December 15, 2008: Reading, Writing and…

Most of the time, the fact that I read as a writer and write as a reader is a good thing. Most of the time, my two ways of being support and feed one another.

But not all the time.

Usually, when the two come into conflict, it’s because the writer in me can’t shut up about problems of craft in something I’m reading. I can’t lose myself in books that annoy my inner craftswoman. This is one of the downsides of being a writer: you learn so much about the technicalities and you get so used to picking your own work apart to make it stronger that the purity of the reading experience is compromised.

But not always.

Sometimes I’ll read something so wonderful that it’ll make me think “I might as well quit.” The book has done what I want to do — utterly captivated and entranced the reader, and it’s done it using writing chops I aspire to have. That writer is the writer I want to be, only I’ll never be her.

With my head I know that what I do isn’t less, it’s only different, but my heart expects me to spin a magic I can’t spin. My head knows that part of the captivating magic of an “I might as well quit” book comes from the fact that I didn’t write it. Part of what entrances me is the alienness of the writer’s vision and voice; they take me away from myself.

Of course, I’m the one person I can’t escape; if I’m writing truthfully, I permeate my work; therefore my own work can’t give me that alienness, that mystery I crave.

I’m thinking all this because I’m afraid that the one book I’m most afraid to read — because it really will make me want to quit — is the one book I’m craving: Sarah Monette’s Melusine. I’m afraid it’s the kind of book I wish I could write, even though my head doesn’t work that way, and that I’ll quit writing with any kind of faith in myself, the tiny bit I have now shriveling down to nothing.

I don’t know what I’m going to do. I think I should start it and face my fear, wrestling my doubts until we come to some kind of accommodation, but I’m not sure I’m ready to do that.


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