Last night my life partner, DF, was yawning by 10 o’clock; he gets up early and works hard. So he gave me a kiss and said he hoped I’d soon be in. I truly intended to follow shortly but had already been sucked in by the undertow of great writing.
In this case it was Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” a book I’d read maybe 25 years ago. Just as with ocean undertows, fighting just tires you out; much better to swim parallel to the current, looking for a weak spot that will allow you to make your way to safety.
No weak spots in Hurston’s writing. The only way for me to break free of her spell was the inability to keep my eyes open after two hours. Reluctantly I put the book down and stumbled off to bed.
Today I feel great, and not just because the sun finally came out after a long spell of gray weather. For a couple of weeks I’d been too busy to do any reading that wasn’t work-related. Spending time with a great novel gave me an attitude adjustment, writing-wise, even though I make my living doing non-fiction work.
In a recent post called “Wil Wheaton hits ‘reset’,” I quoted something that the actor/blogger had recently written: I need to read so that my imagination is inspired…to get an artistic and creative hunger that can only be fed by writing.
Good writing inspires us to do better work, or at least to want to do better work. It can also lead to idea generation – and as any blogger who’s been at it for a while knows, inspiration is sometimes in short supply.
Not just books
Note, please, that good writing can be found outside the “Great Fiction” or “Classics” section of the bookstore. A few such places:
Magazines. Popular ones like Esquire and The New Yorker and lesser-known ones, too. My partner’s mom gave us a subscription to The Sun, which runs some great short stories and essays. Utne Reader publishes articles from periodicals that some of us might never encounter on our own.
The news. Whether online or on dead trees, newspapers and news magazines offer good examples of deadline reporting (which is a lot harder than you could ever imagine), explanatory journalism, feature writing and opinion pieces. You can learn a lot about technique this way.
Other blogs. Not the clickbait ones, of course, or the ones that are thrown together with no attention to care or craft. A good place to start is the “Freshly Pressed” page at WordPress.
Today I finished the Hurston book along with my lunch. It’s a little disheartening to think how long it had been since I’d read just for fun, vs. articles and books related to my day job. Here’s hoping that you’re not in the same boat.
Although it’s a bit early for New Year’s resolutions, I propose that in the next 12 months we all read more. Good fiction and non-fiction will inspire us to add our own voices to the conversation. They’ll also remind us why we fell in love with words in the first place.