When reading gets heavy, try writing (something different)

Young woman in a library (Image by Devran Topallar from Pixabay)

I’ve always had several books on the go at once, and rarely found one of them so unputdownable as to keep me away from interruptions, but these days I’m noticing I sometimes have more trouble than usual finishing long online articles. True, even in the past I would switch between a long article in The Paris Review and shorter online pieces, but now I’m even more impatient.

And I am so because all of a sudden I have too many books I want to read AND too many things I’d like to write. After reading books only for about half an hour a day, most months, for quite a number of years, I now have a window where I can read and write more, and I want to squeeze everything in it.

Okay. To make a long story short, if you, too, feel restless after reading, try writing something you’ve never tried before. Writing is in great measure a function of talent, life lived and examined (re that dictum: “The unexamined life is not worth living”), books and articles and all sorts of pieces read, and, finally, writing craft obtained—and this is critical—through writing and revising. This all adds up to a lot, but talent works with life and reading and craft synergistically, so you’ll find yourself more talented after years of writing, which is to say, don’t despair if at first you feel you’re not up there as a writer of certain types of writing. Things change and shift inside and with a whole lotta work, you will be.

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I’ve recently read a novel by B.A. Shapiro, called The Art Forger. From the first pages I could tell this was a very experienced writer. The words just ran to hug one another, the plot was intriguing, intricate, and tight, and the dialogue so very real and impactful. I ate up the book, something I don’t usually do, and then looked up the author. It turned out that Shapiro wrote five books in the 1990s to little critical acclaim, then wrote FOUR other books she couldn’t publish, to finally decide to write The Art Forger as a final test of the publishing waters. As it happened, this book, published in 2012, became a bestseller. Now, I don’t know exactly how many copies an author has to sell to have a bestseller (one source suggested that everything above 7,500 for a book’s lifetime is already considered a bestseller, while others say that the number is around 5,000 for a week to make the New York Times list, and 50,000 copies for the book’s lifetime) . . . but The Art Forger was a hit, and it continues to garner readers.

Okay, now that I mentioned it, here’s a little about the book. It’s an art thriller about forging a painting that may or may not have been an Edgar Degas original stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. The masterpiece is invented, and so are the characters connected with it. The book includes details about forging an artwork and a few well-known art forgers, but doesn’t get bogged down in these details. Instead, it’s quite a sprightly book about an artist, her lover (who owns a contemporary art gallery), and some imagined events from the life of Isabella Stewart Gardner. It’s a book sprinkled with a bit of everything: mystery, romance, art history and appreciation, police work, comments on the celebrity-crazed media of our times, on the art world and the way it can make and can break an artist, and more. If you love art, I highly recommend B.A. Shapiro’s The Art Forger.

Back to writing and still on the topic of this book, I was surprised at how someone wrote a one-star review complaining, among other things, about the dialogues in this book. The dialogues are one of the fortes of this novel, if you ask me—but then again, we all have different ears and psychologies. But on the topic of dialogues, I am reading another book I recommend: John Hough Jr.’s The Fiction Writer’s Guide to Dialogue. John Hough, Jr. is the author of six novels, I think, and his book on dialogue in fiction is useful and quite a pleasant read, given that he gives many intriguing examples from the work of various writers.

I also recommend you read contemporary classics, along with old-time classics. I’m reading some more Updike now, and while he’s a very non-politically correct white patriarchal male, he otherwise always delivers superb writing. And since I mentioned dialogues, his are pretty amazing. Here’s Rabbit, Run [1960], the first installment in John Updike’s Rabbit series.

I hope I’ve not only given you some more ideas for your reading hours but also encouraged you to strike out in some new writing endeavors.

Keychain with a girl reading and the Austin Phelps quote "Wear the old coat and buy the new book"
Wear the old coat and buy the new book, Austin Phelps quote on a keychain (affiliate image link)

Funny writer tee with the quote "I woke up like this" and lines of handwritten gibberish
I woke up like this (with lots of ideas). Funny T-shirt for a writer (affiliate image link)

Mug with Writerly humor: lines of handwriting and the meme "I woke up like this"
I woke up like this. Funny quote for writers, with lines of handwritten gibberish
(affiliate image link)

To a happier, healthier life,


P.S. Pins and shares are much appreciated. Thank you! 🙂

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