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Fiction Detox

January 8, 2012

For most of my life, I’ve had my head buried in a book. Things just never felt right if I didn’t have another world to escape to.

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.

I’m writing.


Image: “Whimbun” by shoeke5 via Flickr using a Creative Commons license. 

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Chrissy @ The Outlaw Mom Blog January 8, 2012 at 11:23 pm

Ahhh, sounds so nice :-)


Jana January 12, 2012 at 11:29 am

It does? Coffee and pie sounds nice. Writing in my attic, to me, sounds important and tiring and sometimes lonely and sometimes exhilarating.


Sarah January 9, 2012 at 11:49 am

You know, I think I need to do this! I can’t imagine not having a book to run to, but I wonder if it would free some things up for me as well. Thank you for reminding me about a really good idea!


Amy @ Never-True Tales January 11, 2012 at 10:03 pm

Interesting approach. I’ve always been told ‘read more, read more, read more!’ whenever I’m stuck on fiction, but as you say, sometimes the problem is TIME, not STRUCTURE or FORM. (Sorry for the caps!) I find I take natural breaks from reading fiction when I’m really deep into my novel drafts (but that’s not often enough, I’m thinking…).


Jana January 12, 2012 at 11:30 am

I think I’ve done enough reading. Those pieces of advice about reading more seem to be for people who weren’t English majors or English graduate students or English teachers. I have done so much reading that I think it’s time to just write. (And, of course, I’ll take breaks and read some short stories.)


Stacia January 12, 2012 at 9:51 am

In my head, I hear Terry Gross reading this post during your interview …


Jana January 12, 2012 at 11:31 am

If only I become so lucky! (But I really didn’t think about that.) :)


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