In his book On Writing, Stephen King says that when talking about writing he often tells his audiences that the prime rule is
Write a lot and read a lot.
Exploring writing is a fairly new endeavor for me, so I’m still working on being able to write a lot. But reading a lot shouldn’t be a problem. Emphasis on the word shouldn’t. Truth be told, while reading has always been one of my top favorite pastimes, it has suffered desperately over the past several years, whether from busy-ness or emotional and mental fatigue. The years 2013 and 2014 were difficult. Between books for small group studies and those required for my copyediting coursework and battling an emotional breakdown and the resulting depression and anxiety, it was all I could do to complete the bare minimum required. Those two years I probably read a combined total of fifteen books.
In 2015 I was still battling fiercely with depression and anxiety from the emotional breakdown, but reading was on the self-care list that my therapist had tasked me to write when I first started seeing her in October 2014, so I attempted to make it a bit of a higher priority. I’d also discovered the Goodreads reading challenge, which tracks your progress toward a goal you set, and that little progress tracker made me feel successful at something, which helped significantly. That year I ended up having to adjust my goal down from twenty to fifteen, and I still didn’t quite make it—I only finished fourteen books—but that was better than any one of the previous years, so I accepted the effort as a win. I also noticed the difference that reading had made in my life over the course of the year and just how detrimental it had been to my mental health for reading to have been so overlooked in previous years.
The depression lifted at the end of 2015, but as 2016 began I still wasn’t quite ready to accept that I was “out of the woods,” so I set my Goodreads challenge goal low: just fifteen books. I figured if I’d been able to read fifteen during the darkest year, then it was a reasonable goal to start with. By the end of February, however, I’d already finished twelve! So, I adjusted up, and then again a couple months later. In the end, I left my goal at twenty-five books, and I completed thirty-four! And trust me when I tell you, it had a marked effect on the entirety of my internal landscape. I read a lot of fiction, but as I started this blog (February 2016) and began noticing the rumblings in my heart indicating that perhaps I was supposed to be a writer somehow, I also decided to include some nonfiction books on writing and creativity: Best. Decision. Ever.
At the end of 2016, I had collected quite a few books on writing, story-crafting, and the creative/art life. I had also attended a creativity conference that sparked all kinds of fires in my soul, and I had a year of blogging under my belt, along with a few short stories (two are available here), half the scripts for a scripted webseries, and an accepted submission to a curated art-faith blog.
In my last post, I talked about how this idea that I should perhaps be a writer (that is still so hard to say out loud or in writing!) is very new and leaves me with a lot of questions that have not been answered for me yet. So, like Peter I’m going back to what I know:
I’ll keep writing what is already in me to write, and I’ll keep reading to nourish what’s to come.
In 2016 I read two books that were transformational for me: Because You Have To: A Writing Life, by Joan Frank, and Breaking Old Rhythms: Answering the Call of a Creative God, by Amena Brown.
The first provided a glimpse into the internal journey and experience of someone who’s writing journey had not been easy, and the second provided new metaphors and frameworks for understanding the creativity of God and how He uses His creativity to get us on the paths He desires for us and then gets us back there when we wander down our rabbit trails and get ourselves lost. They were both marvelous. Neither of them told me how to do anything, but both of them contributed to a sense of comfort that I’m not alone in my questions and surprise and shock and struggle.
My reading goal this year on Goodreads is again twenty-five books. Most of what I’ll read this year will be fiction—some literary classics and some contemporary—because it’s good for me. But, as I considered my reading for 2017, I decided to be more intentional about exploring this writing/creative side of me that has been increasing its demand for attention and investment. So, several of the books I’ll read this year will be that collection of nonfiction books on writing and creativity that I mentioned above. I decided the first would be On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King.
I started it in January but had to put it down for a couple of months while I worked on copyediting an epic-length novel (available for Kindle now, and coming in print very soon!). Now that the editing project is complete, I was able to pick back up with the Stephen King book and finish it. Oh wow! I have never read any of his novels or stories, and I promise you I never will—horror is just not a genre I will read or watch—but this book is pure gold! I guarantee this is going on my list of books to re-read on at least a yearly basis! One of my favorite quotes says this:
“Put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.”
It’s such a good reminder. And to that end, I’m allowing my life to come first, which includes reading. So, to conclude this post, I thought I’d share the writing/creativity/art-life books I have on my list to read this year, and as I read them I will periodically share quotes that resonate with me and for my journey. Hopefully, they will encourage you in whatever journey you are on as well! And if you have any other book recommendations, please let me know in the comments!