Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Reading/Writing Scales

Scott D. Parker

As writers, we are told the two basic tenants of our vocation: read and lot and write a lot. So what does it mean when you find yourself reading more than you write?

I've always liked to keep the reading and writing balanced. Make sure I get my writing done before the evening, I tell myself, and that will allow me to read without guilt. Heh. Writing that last word, "guilt," is a funny thing. I don't believe in guilty pleasures. If something brings you pleasure, then it should not be considered guilty. Thus, I embrace "CSI: Miami," "Project Runway," KISS, and old comic books with open arms.

That twinge of guilt gets to me sometimes when I don't have a productive writing day. Or, truth be told, when I don't have a writing day. In dealing with some stuff this month, I've unfortunately trended to reading more than I write. School starts again on Monday and my nice, quiet schedule of writing in the two-hours ahead of 8:00 am is vanishing. It was a good summer, although I didn't get all that I wanted to do complete. This past week, instead of writing, I've been reading. In the past two weeks, I've blazed through the two John Lange books from Hard Case Crime (Grave Descend and Zero Cool), Don Winslow's The Gentlemen's Hour, Gerald So's ebook, Stones, and started in on the original Conan stories by Robert E. Howard. And it's been a blast.

But does the more reading/less writing trend mean I'm not a writer? Not really (I hope). I learn from everything I read and am exposed to. Heck, my wife and I are playing catch up with "Mad Men." We've gone through the first two seasons and, as of last night, are three episodes into season three. This is a fantastic show, and I've learned some good stuff about writing and pacing. The pacing in the Lange books is pretty darn swift. I found myself taking note of structure and style that, while forty years old, can still be applied to my own stuff. Winslow is a crafty storyteller, jumping in and out of character POVs in a way that I just don't do but, perhaps, should. So's C. J. Stone stories are so evocative of the 1930s that it led me to a question: do you think the adventurers of the 1930s knew they were living in a seemingly special time?

I don't believe in guilty pleasures. I happily turn my brain off when I see movies or watch television. But I *am* learning, no matter what I'm doing. True, it's not making prose, but the reading is rewiring my brain, connecting synapses in new ways. And, when I sit down and write, I find that I'm trying new things or that something I considered a bit off is now in line.

I guess I go through phases where one side of the reading/writing scale tips up or down. Not a bad thing, the gentle swaying of the scale's momentum. Like the character's in Winslow's book who live to surf, I just ride the wave I'm given.

Song of the Week/Month/Summer: "Have You Ever Seen the Rain" by Creedence Clearwater Revivial. I honestly never knew this song until Casey Abrams, a contestant on American Idol, sang it. I loved his version, and then sought out the original. I've been in a late 60s, early 70s music vibe this summer and this is my favorite song. (The other one is "These Eyes" by The Guess Who.) I listen to it at least once a day. I even found the guitar tabs and can now play it. The only problem: I sing not well. But I still belt it out. Y'all know this one?


Dana King said...

Athletes train more than they compete. Musicians practice and rehearse more than they perform. Why wouldn't a writer read more than he writes?

Scott D. Parker said...

Wow, Dana. Darn good point. I never thought of it that way. The clarity of your comment is better than coffee today. Thank you.

Gerald So said...

Thanks for the compliment on Stones, Scott. I wasn't around in the 30s (another illusion shattered forever), but I think anyone who gets to be part of something new (starting a new publication, flying a new airplane or space shuttle) knows how special it is. At the same time, C.J. isn't a larger-than-life hero in my mind or his own. He does what he has to do to get by, as people of any time might.

We all go through phases of more reading than writing, of more of one subject than another. It's only natural, and as you say, everything feeds everything else. Good luck.

nessiehoe said...

It takes a very disciplined mind to always achieve everything you want to fit into a 24 hour day. You are doing a great job of balancing. Our lives are always full of distractions and various roads to travel down. You will find a way to fit in your writing even without the early morning two hour window. School is starting and a new schedule awaits you. I'm sure it will even include time for your 'guilty pleasures' of cartoons, comics, TV, music and books.

By the way, can you play the guitar song for us later today?