Last summer, though, on my journey through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, I got out of my comfort zone and put myself through a week of reading deprivation. I didn’t read anything: email, blogs, Facebook status updates, books, magazines, news headlines. For the first few days, I didn’t know what to do with myself. And then I started to feel happier.
It’s not that reading doesn’t make me happy. If I hadn’t developed an addiction to reading in adolescence, I might never have made it through. But what I realized in my week of reading deprivation, was that reading had been a tool that made me lazy. It was instant gratification, something so much easier than sitting down to do what was infinitely harder and what I should have been doing all the time: writing. Writing fiction, specifically.
I’ve always been a writer. I can’t paint or draw or play music or sing (I really can’t sing), but I can imagine and use words to tell a story. Even when I can’t effectively do that (because I am still working on a story that I began FOUR FRIGGING YEARS AGO!), I have a deep desire to tell stories, to explore a character’s inner world. The problem with reading too much of other people’s fiction is that it gets in the way of my own voice. Someone else guides me. That feels good at first, so good that I might never need to write another word, since there are so many people doing such a good job of it already. And then I am like the raisin in Langston Hughes’ poem, drying up in the sun, my butt making a big, immoveable dent in the living room couch.
So lately, I’ve found myself inadvertently depriving myself of books, especially fiction. It’s not like I haven’t tried to read. Since the beginning of December, I’ve read the first few pages of Angela’s Ashes, Caleb’s Crossing, The Measure of a Man, The Leftovers, The Bookseller of Kabul, and When God Was a Woman. Then I’ve added them to the sloppy pile on my bedside table. At some point, I would like to finish all of these books. Just not now.
Now, I need to write. My writing is like my child: sometimes, a huge pain in my ass, and others, my saving grace, the thing I love most dearly. (Usually, a pain in my ass, but we are inextricably bound and so I must sit here and endure.)
Instead of reading novels over the past few months, I’ve sat in my attic and wrote stuff. I bought a comfortable chair that slides nicely into my desk. I taped some pictures and postcards on the wall, even cleaned up a little bit. I’m excited about an idea I have for a novel, about the unexpected journey the characters will take.
I’m not even going to let that evil Terry Gross get in my head with all the questions she wants to ask about how it is that I became a National Book Award Winner. Nope, Terry. I just don’t have the time. You just go interview your poets and your musicians and your war correspondents. I’m too busy to think about the interview you’re dying to have with me.