To Read or to Write?

That is the question. If you're a writer of anything, whether it be blog posts, novels, poems, or essays, you have probably read quotes about writing. What better way to procrastinate while still pretending to be productive than to look up what famous writers have said about their craft? Here are some of my favorites:

"One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple." - Jack Kerouac

"You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” - Ray Bradbury

"I hate writing. I love having written." - Dorothy Parker

Writing is wonderful. It's an adventure. There are times when I sit at the laptop with heavy instrumental music banging through my headphones and the words just come for hours and hours. Those are the great times, the times when I come away from a 3000-word writing spree feeling like I just had a good workout and then a long, hot bath. I write because I love to do it, but I also write because it's what I've decided to do. Sometimes the sensation can be akin to banging my head against a wall full of rusty nails, but I press on.

And yes, sometimes I curl up in a ball on the couch and say I can't do it anymore.

I recently read a blog on the Habits of Highly Productive Writers and one of the best points I took away was that these 'writers reject the notion of writer's block'. Unfortunately, you can reject it all you want, but sometimes the pen does dry up, and the creative streak comes to a halt for no apparent reason.

That is why good writers read. They read a lot. And they talk about reading a lot.

“Read, read, read. Read everything -- trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it. Then write. If it's good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out of the window.” - William Faulkner

“If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” - Stephen King

Lately, I've been inhaling Harlan Coben thrillers. Inhaling as in I pick one up, and then my husband wants to play chess or an idea for how to proceed in my new short story comes up or the sun is shining beautifully outside, but all I can think about is how is this guy going to get his baby daughter back and take revenge on the people who killed his wife and is Rachel in on it and ohmanohmanohman is Tara even still alive? Even if I'm doing another activity, the possibilities of the book are running on a background track in my mind.

And then I think, that's what want to have happen when people read my novel. My novel is meant to be suspenseful. My characters go from hell to hope back to hell again in just a few chapters. There's secret medical experimentation and a mass-murder and hallucinations and government corruption. I want people to hate when they have to put it down and think about it until they can pick it back up.

That's what reading does for writers. That's why we're constantly told that we can't be good writers unless we read. Yes, it's about getting the tools of the trade, and observing structure, and (ahem) borrowing ideas. All of those things are important.

But I think, plain and simple, it's about envy. It's about seeing what someone else has written, and how the readers that you want to reach have responded to it, and saying, "I can do that." If you don't believe me, just take a look at how many famous authors have put other famous authors down. No one can shape an insult like a writer. Hell, Shakespeare was a freaking master.

Envy is a powerful motivator. Admiration is, too. When it comes down to it, those are really the two most likely reactions when a writer reads. So pick up a book, fill up your tank, and then hit the keyboard/notebook/smartphone/napkin/whatever else you might write on, and show us what you got.