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"Read Everything, All The Time"

I love reading articles and books about writing. More specifically, I love reading articles and books about the struggle that is writing. Don't be fooled; I adore writing. It's my thing. But I do struggle with it. Mightily.

Anyway, I read a recent piece on Slate called Slowpoke: How to Write Faster. I encourage all of you - writers and non-writers alike - to pop on over and read it because it is hearty food for thought and is ultimately an interesting discussion about the speed at which we reach our goals, and live our lives. There are so many things I could address here, but one thing really struck me, one nugget of advice the author tossed in at the end, namely:

Read everything. All the time.

The author claims that doing so is "the only way to build the general knowledge that you can tuck away in long-term memory, only to one day have it magically surface when you're searching for just the right turn of phrase." On one level, this makes a ton of sense. By losing ourselves in writing of others, aren't we subconsciously inheriting a wealth of words, of techniques, of ideas? I imagine so.

But. But what I want to know is whether by "reading everything, all the time," we are also losing ourselves a bit? By focusing so much on the work of others, are we losing critical focus on our own work, on our own ways? Hmmm. I've been thinking a lot about this. Over my August break, I read a lot. A fat stack of wonderful books, old and new. And I loved this, this dipping into the lush prose of other people. But I also felt myself being swayed this way and that, falling in love with one style and then another, one breed of story and then another, one species of voice and then another. I felt compelled, yes, but also a bit confused.

As a rather green writer, I wonder if it is really good for me to read so much? For one, it's a simple time thing; for all those hours I am flipping pages, I am not writing my own. Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, I am impressionable. If I am still figuring out my own writing identity, is it truly helpful for me to be glimpsing the writing identities of so many others? Will this ultimately empower me or imprison me?

I don't know. I really don't. My instinct, my deep instinct, is that it is imperative to keep reading and reading. That my writing will only benefit from exposing myself to those beyond myself. But how really does this work if there are only so many hours in the day and I am still a young, sponge-like author?

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Thoughts? How much do you read? Do you feel that it helps or hinders your own creativity?

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