The daily dose

January 17th, 2008

Overdosed on all this talk about writing? Try reading something else. You won’t lose any time and you’ll end up in the same place only better.

We all know that good readers make good writers. You’ll be more limber, daring, confident and inspired by reading good writing.

A few days ago Kelli at the Zen of Motherhood gave me a Daily Dose award. Despite the family resemblance, she and I are very different, but we always see eye to eye. In the world of no coincidence, her gift was no coincidence. It inspired me to tell you this story.

One summer when my book proposal was stuck in reverse, I lost all drive. After a year of rejections, I wasn’t sure what I had to say anymore and why anyone like me should say it. I was no writer. I had nothing new to contribute. And so I set aside My Writing Failure and took up reading instead. I devoted the summer to reading women fiction writers to see what I could see. I wanted to hear their voices, and how they managed to find one. And when they found a voice how they managed to keep one. I picked one writer at a time and I read every title of theirs at my little public library. Thank heaven for little towns with little libraries. And what I saw was that these great, original, fearless women weren’t contributing anything new. Or at least the stories weren’t new. The point of view was new. They were contributing themselves, their lives, in work after work, as only they could. They were writing from experience, from memory, from sense and scenery so intimate and real that it could only have come from the landscape of their own lives.

I started with the immensely popular and readable Elizabeth Berg, who captures the words, thoughts, and whispers of modern women so transparently. I read Anne Tyler’s many stories of misfits and misfortunes on what seemed to be the same funky street in Baltimore. I read Alice Munro, the Canadian short storyist, capture the vast and humbling spaces of emotional distance. I read others, and then I quit going to the library for a while.

I had read myself back to writing again. And like the authors I’d read, I would write life as I saw it.

So I pass the Daily Dose award (non-pharmaceutical variety) on to Elizabeth, Anne, and Alice. To Willa and May. To Arundhati, Amy, Lisa, Margaret, Eudora and Jane. To Flannery, Tillie, Jhumpa and Louisa May. To Toni, Isabel, Charlotte, and Joyce Carol. To the really good book sitting under your coffee cup.

Lift your cup and fill yourself up with a premium brew. You can’t get enough of the good stuff.


  1. This is the truest thing I’ve read all day. Some of the most restorative times I can remember have been when I make time to disappear into the books. At times of burn-out, despair, doubt or fatigue, books like The Poisonwood Bible and The Red Tent, Truth & Beauty and the few I’m reading now(Let The Northern Lights Erase Your Name by Vendela Vida, Cherry by Mary Karr, and Momma Zen!) give me another planet right smack in the middle of this one to hang out on for a while.

    Thanks for the daily dose. I just gave you that award, too!

    xo Jena

    Comment by Jena Strong — January 17, 2008 @ 4:00 pm

  2. Excellent advice! Nothing cures burnout and makes you long to write again like reading something wonderful.

    Comment by Mama Zen — January 17, 2008 @ 7:28 pm

  3. I love this. There are no new stories, not new things to say. And, no one can say it like we can.
    Reading, getting lost in novels, is one of my favorite loves.

    Comment by bella — January 17, 2008 @ 7:53 pm

  4. Sometimes we forget that for every “yes” there are hundreds of “no’s”. Sometimes success comes with just one yes, but getting there without giving up is the hard part.
    Such a good exercise in not taking the most personal stuff personally.

    Comment by Mika — January 17, 2008 @ 9:19 pm

  5. I agree. I learned a while back that there are no new stories – just a fresh way of telling them. And boy do I love to read. I can’t sleep at night unless I first read a few pages of a good novel.

    Comment by Shelli — January 18, 2008 @ 3:09 am

  6. It isn’t possible to read too much or to read too much about writing–unless one uses it as a way to avoid the actual writing.

    Oh for the love of a good story–and inspiration comes from anywhere. Sometimes when I need to feel like a writer again I read The Phantom Tollbooth, which is NOTHING like what I write, isn’t a woman’s story (whatever that means), and is for children, but something about Milo’s journey makes me brave again–even if it sounds silly.

    I wish that bookstores didn’t categorize fiction into genres. Just put all the books together and let us pick what we want to read without the boundaries. A good story is a good story wherever it is on the shelf.

    Comment by marta — January 18, 2008 @ 5:06 am

  7. And Marta,you reminded me that I wanted to cite two of the books that have inspired and encouraged me most: the children’s picture books “Pierre’s Dream” and “Miss Rumphius.”

    Comment by Karen — January 18, 2008 @ 5:17 am

  8. Excellent advice! I read so many wonderful blogs that inspire me every day in my thoughts and writing.

    Comment by baby~amore' — January 18, 2008 @ 1:00 pm

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