This past March I decided to reduce my hours at my teaching job to part-time to try my hand at writing for a living. The decision goes into full effect in September when my status as part-time teacher/part-time writer is official. While this is all very exciting and I love the daily practice of writing, I’ve had my fair share of doubts about my choice over the summer.
Any writer will tell you that writing isn’t easy. To build an audience you need consistent output, some luck, and a willingness to believe it will all work out in the end. I keep reminding myself that this is a marathon, not a sprint. I look at each day as a chance to write and share something new, read something new, and expand my online community by connecting with people through social media.
This is all well and good, but some days I fail. I don’t meet my writing goal. Nobody cares about the piece I publish. Or worst of all, I spend an hour or two starting at the screen with very little output. Lucky for me, this is the exception and not the norm, but it still hurts when it happens. On the days when the minutes bleed into hours and I don’t have quality writing to show for my suffering, I also fail to read much of anything. All writers know good reading habits = better writing. But sometimes we need reminders.
My most recent reminder came in the form of a Joe Hill interview with author and book reviewer Paul Goat Allen. I’ve been following Allen on social media for some time and I enjoy his knowledge of everything from lesser-known, self-published vampire tales to successful fantasy authors like Terry Brooks. I love his book reviews and his author interviews are outstanding.
In his recent interview with Hill, The Fireman author talks a bit about his writing process, but what I found most helpful were his thoughts on the importance of daily reading. I was struck in particular by this quote.
“I care a lot more about my reading than my own writing. I feel like reading 40 pages a day is at least as important as scribbling my 1,500 words.”
Hill then goes on to talk more about the importance of reading actual fiction instead of relaying on books about writing fiction.
“Wallow in the fiction you love, whether that’s horror fiction, mainstream literary fiction, or erotica. Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules for Writing contains some fine (and funny) advice, but if you really want to learn how to write a masterpiece of crime, read his damn novels.”
These quotes from Hill reminded me of when I interviewed James Altucher last summer about his favorite book, Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson. Altucher had this to say about his decision to reread the book hundred of times.
“People always ask me, ‘What is the best book to teach one about writing? They’re thinking of books like On Writing by Stephen King or Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury, and those are all fine books. But really, Jesus’ Son. Read this book over and over and you’ll become a great writer.”
Hill reminded me that I need to keep pushing myself to read, dammit, day in and day out. Whether I scribble 1 word or 10,000 by the end of the day, sitting down with a good book will make me better at this thing I love. And reading lots of fiction, even if writing fiction isn’t my main focus, is super important. I’m amazed by how much books like Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut teach me about writing. I’m close to finishing it now and Vonnegut has shown me so much about how to be funny and provocative without losing the reader. After I finish Vonnegut, I’ll take Hill’s sage advice and continue wallowing in the wonderful world of fiction. It’s a must if I want to be a successful writer.
I am a director of academic support/special education teacher and writer. I love writing about/interviewing people about books, movies, music, records, and samplers.
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