To be more specific, I forget why it is that reading needs to be a prioritised task, if not in my day, then at least in my week.
Priority of tasks is one of those things that absolutely drives my day. I have two daycare days a week for my baby, which is heavenly, and yet my elder daughter’s after school activities take a chunk out of both those days – so my working day starts somewhere about 9:30am after the school run, and finishes about 2:30 as I head out for the second school run. Five hours, twice a week.
On non-daycare days, I get somewhere between an hour and two hours of baby-free time, depending entirely on how long she naps. So priority of tasks is huge to me. I have to write, obviously. I have a book to finish this year. I don’t have enough time to be able to manage two big brain-heavy working shifts in the day, which means if there are edits or proofs or other writerly tasks to be done, it’s that OR drafting the new novel, not both.
All other tasks, like blogging, checking emails, housework (ha!), (damn that reminded me I had to set the robot vacuum going while writing this post), book publicity, etc. all has to be squeezed into those precious baby-free hours – or I have to ask myself whether it is in fact something which can be managed during a baby-present period of the day.
I can work while the baby is there. It’s just harder. Sometimes she plays at my feet or watches Play School or runs off into corners to giggle with her big sister. Sometimes she clings to me like a limpet. Sometimes she really really REALLY wants me to read that story to her for the third time, or dance like a giraffe, or build a tower so she can knock it over with her mighty tiny hands. No, she can’t talk yet. Yes, she gets her message across.
The tasks which get pushed into the ‘sure I can do that when the baby’s awake’ list, it has to be said, tend not to get done at all. It’s an erratic sort of list and I do feel rather sorry for the tasks that get shoved there indefinitely.
Technically anything that involves my laptop (WRITING BOOK) should be easier than anything that requires me being in another part of the house (WASHING UP, and damn I still haven’t set the vacuum going…). But I have to think about my brain, too. I’m fairly well acquainted with how it works these days and while it is technically possible for me to write a few paragraphs of the new book draft in between breastfeeding and ‘this little piggy,’ it’s not a very effective way to produce dark, sexy prose.
Which is all a long way around saying that reading books, a task which can technically be performed anywhere, and which technically requires less attention span than writing books, often gets shoved into the ‘oh I can do that while baby’s awake’ list. And that’s how I end up with books scattered, half-read, across the house, all with their bookmarks missing (Jem likes to steal bookmarks, it is less appalling than her book chewing phase was, but the glee on her face as she does it makes it very clear that she know EXACTLY HOW EVIL IT IS) and my ability to concentrate on anything more complex than Spot Goes To School goes out the window.
It’s easy, when I’m not reading, to think about the task as an indulgence, or a reward. Something to be done when the housework (DAMN IT, okay, I’m setting the vacuum up now). Somehow I have no problem justifying the expense of books to myself or my partner (duh, tax-deductible!) or the space they take up in the house (THESE ARE MY TOOLS OF WORK!) but I still can’t shake that guilty feeling if I have to admit I spent half my work day reading.
But here’s the thing: reading makes me write better. I don’t just mean research books which I hope will save me from major Jubilee-Line-in-World-War-2 type faux pas, or even those gorgeous classics of literature which train me to write better sentences, through pure osmosis. Reading anything, but especially books that inspire me with their goodness and occasionally those that anti-inspire me with their woefulness, flips a switch in my head that makes me think more actively about writing, and technique, and theme, and what I’m actually doing in that dratted book of mine.
No other leisure activity does this so successfully. Some do a bit – my new habit of inhaling Big Finish audios are quite close to it, and TV & movies-at-the-cinema often spark off the Story Creatures in my brain. (I recently watched 4 episode of Skins in a row and by the end of it was trying to figure out if I could achieve anything close to it with a series of linked short stories IN SPACE) But books are the best. They remind me, over and over, that I am a writer, and if I’m reading regularly while writing first draft work, then the work I produce is better and cleaner and more inspired, and faster to produce.
As long as, you know, I remember to put the books down SOMETIMES and pick up the damn laptop. Which really isn’t a problem at the moment, as I’ve got so out of practice at reading substantial works that I don’t seem capable of sitting still for more than 15 minutes at a time. Good for a less sedentiary lifestyle, not so good for finishing the latest Glenda Larke before Volume 3 comes out.
Does reading make YOU write better, or does it get in the way? What fiction has inspired you lately?