Sunday, November 29, 2009

Are you unbalanced?

All writers start off as readers, and most of the authors I know will admit that they were addicted to buying books long before they ever thought of writing one. As someone confessed to me recently, "I buy three books for every one I read...I can't help it." Clearly there are worse vices to have, but one of the great ironies of becoming a writer is that you have less time to devote to the reading, the very act that inspired you to write in the first place. And once you start meeting other authors, including those who inspired you to write in the first place, the size of your collection of books can rival the library at Alexandria.

Lately I've been living on airplanes, flying back and forth between San Francisco and New York on a weekly basis. And the dilemma I always face is the temptation to read the entire flight, when I know that time in the air (away from phones and kids) is prime writing time, if only I can resist the urge to grab one of the 3 paperbacks stashed in my carry-on bag. Sure, I still read whenever I can, and most of my writing time in the early days came from stealing hours away from other activities and hobbies. But as a writer your reading is more directed, often driven by your latest research, or just catching up with friends' books.

Unlike many of my fellow scribes I haven't found the discipline to achieve a consistent balance between what I want to do and what I should be doing, so I've become a binge writer. I'll get sucked into a book like Keith Raffel's latest breakneck thriller, Smasher, and not write consistently for days, then after I finish I'll clear the decks and write nonstop for a week, barely sleeping. (I can tell when self-editing which prose was written first thing in the morning and which came from some self-induced sleep derived psychosis.) Then I'll take a day off, and next thing you know, a book is in my hands and days vanish like smoke.

I admire and envy those writers who bang out a consistent word count each day, but I'm not one of them. I guess I'm just not balanced, but anyone who's read my books already knows that.


Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Great post, Tim. Though I'm sorry you're on planes so much these days. One of the things I miss most since I started writing is the large amount of time I used to spend reading. In the past year I've made it a point to carve out time to read, scheduling it much as I do my writing. I write in the mornings. Read in the evenings. I also listen to books on tape while exercising or doing housework. It does take a while to find a good balance.

Jessica Lourey said...

What does this good balance look like? I think if I had a clearer picture, I might be able to get closer to it.

Why so much flying, Tim?

Keith Raffel said...

Tim, There's another Keith Raffel out there writing thrillers?

BTW, I wrote a good hunk of Dot Dead on flights between JFK and SFO. Maybe you should make yourself a deal. Write 1000 words and then you get to read the rest of the flight. If you go to NYC every week and write 1000 words on each leg, you are done with 80K words in around 9 months. And that's without writing anywhere else.

Muchas gracias, amigo,

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. When I'm in full draft mode I don't read - I just don't have time. Every spare moment I am writing. Once the draft is done and I'm between writing (planning this, tweaking that, wondering about how I'm going to fix that over there) I read. I read lots. Then I get back into writing. It is a nice cycle but the number of unread books is starting to pile up and I don't anticipate that it is going to shrink anytime soon.
Thanks for sharing this great post.

G.M. Malliet said...

You have touched on a major problem for me, one that only massive amounts of self-discipline could cure. I now have a TBR (to be read) pile, and a MBR (must be read) pile.

Sometimes these categories overlap. That's on a good day.

My solution is much like Sue Ann's: I read at night, even with the TV blaring. Reading during the day is way too indulgent for me, although I have been known to indulge.

Julia Buckley said...

Balance. Is that what the Greeks meant by the Golden Mean?

I have very little balance in any aspect of my life. I don't even have good physical coordination, much less spiritual or mental equilibrium. :)