The past few weeks have afforded me the time to do a bit of extracurricular reading, which has served as a poignant reminder of how the reading/writing feedback loop works, at least for me. I think every book of writing advice under the sun tells us to read widely, variously, and voraciously, but I find what happens after is not discussed nearly as often.
Only rarely do I find myself directly influenced by any text I’ve encountered. I’ve never told myself to write a story or poem just like the one I’m reading. Every now and again I’ll come across an interesting poetic form, for example, and try to reverse-engineer it via a few trials of my own, but for the most part the new input caroms around the inside of my skull like billiard balls. Today I’m rereading Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s World of Wonders, for example (I selected it for a class sight-unseen, based on good classroom experiences with Lucky Fish, skimmed it over Christmas, and am giving it a class-prep scouring right now), which is a lovely blend of natural observation and personal reflection. Inside my melon, however, the new content I’m pouring into my brain is colliding with memories, stray thoughts, and daydreams as well as snatches of facts and all the interruptions one is apt to encounter when one tries to sit still for an hour or three. It makes for an unpredictable mixture, but from it–because my brain is feeling pretty spongy this morning–I’ve been able to pluck out several unexpected bits and bobs that might turn into poems or stories as well as a few Notes to Self that could figure in my revisions for the novel manuscript when May rolls around. It’s much like adding loam to depleted soil–there’s a little nourishment to be had, but there’s no telling what will grow from it.
The chief challenge when attempting to encourage the reading/writing feedback loop is capitalizing on those chancy, flickering collisions. For the same reason I keep a bedside journal (and have an overhead bedroom lamp I can turn on remotely with the push of a button)–to catch fleeting thoughts before I drift off to sleep, thoughts I would otherwise surely forget–I tend to keep my phone beside me when I write. My Notes app is filled with ideas and reminders, suggestions I hope my future self will be able to take advantage of. As a tag-along clause, it’s important (for me, at least) to jot down hints and intimations with sufficient clarity for Future Me to follow up on. If I don’t, I generally find myself mystified by the cryptic, impressionistic ravings of this “Bill Wandless” person–if that is his real name.
Those habits of receptivity and recording, coupled with practice as constant as I can manage, might well be the most important formative forces in my writing life. While I sometimes rather wish I had a bit more control over what those forces actually form, it’s hard not to be astonished and delighted by the way my mind can surprise me.