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Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Stuck? Rx: Read a Novel. Feel Worse, then Slightly Better.
When I am stuck – in life, in a waiting room, and of course when I am stuck in my writing – I read. Of course I'm always reading, but when I'm stuck as a writer, I read with a different sort of attention. Sometimes, no almost always, reading helps. I learn something about the world, about myself, about writing. Occasionally however, instead of getting me unstuck, reading makes me wonder about this whole writing thing, as in how can I ever hope to get there, from here.
The other day, I decided to read a novel that's been on my shelf for a while, The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss. Oh, reading the book was fine, excellent in fact. An interestingly complex main character with a voice that just did not quit, not even for a paragraph. A secondary character vulnerable enough to make me want to take home and mother, but smart enough to admire. A bunch of interwoven narratives seamlessly braided, but not until Krauss had set such an intriguing puzzle that I was up way past even my usual really late bedtime.
So, this book? As a reader, a huge hit. As a writer, a huge hit to the confidence. It's writing and craft techniques and talent and risks like Krauss's which makes me, even on a good day, doubt my own (meager) literary competence and nearly decide that anything I might produce would only be anemic in the extreme.
After I closed the cover, I thought to myself now you've really done it, now you'll be more stuck than ever, and depressed besides. And I was, for a while. Eventually (that is, after a nice nap), I picked up a pen. Some days, that's all you can ask.