Because I have a terrible sense of timing, I spent August writing a novel. (Alas, no NaNoWriMo bragging rights for me this year!) After being consumed by the muse for a month and a week, I wrote the last sentence of the first draft yesterday, and did the mental equivalent of flopping over in exhaustion.
In a day or two, I shall attack the next project on the stack, which will be either to finish off a few more commissions or to draw Dungeons & Denizens, not sure which yet. But before I do that, I’m going to read a mother-hugging book.
Mere words cannot describe how important books were in my life once upon a time. My mother was a librarian until I was five or six, and never lost the temperament even when she left the job. As such our family hoarded books the way some families hoard cats, Beanie Babies, or collectible holiday glasses from fast food restaurants. Since the advent of the internet, however, books and I have somewhat drifted apart. As in, I still have more books than average and going to the bookstore is still my favorite recreational activity… but I don’t always have one in my pocket and pull it out whenever there’s a lull in the conversation, and I don’t have a room full of bookshelves stacked three deep any more.
I regret this state of things; going from someone who read two books a month to someone who reads two books a year has left me feeling out of sorts and given me the gnawing fear that my brain may be atrophying from disuse. But the reason I don’t read any more is because I tend to work myself to exhaustion, then not feel like I have the “time” to read. Generally once I start a book, I have a hard time putting it down until it’s finished, and if I try to read in small chunks over time, I lose the thread and get bored. In short, if I can’t read a book all at once, I have a hard time reading it at all.
But reading, and reading a lot, is fundamental to being a good novelist. You have to read in your genre of choice, so you know what’s going on and what’s “been done,” and you have to read outside your genre so you don’t become myopic or stale, and you have to read nonfiction to learn what the world is actually like, not just to add to the verisimilitude of your stories, but also to know how to actually be a proper human being.
Recognizing this, I have decided to treat reading as a project. When I finish one project (such as the manuscript I just wrapped up), I will read a book, and then move on to the next project. Besides getting me back into reading, hopefully this will also act as a mental palate-cleanser. When I’ve been deeply involved in a big project, even once it’s “finished” I tend to spend the next few days or weeks wanting to tinker with it, like somebody coming back and saying “And another thing!” after the argument is long over. Sometimes these thoughts are improvements, but usually they’re just puttering, and occasionally they’re making Greedo shoot first, so on the whole I’m better off ignoring them. By picking up a book, wildly different from the last thing I worked on, I hope to make my brain shift gears more quickly.
So! Having written a potboiler adventure novel about steampunk air pirates, today I delve into Assholes: A Theory by Aaron James, a nonfiction social studies book. Once I finish my next project, which is likely to be furry art or comics either way, I’ll probably re-read Soulless by Gail Carriger, or one of the various short story anthologies that have been building up by my bedside for the past few years.
By making it an assignment for myself, I can make reading a thing I don’t feel like a slacker for doing during the day, and doing it in binges is totally doing it right. Win/win!