some sort of joke award, I think.
Nowadays children’s services would probably intervene, and Jamie Oliver would be all over it like…well, gravy on chips.
I love chips and gravy. I’m a north-westener, how could I not? But as much as I love my home region’s staple foodstuff, chips and gravy for breakfast, lunch and dinner does not a healthy balanced diet make. In that, Jamie Oliver might be onto something.
Reading is no different. If you are what you eat, then you are surely only as good a writer as you are a reader. Mr King is right when he highlights the importance of reading as a writing tool. It’s how you learn about the craft, how you explore new ideas and methods. Film, TV, theatre — they all offer similar sources of inspiration, but nothing can match the experience of the very medium you are looking to work in. And whilst genres are useful for categorisation, they can also become closed waterholes, becoming stagnant, feeding off themselves incestuously without fresh new ideas entering the pool.
So if I want to continue to improve as a writer, then a diet of pure genre fiction isn’t going to be enough. I need to consume more classic fiction, more cheap romances, more navel-gazing literary novels, much more non-fiction. I need to read flash fiction, novels, short stories, those absurd six word stories, I even need to read more — God help me — sprawling twelve-novel epics. I need much more variety.
Yeah, I need to get reading. And so do you.