It has taken me over a week to come down after volunteering with and attending events at our recent word festival. I entered into the week slightly down and was spiraling up within a few days. If it was a test of my ability to return to regular work, this is clear evidence that my mixed state is still far from stable. But I would not have missed it for the world.
It was an absolute thrill to mingle with people who are passionate about books and listen to Canadian and international authors talk about their craft. Whenever an author was asked about his or her influences, a love of the magic of books and literature shone through in their responses. If asked about advice for want-to-be writers, the common answer was read, read, read… read widely and drink deep from the wealth that books have to offer.
And so there was this man I crossed paths with at various venues throughout the festival. He told me he was a writer. Patting the breast pocket of his jacket he indicated that he felt he was getting ready to pull together his work. He had a gold pass so I saw him a number of times but always alone, ordering a coffee or buying a glass of wine at the bar. He would acknowledge me and we would exchange a few words on whatever interview or panel we was waiting for. But I never witnessed him engaged in animated discussion with fellow attendees.
The solitary man at a venue where excited discussions about books were regularly erupting between strangers is an anomaly.
On Saturday afternoon I encountered him in the lobby. He was carrying a copy of Sweetland by Michael Crummey. I got the impression he was done with the festival regardless of the major authors still to come. He said, “I have decided, this is the one that impresses me. Let’s see if he writes as well as he talks.” I responded that I had recently obtained a copy of his previous work Galore, the novel Crummey described as the one he feels he was born to write and that I wanted to read that first. He looked at me with surprise and said, “You mean you have heard of him?”
Suddenly it dawned on me that this man, the self-described writer, does not read at all. I suppose he thought he he would be able to absorb all the final inspiration and direction from this one book. If he did not know one of the best known Canadian contemporary authors and poets, even if he had never actually read one of his books, I could not help but wonder how he imagined himself ready to pull his accumulated scratchings into a final product.
With a full evening and day still ahead, he had selected his role model. I never saw him at the theatre again.
Even if it left me swinging up on my attempt to stablize this recovery from my recent manic episode, I was deeply inspired by the talks I attended, delighted by the company of fellow book lovers and especially grateful to a few authors who took a little extra time to encourage me as writer. I was regularly reminded that it is never too late to start.
And I am never lacking for books. In fact they seem to multiply in my life on their own as any truly avid reader knows.
5 thoughts on “Want to write? Start with reading.”
I have books galore that I never seem able to get around to reading. Much of that has to do with me feeling the need to write. I feel guilty reading when I read.
One thing I have noticed is the less I read the worse my vocabulary gets. I try to keep that in mind.
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The authors who addressed this keep reading until they are ready to write, especially f they are developing a serious work. That’s to cleanse the voices of other writers out of their heads. They still read but switch to something else, maybe non-fiction which has different tone. On author said your best tools are a good dictionary and a good thesaurus and not the online form. So that might be helpful should you fear vocabulary slippage.
It’s the easiest thing to overlook and one of the hardest to maintain, a reading habit. And also one of the most rewarding of all writerly habits.
I’ve been pining for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference in the United States this coming April. (I believe the Canadian equivalent is in May, though I forget what it is called. Feel free to send me an e-head slap if you already know all of these things.) Mainly to see old friends who’ve gone to the far reaches of the country, but also because a book fair is a wonderful and glorious thing and browsing & scooping up oodles of new books is just a delightful experience. I don’t think it even matters–at first–whether you read most of what you get. Because you never know when you’ll pick something up one afternoon and be transformed for a weekend or a month or a couple of decades.
Also I’m glad you had a good time. 😉
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Thanks for the response. I’m getting a late start but I was constantly reminded that it is never too late. I have looked at the Canadian Writers Association but the cost is significant for me at the moment (and the same for Professional and Associate members). Too bad I am so long past being a student.
My blog is an exercise forum for me but I have started seriously digging into available options for journals and serious contests and have started submitting entries after years of just dreaming about it.
Oh, goodness no, it is never too late. I think, from talking to assorted folks throughout the years, that “too late” is often confused with “really intimidating and difficult.” It’s much harder to convince yourself to start writing (and submitting, which is a different challenge over again) than it is to actually write. And beginnings and initial drafts are always much harder than revising those drafts & turning them into something worthwhile. Once you’re invested, you’re in. It’s getting invested in a blank nothing that’s hard.
Does the CWA offer discounts for volunteers? I just this year found out that AWP offers free registration for people who agree to work one four-hour shift. Four hours of work at an 84-hour conference in exchange for no registration fee? Done and done. I will find out in a couple of months if they accept my appliction. And I will still have to pay for transportation and a place to stay and meals and such. But it’s a good value. (The graduate student fee was $40; the adjunct fee is I think $75. Which is absurd as I made more money as a grad student.) Money is tight for everyone, but opportunity and community are valuable and important. If there’s any sort of volunteer discount, you should give serious thought to saying “To hell with the cost” and going anyway.