The eternal struggle between…

reading and writing.

If you’re like me, you may sometimes feel guilty that you’re reading and not writing, and you feel guilty when you’re writing and not reading. In other words, reading means you’re not producing. When writing, you’re definitely producing, but you’re not gaining new knowledge.

It’s best to view this dichotomy for the silly game it is. Reading is imperative for gaining new insight. Writing is necessary for organizing thoughts and discovering what you believe. The two are inseparable–bound in a creative and insightful symbiosis.

As adults, it’s important to teach this to young people. Knowledge must be acquired and then processed; reading and writing are ways to meet this end.

Two great books

I recently finish reading How to Live: Or a Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer by Sarah Bakewell. It’s a superb book–definitely worth reading in these difficult times, which I guess really aren’t that different from every other generation’s difficult times.

I followed up How to Live with W. Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge. According to my Kindle, I’m 70 percent of the way through the book, and I find it to be a great companion to Bakewell’s biography of Montaigne. In our modern lives, it’s necessary to live in the world but not be of the world, and I think both books contain great insight into how one must deal with life’s absurdities.

One of the highlights of my high school academic career was watching the film version of The Razor’s Edge in my senior English class. The last scene (featuring Bill Murray, no less) remains in my mind a cinematic picture of hope that we may rise above much of the world’s illusions and attain true peace.

Fiction vs. non-fiction

I once read somewhere that a person should only write fiction and read non-fiction.

I understand the logic behind this sentiment: You’ll only learn new things by reading non-fiction, and other people’s fiction is just a practice of their creative self-expression. Even though this may make practical sense, I don’t agree with it.

For me, fiction does teach me something; it teaches me empathy–or more precisely, it reinforces empathy.

Non-fiction fills my brain, but fiction fills my heart. I need both.

You need to read to write

In order to write, you’ve got to read. Reading is essential for acquiring new thoughts and perspectives. It widens your vocabulary and helps you find your voice as a writer–especially if you’re diving into books by great writers.

The words dry up in my mind when I’m not reading. This is because books are the spring from which all my creative juices flow. It’s interesting how when I read non-fiction, I blog about non-fiction stuff. When I read fiction, I write flash fiction entries and work on novels. I can push myself in different creative directions by reading various books. They’re like oars, so to speak.

Unfortunately, reading many times takes a back seat to everything else going on in life. In order to be creative, it’s important to remember that reading is part of the creative process. Taking time to open a book is like taking time to type at the computer.