By K D Grace
It’s so easy for a novelist to get caught
up in the work and the PR and the marketing that goes along with the writing.
Sometimes it feels like weeks can pass before I raise my head and take a look
around. It never all gets done and I wouldn’t want it to. There are books on my
internal ‘to-be-written’ calendar that may not get written until 2050. There’s
so much more than I ever have time to put on the page, and then there’s
promoting and pimping what’s already out there. Days come and go. Seasons
change, and sometimes I hardly notice.
But every once in a while, I look up from
the laptop, raise my arms above my head and give a good stretch and there it
is, an epiphany. I had such an epiphany just before Christmas. It shouldn’t
have been a surprise because it’s something I’ve always known, something that
I’d just pushed aside because there was no time, something that was too
important NOT to make time for.
We were FINALLY taking a little bit of
holiday – going to Rome, which is one of my favourite places on the planet. I
was in between books, having just turned in my latest manuscript, and was as
caught up on PR as I was ever likely to be, so I did something bold and
decadent. I downloaded J R Ward’s Dark
Lover, and read a novel strictly and totally for my own indulgent pleasure.
I wasn’t looking for deeper meaning. I wasn’t aiming to see what’s going on in
my genre. I wasn’t trying to learn a new skill or do research. I absolutely, 100%
was looking to be entertained.
Frankly, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to
focus, since I was still on the come-down from the manuscript I’d just sent
off. Wow! Was I wrong! Starving woman … banquet … You get the picture. When I
wasn’t wandering around Rome and the environs, drinking in the scenery, the
history and the ambiance, I was reading. I read Late into the night; I read
early in the morning, I read over breakfast and in the underground. Whenever I
wasn’t playing tourist, I was reading –three novels. I was in heaven! I’m not a fast reader, and okay these weren’t
tomes by any means, but for me, it was epic! And it was a powerful reminder of
why I read for pleasure, and how much I’d lost by not reading for pleasure.
Time! That’s always my biggest complaint. The
bane of my existence is that THERE IS NEVER ENOUGH!!! Who the hell has time to
read for pleasure? That was the question I’d been asking myself for the past
few years as I worked at becoming a published novelist, as I worked at pimping
what I’d written. It’s a complaint I hear often from other writers. It’s a
complaint I hear from lots of people, actually.
Amazingly, what I discovered in that
exquisite week in Rome is that I can’t afford not to take time to
read for my
own pleasure. I seldom actually get an escape from what I do. What I do is never
done, and I love that about being a writer. BUT that means I have to force the
issue when it comes to feeding my creative self, when it comes to just resting.
There’s very seldom a moment when I’m not thinking in one way or another about
my work. Writing dominates my life in ways that are, no doubt, beyond neurotic.
Reading for pleasure is the great escape – even if it’s just a little while
before I go to sleep, or while I’m on the bus or while I’m eating my lunch.
It’s that little bit of time when I’m outside the worlds I’m creating and in
someone else’s story – strictly for the fun of it.
The Escape is always followed by the
return. I go back to my own work more relaxed and more focused because the
break I’ve had is a total break. The return is followed by the analysis. That
takes place in the shower or while I’m cooking dinner or doing laundry. The analysis is not hard work; it’s just
reflecting on what makes the novel I’m reading work for me, or not. Were the
characters endearing? Were they irritating? Did the plot move me? Can I predict
what will happen next? Beyond the kind of analysis all writers do when they
read something someone else has written is the idea that I’ve derived pleasure from
what I’ve read. I’ve engaged in someone else’s story and immersed myself in it.
That’s always a prompt for me, a little push to make me consider my own stories
and my use of craft to immerse readers in the tale I have to tell. Immersion in
my own story is, for me, a given. It’s what I’m most obsessed with. It’s what I
have to do to make the story work, to make it a total immersion experience for
my readers as well.
Yes, there’s a lot going on at a lot of
levels, and reading could very easily become an exercise in improving my own
work. No doubt it’s always that on some level, but the truth of it, plain and
simple, is that reading gives me immense pleasure, and I’m very glad that it’s
once again an integral part of my writing life