So I’m scrolling through my Twitter feed, happily minding my own and everyone else’s Twitter-business, when I come across a link to this post, courtesy of Publishers Weekly:
Most of What You’re Reading is Probably a Waste of Time (Writerly Life)
And I immediately thought of this:
To read a newspaper is to refrain from reading anything worthwhile. The first discipline of education must therefore be to refuse resolutely to feed the mind with canned chatter.
@RebeccaSchinsky put it more succinctly: “Holy cats is that pretentious!” THIS.
Here’s what you need to know:
- Reading most things on the Internet is probably a waste of time.
- Reading “Most of What You’re Reading is Probably a Waste of Time” is probably a waste of time.
- Reading the rest of this blog post is probably also a waste of your time, unless you feel like coming down from the rarefied ivory tower of People Who Think, Read About, and Write About Only Lofty Thoughts. Then you might enjoy it.
A running commentary on the commentary that is “Most of What You’re Reading is Probably a Waste of Time.” The following represents only the opinions of the blogger and not of management, even though they are the same suuuper-opinionated person. Also, Princess Grace, Manager Cat and Librarian Cat in Residence, wants you to know thatall reading is a waste of your time, which should be spent worshiping the Manager Cat and Librarian Cat in Residence. FYI.
Probably a Waste of Time Part 1: Teh Internets. I can’t even snark this entire section of BLH’s blog post. The internet is a time-suck of gargantuan proportions and we all know it.
The only thing I can say is that, being of that rarefied generation of writers who wrote Before The Internet Was a Thing, writers have been finding ways to do anything but write since long before the Internet became A Thing. A time-suck doesn’t need to be of gargantuan proportions for a writer to exploit it for all it’s worth. Hell, if you have a window, you will find ways for it to suck all your free time. Trust me. I have a window.
(Sidebar: Yes, Virginia, there was a Before The Internet Was a Thing. It’s the primary reason no one has yet developed a time machine.)
Probably a Waste of Time Part II: Real Books. …Wait, whaaa? Jonathan Franzen is crying into his e-reader right now.
Seriously, BLH warns you to beware junk-food reading. Which also includes textbooks?
There’s the flavor-of-the-month book, the one your friends tell you is the best thing they’ve ever read, but is actually trite and over-done.
Not to be a snarkyface, but I’m going to be a snarkyface: why are you reading this book, then? If you know it’s the “trite and overdone” flavor of the month, then either you’re reading it to placate your friends (I do this a lot), or you’re reading it because some part of you gets a kick out of things that are trite and overdone. Maybe you don’t want to announce that second one at parties, but there’s no shame in it per se.
BLH’s advice for getting over the flavor-of-the-month hurdle, btw, is to tell your friends that you haven’t read the flavor of the month but to suggest “some great new book that is less-known, but far more rewarding.” To paraphrase the wisdom of Rebecca Schinsky, holy pretentious cats, Batman!
I mean, suggest books to your friends all you want. Never, ever let me or any other curmudgeonly crankypants blogger who probably wastes your time with her writing stop you. But please, don’t sell it as “no, I won’t read the crap books peddled to the illiterate masses, for I am busy reading something better and far more rewarding.” Unless you want these people to stop inviting you to parties.
There’s the dry intellectual text you told yourself to read in college that has little connection to the kind of writing you’re doing now.
If you haven’t finished this book by the time you’re out of college, my advice is to give up. Either you love these books, in which case you’re reading them and don’t see them as a waste of your time, or you don’t, in which case they’re wasting your time whether you write for a living or not.
There’s the writing that’s simply bad, and that we continue to read anyway: bad newspapers, bad magazines (truly awful magazines), bad blogs. There are the stories or articles we read because they comfortably confirm our own world views;
*considers amount of time spent reading Man Boobz in the past week*
Okay, BLH has me there.
In my defense, critical analysis of misogyny is one of my hobbies. But BLH is absolutely right in that it’s probably not making me a better writer. (….OR IS IT??? …No, probably not.)
there are the articles with the pictures we want to see; there are the articles that indulge in our desire for wish-fulfillment or even (let’s face it) physical arousal.
Personally, I find masturbation a useful way to clear my mind and manage my chronic pain so that I can write clearly and more effectively. Same with kitten pictures. But to each zir own, right?
All of these forms of writing sate us in one way or another; but they don’t make us better writers, and that’s why I call them a waste of time.
And this is where BLH and I part ways. Yeah, a lot of the reading we do doesn’t make us better writers. But unless you’re actually trapped in a nightmare version of The Sims 3, you probably do a lot of things that don’t directly apply to your personal job/career/passion. Including reading.
And that’s okay. Not everything we read needs to be aimed at making us better writers. Personal/professional improvement isn’t the only reason human beings read books, and it shouldn’t be the only reason writers read them – especially if we’re trying to “capture the human experience” in our work.
Besides, as Stephen King points out in On Writing, sometimes reading the latest pulp crap from the dime store checkout is really helpful. “I can do better than this crap!” we say to ourselves. “Hell, I am doing better than this crap!” Then we go home and bang out another dozen query letters or drop another handful of short stories in the mail. “I can’t believe Stephenie Meyer is published and I’m not” is a powerful motivator sometimes. (Trust me. It’s mine.)
Probably a Waste of Time Part III: This Blog Post. Also BLH’s blog post. Also, writing blogs in general. And eating, drinking, sleeping, pooping, showering, breathing, walking….
Anything that isn’t writing is, um, not writing. The key isn’t to obsess over things that aren’t helping, but to choose whether or not to work on one’s writing – either by writing or by reading writing-supporting materials or by sitting in a coffee shop making up stories about the other customers or whatever – at any given time.
Pretentious writer-bloggers notwithstanding, you’re the only one who can make that call for yourself.