Thursday, February 18, 2016

Why Bother? Give Up Now.

 I've got a great future as a motivational speaker, don't you think?

So the question is whether we can read fiction while we're writing fiction; specifically when we're elbow deep in our first drafts.

I've read lots of writer interviews where people say they don't read while they write. It's always struck me as peculiar (and "peculiar habits of writers" is a strong field). Because I'm always writing. If I didn't read when I wrote, I'd never read. And if writing came at the cost of reading I know which I'd ditch. I'd stop this lark as quick as I stopped studying literature, once I twigged that I'd never enjoy a novel again.

The short answer is yes. I can and do. I've written half of a first draft so far this year and read thirteen books, eleven of them fiction.

I couldn't read absolutely anything. P.G. Wodehouse is far too infectious. Raymond Chandler is too - but I'm not tempted to re-read Chandler the way I'm drawn back to old Pelham Grenville, because Chandler never wrote: "The least thing upset him on the golf course. He missed short putts because of the uproar of butterflies in the adjoining meadows".

Hemingway might get in the way, but I find him easy not to re-read. I can't resist listening to him on talking books but audio doesn't seem to interfere as badly. Lisa Scottoline's headline relative clauses are catching.

Which makes me careful to weed them out when I come down with a dose.

The biggest pitfall I've found in combining reading and writing is when you read something so perfect and brilliant and effortless that you get a case of the "why bothers". It's happening right now. I'm reading Kate Atkinson's A God in Ruins and when I come back to my own half-born first draft I pep myself up by saying to it: "oh blah blah blah. What's the point?"

Luckily, I answer myself by saying "the point is it's due in on the 30th of June and you've banked the advance". And I can cheer myself up with the thought that I only need to write two thousand words and then I can read Atkinson again at lunchtime.


Art Taylor said...

Catriona! So true here on all counts.... I understand the worry about what you're reading seeping in to what you're writing (the style, the cadence, etc.) and I can understand reading time taking away from writing time (so much easier to pick up the book I'm reading than to write myself), BUT I'd never read if I could only do so when I wasn't writing at all, trying to segment my life out into writing phases and non-writing ones.

And you're question about "Why bother?" is one that my wife and I encounter sometimes too, yes--reading something so good that our own writing seems not just pale but..... And yet we keep writing, don't we?

Appreciate the post here, as you can tell.

Kathy Reel said...

So, once again you've amazed me, which shouldn't really be the case anymore, since you seem to be Superwoman on a regular basis. Thirteen books read so far this year? And writing daily, too? I'm embarrassed to be way behind you, but I did have to take the month of January off due to my husband's accident. I love that you read this much. I can't believe that I haven't gotten to Kate Atkinson's book yet, and everyone has it as a favorite, so I know that I'm in for a treat. Even with readers/reviewers/bloggers there is that "Why bother? Give up now." With currently being so far behind, I started to wonder if maybe I should just give up the blog, but the passion to talk about books and share you wonderful authors with others won't let go of me. So, keep reading and writing, dear Catriona, as the awesome books you come out with are proof that whatever you're doing works brilliantly.

Gwen Mayo said...

There is nothing like a good book to spark imagination. I've never understood how any writer could live without books. How would you furnish your mind?

Catriona McPherson said...

Well said, Gwen. And, Kathy? Tush. Pish-posh. Come now. (As PG might say.)