by Martha Wells
One thing I've been thinking about lately is how so many writers don't have time to read. We presumably got into writing because we were readers, but the older you get, the more you work, the more you have to do, and it starts to get hard to find time for reading. I hate that.
I've been trying to make a big effort to not just budget time for reading, but to read new authors. I know how easy it is to get into a rut, to not make time for anything but old favorites. I had a long period like that sometime after my late 20s/early 30s when I sold my first novel. I somehow just became convinced there weren't a lot of books out there I wanted to read, and my reading focus narrowed pretty dramatically. A lot of it was probably due to stressful events, and my reading brain was trying to close up like a turtle. It wasn't particularly consistent, as I did try a few new writers now and then. I could remember myself in grade school and high school and college, when I'd come home from the library with a stack of SF/F written by authors all new to me, read through it, and go back for the next like I needed to keep reading to get oxygen. But I wanted to read for comfort now and had lost that willingness to take a chance on new writers.
Then in the library one day I ran across The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon. I didn't think I'd like it, because I didn't think I liked literary mainstream-ish SF. (Had I actually read any books labeled literary SF? I don't know, probably not.) But I'd convinced myself I only wanted fun familiar reads and for some reason avoided books everyone said were great. But that day I picked it up and read it, and it was just as great as everyone said. I loved mysteries, for one thing, and while lauding its literariness nobody had said it was also a detective story. That broke the block, and I started making a more conscious effort to expand my reading comfort zone. Continuing to find books by new authors that everybody said were great who happened to actually be great helped a lot.
As I'm getting older, I think this is more and more important. If you only find time to read your old favorites and books by friends, it narrows your focus and your knowledge of the SF/F field. Writing is my job, and I feel like I need to keep up with how SF/F is expanding and the directions it's going in. Plus I'm really tired of seeing recommendation lists with the same three bestsellers on them. The wider I read, the more connected I feel to my original love of reading. And my brain is being stoked by new ideas and new viewpoints, and most importantly, it's fun.
Life, the universe, and everything creative
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