One of the downsides to putting yourself on a fairly industrious writing schedule is that your reading schedule suffers. I could be writing, I could be productive, you tell yourself; what am I doing here goofing off? And so you end up not reading.
This has more negative side effects than I realized. For one, when you aren't actively seeking out new things to read, you lose sight of what else can be possible in fiction, or with words generally. The other night I discovered the Czech author Antal Szerb, and his book Journey By Moonlight — thank you, NYRB — and I thought, where has this guy been all my life? I had the same kind of reaction to Norman Manea's Captives; I felt all the poorer for not having learned about this guy.
GoodReads works as a partial antidote to that slacking-off. I particularly like the way you can set yearly challenges for yourself — you can provide an open-ended goal to meet, and meet it any way you feel like. Fiction, non-fiction, manga, whatever. (My own personal rule is that manga trades are like one-third of a book, so a three-in-one anthology would count as one volume.)
I have a hard time getting out of the state of mind that my time is better spent writing than reading, or that my time is better spent reading nonfiction than fiction. Some of this is snobbism, and I know it; some of it is self-importance, and I know it. It's tough to challenge and root out something that deeply ingrained.
Sometimes it's about competition with other art forms. I could watch a movie a day for the rest of my life and still not come close to seeing all the things I wanted to see. Ditto all the albums I haven't let listened to. But I'm finding a lot of the time the obstacle isn't how much time I have, it's giving myself permission to listen or watch. It's that ole debbil of don't you have something BETTER to do? asserting itself.
Certain people, god love 'em, are never afflicted by this. For whatever reason, they have a certain level of JDGAF in their souls. I envy them; they have a freedom I can only touch occasionally. It's something I've tried to rid myself of over time, or at least modulate, but it doesn't appear to be something I can completely dispel.
I find it all the more irksome because one of the things I'm constantly riding other would-be writers about is how they have to broaden their palates. Most of the folks I meet who say they want to write SF or fantasy don't seem to read much else other than that. It's good to know what other people in your chosen target market are doing, but it's not good to make that your sole source of creative input. (Nonfiction is rarely ever mentioned, either.)
I've long suspected one of the reasons I make this point is because I found that all the things I wanted most to bring to SF rarely could be found growing wild, natively, within it. All the really interesting stuff that it could be combined with always seem to be somewhere else. That told me the wise thing to do was to read broadly, and to think how any of these things — SF or not — were starting points and not destinations, and how the destination was something that wouldn't necessarily have a ready-made label waiting for it.
Anyway, I'm attempting where I can to get back in the saddle, and to not let the feeling I could be doing something else "useful" get in the way. I'm finding that said feeling is often misleading anyway. It's not an attempt to get myself to go do something constructive, but rather a way for me to stave off guilt. If the guilt is the real motive, then I need to attack that part, and let the scheduling of doing constructive things be its own thing.
Want to see what kind of writing all my reading has produced? Check out my (new!) novel Welcome To The Fold, and showing your support for it by registering at Inkshares and adding the book to your "Follow" list! Failing that, you can always buy one of my existing books, available on Amazon Kindle and in dead-tree format.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind