"Let us not be ashamed to speak what we shame not to think."
-Michel de Montaigne

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Sometimes Reading Isn't Power

I never thought I'd say this, but...I think I need to stop reading. Well, at least for awhile.

Let me preface by saying that I have great reverence for reading. Nothing makes me happier than the smell of a new book, except maybe an acceptance letter from an editor. I take pride in the fact that I have more books than I can handle; I could probably make furniture pieces out of the more substantial volumes.

The problem is this: as a writer (or still a wannabe at this point), I find that the things I'm reading are starting to choke me out. I've been reading so much that I feel quietly paranoid about what I'm doing. Sure, the right piece of literature can awaken and inspire other literature, but lately, I feel like all the things I'm reading are trying to puke up on my page.

I've read so many great poets online recently (time for unsolicited plugs): Mathias Nelson, Justin Hyde, and Amanda Aucter among others. I've also gone the traditional route and raided the library for inspiration. Recently I devoured Sandra Cisneros' Loose Woman, and Natasha Tretheway's Bellocq's Ophelia is sitting on my nightstand in the cue just behind Bukowski's What Matters Most is How Well You Walk Through the Fire.

I think it's a fundamental thing to educate yourself by reading as promiscuously as possible...until it's time for you to speak. I've been a reader my entire life and now? Now I need some quiet. I need to blood-let all these other voices and talents that want to smother mine. They are screaming at me when I'm writing, especially the male poets. And they say: who wants to read about that? You are too sentimental, too clean, too Tampax to have any bite. Be a misanthrope. The academic poets tell me that I'm not pedigreed enough. The influential poets tell me to copy them. It's vicious I tell you.

So I think, just for awhile, I will be alone in my own room and see what sort of sounds I can make. I think the cruelest thing you can tell a writer is that they are a stillborn version of someone else. I don't want to be anyone else, and I think the most successful people are those who are willing to be a total failure for the sake of being themselves. And maybe I'm not a special snowflake, maybe my writing voice isn't avant-garde or powerful, but I'll never know if I can't tell the other writers to shut up and go away while I work.

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