Would you rather read a book or write one?
March 6, 2013
The question of whether a person would rather read or write a book is the difference between love and compulsion.
Readers devour books because they love them; authors write books because they must.
To those not infected with the writing disease, this may sound haughty or elitist, but it is just the opposite. It is a matter of the visceral reaction people have to heart-felt emotion.
How do you respond to the things that touch the core of your being? Musicians burst into song, artists search for a canvass, photographers attempt to capture the image, orators hide a snippet of sound away and reproduce it for an audience when the moment is right.
Authors sit down at their keyboards and piddle with a few words, string sentences together, read them aloud to see if any of the ecstasy of the experience stuck to the page, or if it slid off the monitor and returned to the ether, lost forever.
One of the worst things about trying to write books is the effect that endeavor has on an author’s love for reading. Most writers are rabid readers who all their lives have sought refuge on the printed page, escaped to wonderful worlds they could visit no other way. They still long for that experience even when they have become slaves to the compulsion of writing. But those long hours spent searching for just the right word, the correct rhythm, the timing that makes a line of dialogue sing corrupt them almost beyond the point of redemption.
Why did she cut to that scene at this point in the book? What sort of transition was that? Why did he use he said so many times? Why did he stop so soon? Why did he keep going so long? What kind of name is Atticus? I can’t believe he switched the point of view without any warning. And so forth continues the author-reader, perpetually on a bus man’s holiday, no longer free to enjoy the artistry of reading because of the tyranny of writing.
Of course, I am overstating the case.
Writers still love to read, I believe. But they read differently the more they write.
I suppose that’s one of the reasons I love movies.
I have no idea how they are made.
(Stephen Woodfin is an attorney and author of six novels.)