Last year was a very different year for me: It was the first year, in as long as I can remember, when I did not finish an average of about one book every week.
In fact, according to Goodreads, I only finished 20 books last year. I think that number is off, a bit. In fact, I know for certain that there were eight novels I read that were not listed on the Goodreads list, because they were unpublished novels I read on behalf of students and clients. (Most of those, I actually read more than once, but that just goes with the territory.)
Regardless, that number is well-below the 50 to 55 books I normally shoot for in any given year. (During my MFA years, I actually averaged closer to TWO books a week, but that was an abnormal year for me.)
There were a number of contributing factors, but the bottom line was this: I didn’t make time to read the way I have, historically. I wasn’t as excited about books. I know. That’s not what a creative writing instructor/blogger/podcaster should admit to. But, it’s true.
Typically, throughout my adult life, I would have at least THREE books going at any one time. One fiction, one non-fiction, and one “floater” book that would typically be non-fiction, but in a different area from other things I was reading. Often the “floater” book was a casual interest book, or perhaps a book on some aspect of the craft of writing. I would come across something at the book store that caught my fancy, and I would pick it up, not because I needed the information, necessarily, but because I wanted to read something very different and unusual for me.
Why Worry About Reading, Anyway?
I accomplished a number of writing- and business-related goals from last year, so why worry about this aspect of my creative life? Is reading really THAT important?
Yes. And no.
Let me start with the “no”: I don’t think my lack of reading last year hampered my other activities. I believe that at a certain point, it can actually be good to dial back on the input and focus on the output. But I say that with a major reservation: I do think we can go TOO far in limiting our consumption of other books, and if we aren’t careful, that can have long-term, negative effects on our creativity.
Reading great works of others, both in our chosen area of concentration and well beyond it, is important to ongoing creative growth and maturity. Reading—and especially the act of “close reading,” with a careful eye just not on the words, but how they were put together—is an invaluable tool for our own growth; and broad reading of a variety of subjects, styles, and genres outside of our comfort zone is a critical point of inspiration and creative encouragement.
So, yes, it was an important realization for me: I had slacked on my reading, and while it was not a major, immediate concern, it was something that had to be addressed.
Then, as I was working through my evaluation of 2014 and starting to plan for 2015, I became excited again. I bought a dozen new books, ones that I specifically selected to re-ignite various areas of my inner life. These weren’t just novels. I also selected volumes of poetry, and psychology, and economics, and personal/professional development, memoir and biography. And, I have another dozen books waiting for me in my Amazon wish list: books on the history of Africa and gardening and the letters of Van Gogh, just to name a few.
What I realized was this: I was so excited about the momentum for 2015 that was building as I planned and set goals for the new year, that it was easy to find a whole list of books that would help continue to fuel that fire. In fact, I had to stop myself from adding more.
This was how I knew I was on the right track with my planning: I was too excited to “wait” for the new year to begin to read and work toward the various goals I set. I got a head start. And now, a few weeks into the new year, and I am happy to say that I continue to feel the momentum that was built prior to December 31.
This year won’t go exactly as I planned it, but by having a plan, I have established momentum in a positive direction, and even things that deflect me away from my stated goals will only do so from a position of forward progress.
And that is, in and of itself, something.
Have a great week, everyone.