How re-reading helps fuel my writing
One of the difficulties I’m experiencing regarding the lockdown and new social distancing norms, is that I’m having trouble working. I’m sure many of you can relate. It’s a strange time to be in a creative field because there’s nothing I want to do less in all this uncertainty than create. I want to understand, if that makes sense. But it is difficult to understand a pandemic as it’s going on. There are conflicting reports and messages. Official advice is changing on the daily.
I don’t really know what to do, but I do know that I have to keep working because I’m a writer, I’ve got two books out this year, and there’s a lot of work to be done to support them as they make their way out into this changing world. At first, I wasn’t sure how to do this, or even if I should try to promote at this time. Ultimately, I decided to push through. I worked really hard on them, and I want to do my best to get them into the hands of readers who might be looking for books like mine to help entertain or distract them during these difficult times.
Being productive as a goal, though, hasn’t been very helpful to me lately. What I’ve been doing instead is to try to be connected. It’s a process that’s started with my reading material and has actually worked to help my writing.
I find that I’m not able to focus on new storylines. There’s too much anxiety to get lost in any unfamiliar book, so I’ve been re-reading some of the ones I know and love.
It goes something like this:
Every day I will stand in front of my bookshelf and skim past the titles I haven’t read. Cold-blooded, I know, but this is sadly what my life has come to. I will look for books that I have enjoyed. That I remember and may spark something for me. Maybe it’s a dialogue exchange I remember liking, or a turn at the end of a chapter. The flow, or the pace. A dynamic opening chapter, or a tear-jerker ending. I don’t know what I’ll end up feeling each day in front of my bookshelf, only that it’s an instinct that will come to me in the moment, and that it’s important to follow it.
Then I’ll pull a few books out. I’ll take them to my workspace and put them next to my laptop and notepad. Open them up to whatever page strikes my fancy. I’ll lose myself in them as much as possible and, later, use the feelings they inspire to help fuel whatever it is I’m working on this day. Maybe it’s my novel-in-progress that I promised my agents last month. Maybe it’s an essay or article I’ve been asked to write to support the books I have out this spring. It could be the short story I’ve been fiddling with recently, or the poem I’ve been trying to write for two years now.
Over the past few weeks, this technique has proven to be effective. I’m certainly not as productive as I usually am, but with each day that passes I am feeling more and more connected.
Here are a few books I keep returning to. This may seem like a bit of a scattered list because there is no link to them, other than the fact that I love them, and they inspire me.
November Road by Lou Berney, for the seamless way he handles the multiple POVs.
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje, for the beauty of his prose and the brilliant way he unspools the story within the story.
My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite, for the pacing and the sheer originality.
Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Høeg, which I pick up again and again for that singular voice.
Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent because of that insane opening chapter and the brilliance by which the author really does unravel Oliver.
Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk, for a lead character the likes of which I’ve never seen before, and the way it defies expectation at every turn.
Normal People by Sally Rooney for the way it plucks at my heartstrings, every single time.
I’m sure all you avid readers out there have books you return to every now and then. And if new books aren’t giving you what you need right now, I hope some of your old favorites might provide some comfort during these times.