or: Why you might not need to be a Good Reader to be a Good Writer
You know what’s helped me do a lot more writing in recent weeks?
You know what else?
Also: going to the art supply store, visiting a photography exhibit, planning a DIY project to fix two of my chairs, and signing up for a voice and speech class.
Without planning it, I’ve begun bashing out 1,000 words or more a day — and without restricting myself to which piece I add the 1,000 words, I’ve watched at least three different projects grow. I’ve jotted a ton of creative riffs in my notebook and even… shocker… started keeping a journal again.
But this doesn’t make sense! I was contraverting one of the Golden Rules of Writing, which is: read! You can’t be a Good Writer without it, so the maxim goes. But sometimes, reading can get in the way.
It can be a crutch. We can use it as a distraction.
At least, I did.
So for a week, at the suggestion of the amazing book, The Artist’s Way, I didn’t do it. I didn’t read.
It was frustrating as all hell. I curtailed my emailing and my tweeting, and I didn’t allow myself to listen to podcasts or music when I got annoyed about something that I couldn’t read. I didn’t watch Hulu.
But what really floored me was the drawing thing.
Now, to quote Dickens: “Marley was dead as a doornail. This must be understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am about to relate.”
And my inner artist was dead as a doornail.
When I was a little kid, it’s true, I loved to draw, and I was always trying to get better. I wasn’t good at it, you see; I could tell that what I was drawing didn’t match the vision in my head. Still, that didn’t stop me, for years, from making daily pilgrimages to the back of my parents’ backyard every spring, to check on the progress of the crocuses coming up… and to sketch their daily progress.
What I really wanted was to catch them at the magical moment the buds appeared… or when the petals began to open. But somehow, I always missed that moment.
I haven’t drawn for twenty years: from the point I decided I should stop wasting my time and money taking art classes, because I would never be any good.
Before I did my reading deprivation week, I went to an art supply store. It was an idea I resisted. Going felt presumptuous and scary. I went because The Artist’s Way said so, and I was desperate. I hadn’t been to an art supply store in years. Those are for artists. What would I be doing there?
Yet I found myself in front of an array of sketchbooks, itching to get one.
Within a few weeks, I was at a park… with the 14” by 17” sketchbook I had bought (classic cream), a mechanical pencil and an eraser.
I, the non-artist, the one who couldn’t draw, was drawing a landscape.
I was there for over an hour. I think. I lost track of the time. It was windy, and cloudy, and my hands were going numb by the time I left. I had to clutch the edges of the notebook in a death grip so that the pages wouldn’t go flying all over the place. (Note to self: acquire large art clip(s).) I had my hood up so my hair wouldn’t block my view. I did a LOT of erasing. The page got smudged with charcoal, creased by wind. I gnarfed at each new gust with animal obstinacy.
I couldn’t wait to go home and write about it. After I did a little more drawing, of course.
When I came up for air and looked at the image, whole, I caught myself thinking: Hey, that’s pretty good!
This was revolutionary. I’d been telling myself for at least two decades how much I sucked as an artist. Now, I was plotting to get out and sketch a few days a week?
Yes, I absolutely had to get home and write about that.
Have any of you ever tried reading deprivation? What types of non-writing activities have inspired you to write?