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The well-read life leads to a well-fed writer

I had a day, today, that calmed the soul and electrified the mind.

Now if that opening statement doesn’t grab your attention, well, you’re probably a lost cause and nothing is going to tweak your interest today. I experienced one of those rare times when the phone didn’t ring, the rain didn’t fall, the dogs didn’t bark, and the pleasure of leisure ruled the day.

When I say leisure I’m not talking of the absence of work or even the absence of doing. I’m talking of a state of being that is seldom attained in today’s frantic, hectic world. I’ve actually been busy since early this morning. One of my loves is the act of reading. I can’t remember not reading. All through my toddler years and my teens, books claimed a prominent point of importance in my life. I fell in love with Irving Stone’s The Agony and the Ecstasy when I was thirteen and the next ten years re-experienced those words and images through an annual reading of Stone’s masterpiece. I didn’t know it then but that book has played an important part in my growing interest to write and in the development of my creative process. The book, the subject, and the author have surfaced at high and low tides in my life and I treasure those times.

But I digress. . . . I began the day with a morning ritual of reading for fifteen to twenty minutes. I hadn’t thought too much about it, but I guess one reason I prefer baths to showers is that a bath allows me to soak and read as the water fades from hot to cold. I have not been able to replicate the experience in the shower. The books read upon rising are usually ones that focus on some aspect of writing, particularly craft, or are of a spiritual nature. By reading first thing in the morning when strands of my subconscious are still threading through my conscious mind, I’m filling my mind with things that are important to me, feeding my subconscious and centering my mind for the day ahead. Most mornings I make it through a chapter. This morning I continued my reading of Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing by David Morrell. The book has provided me with a lot to think about lately, and starting the day off with an author who manages to tickle my brain cells is a good way to begin.

Then it’s time for the computer, after the obligatory cup of coffee, where I opened the file of one of my project journals and began writing. My fingers tapped out a flow of words that captured many of my thoughts regarding this particular project. That exercise morphed into some actual writing that used up two hours.

After an hour or so of reviewing and answering emails, I picked up a book I had recently finished reading, Ruby Tuesday, and wrote a review of the book for Having accomplished that I picked up another book I’d received to review and began reading. The book is The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life: How to get more books in your life and more life from your books by Steve Leveen. It’s a rather large title for so small a book, but make no mistake, the book is not slight. Levee is one of the co-founders and CEO of Levengers, that wonderful catalog for the serious reader. I’m twenty-five pages into the book and well on my way to loving it.

The reading sparked this blog entry, and so the constant back and forth between writing and reading continues. This constant movement between the two processes engages my creativity and energizes me, prompting more writing. Reading is not a passive act. It is active. It is a conversation that I enter into with the author. We have a good talk going when my jottings fill the marginalia on every page, but the dialogue is even better when my impulse to answer sparks the need to write—and that is what has happened today.

What about you? What are your reading habits? I hope you have some.

Good writing is a reflection of a well-read mind.

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  • susan

    Wow, you’ve touched on two things central to my life right now: the need to read on a consistent basis–not textbooks, but real books of and on fiction, and the need to schedule the time into my days for reading and writing and stick to it in a dedicated manner. I’ve let the r&w interfere with routine chores and vice versa, neither life being accomplished satisfactorily because they conflict, rather than coincide by not alloting each its own time. Thanks for the inspiration to organize.

  • Deborah Whitaker

    Vikk, you’ve touched on one of the best things about being a writer: the freedom — even the necessity — to incorporate reading into your day and your work.
    I read every day, even if it’s only for a few minutes at bedtime. That reading invariably sparks an idea for writing — which is why I panic when my bedside supply of Cambridge 3×5 notebooks runs low. If I’m _very_ lucky, the idea will wiggle its way into my subconscious while I sleep and I’ll wake up with a nearly complete scene or article. It’s interesting that the idea almost never has anything to do with the reading material. The act of reading itself seems to stimulate those parts of the brain that write. What luxury to sit at the keyboard and let the words spill out, rather than struggle for hours to “create” them. Those are the days when writing truly is “leisure.”

  • Georganna Hancock

    Glad to see you have time to read Morrell’s book — put up some “Cliff’s Notes” for us! I blogged about him last month ( and directed readers to an excerpt of his first chapter, which is excellent. See my comment to that post about what makes me write. And if I couldn’t read (as in being blind), I don’t know what I would do, but life would not be much worth living, I suspect. As it is, I read constantly — except in the tub!

  • Mark

    Leisure is a state of being. I need to read more. “US” magazine just isn’t doing it for me.

  • Barbara W. Klaser

    Thanks for the reminder about Irving Stone. I read his novel, Passions of the Mind, about Sigmund Freud, when I was in school. If I were to pick one of his now, I think it would be Lust for Life, about Vincent van Gogh.
    I find that I love reading non-fiction in the morning, when I first wake up and my mind is fresh. Fiction in the evening, unless it’s a more laborious type that I can’t absorb when I’m tired. For instance, Name of the Rose, if I read it today, would have to be morning reading.
    And yes, I always have a notebook beside me.