T. L. Cobern
2002, T. L. Cobern
fiction is a vile habit. The very
act of sitting down to read removes me from the daily grind, from the pressure
of reaching my wordcount goal for that day, and rewards me with nothing more
than empty hands and mind at the end of said reading time.
Not only that, but reading robs me of confidence in abilities I once took
for granted. While all reading does
this to some extent, fictional works are, due to the creativity inherent in
their foundation, the worst offenders. Therefore,
I believe all reading of fiction should be banned among writers.
Iíve heard all the arguments for the advancement of reading, even among such
educated people as we. ďReading
is an essential building blockĒ and all that.
Yes, it is. Yes, reading is
a definite prerequisite for writing, and especially for writing well.
However, once that stage is achieved, once we can write well and others
believe in the excellence of our writing enough that we can make it a career,
shouldnít we toss reading out the window?
Fiction, after all, doesnít qualify as the most necessary building
block for writers.
rationalizing. Fiction reading
doesnít advance a writing career. An
editorial career, if fiction is the genre of choice, is a completely separate
ball of wax, but writing concerns only the images from oneís mind making their
way onto paper. While some authors
might contend their particular genres within fiction as free from this
generalized statement, I believe all fictionalized writing is in the interaction
of author with white page. Itís
all make-believe, in one sense or another, isnít it?
you say. Ah, the old research
excuse. I can tell you for sure
that Iíve never read a fiction novel for research, but more for the enjoyment,
the beauty, and the exceptional perfection of fiction itself.
I might research a real time period, a real religion, a real geographical
place, but I just donít buy Middle Earth as a research project.
So why do we continue to read? Iíll
say again, itís a vile habit. I
donít mean an idle hobby, but rather an all-consuming obsession, much the way
I think heroin users must feel about their particular habit.
My drug, my obsession, is reading. If
I sit down with a novel, I will finish it in that same sitting. It offers me few choices; the pull of the words sucks me in
and Iím lost, in someone elseís ideas and someone elseís universe consumes
me. Are you any different?
Can you schedule your reading time and stop on the page when the timer
goes off? I thought as much.
You, too, are an addict.
affects my work, certainly. If I am
writing a story and take ďa break,Ē time off to read something else, I lose
the thread of my own universe for a time. Sometimes
that time is an hour, sometimes a day. The
loss of the time is vital, however, and so therefore I try to stay away from
books during writing days. Itís
so hard to make up that time, and eventually all the sand runs down the
good books also hits me hard in the confidence department.
When I read Larry Nivenís aliens, Iím astounded at their solidness,
their very reality that forms on the page.
Reading Holly Lisle makes me laugh and cry at her wit and at losing
characters that Iíve come to love. The
beauty of language and clarity of ideas as expressed so cleanly by writers like
Richard Wright, Justin Stanchfield, Carol Berg, Peter F. Hamilton, just to name
a few, leaves me gaping in awe. The
prolific output of Lazette Gifford and Harry Turtledove, who maintain the
quality of their magnificent stories while turning out millions of words a
yearóit leaves me speechless.
of the examples listed above share one trait in common.
When I dwell on it, when I reflect on the writing talents of these
authors and what they do well, I inevitably compare my own talent to his or to
hers. Every time, in the end tally,
Iím found lacking. Usually this
begets a writing funk so severe that I donít crawl out from my rock for a
my problem. I know that. I know Iím insecure in my writing, that Iím not to the
point where I can shrug it off. I
know, in my mind, that Iíll get there and that one day people will think the
same thing about me. However, in my
heart, the part of me where my writing is a sacred eggshell, the comparisons
stomp on any fledgling chicks struggling to break free.
All that is left is shattered pieces of thin shell.
you assure me youíre different? Are
you certain that late at night, in the moments before you fall asleep, you
donít revisit a book recently read and see your own failings in that
authorís successes? If you
donít compare, thatís wonderful. I
think youíre the exception, though.
solution is to ban fiction. I
donít mean to ban it for everyone, only for writers.
We just donít need the headaches of missing time and the heartaches of
missing success. Itís hard enough
to write, and to write well. We
already lose friends and family who just donít ďget it.Ē
We do poorly at sports and many jobs because weíre so busy scribbling
story ideas on random pieces of paper. One
might think reading books and short stories of fiction would be our one
salvation, our single recreational activity that weíd be good at!
It appears to be a perfect marriage, appreciating the ideas and talent of
others while taking a break from our own, but unfortunately this is only an
illusion. This marriage turns messy
sooner than most.
me, fellow writers! End this
scourge that robs us of hours and steals our hard-won egotism.
Our group, the Writers Against Reading (WAP) will be meeting later
outside the library for a rally. If
Iím late, carry on without me. Donít
worry, itís probably just a relapse. Memory
of Fire just came out, you know. Iíll
catch you later after the high wears off.