A “Strange Balance” for Writers

“With writing, I think you need to find some strange balance between confidence and humility. You need to start from a place of confidence, from the belief that you have a story worth telling and know how to tell it—you have to set out from this place with gusto. Then immediately open yourself to humility and the certainty of some kind of failure.” Will McGrath


Believe in yourself (but not too much)

“Writing is about hypnotizing yourself into believing in yourself, getting some work done, then unhypnotizing yourself and going over the material coldly. There will be many mistakes, many things to take out and others that need to be added.” Anne Lamott

The importance of a balenced diet (of reading)

When I was growing up, my mom made a wonderful dessert out of lemon Jello and evaporated milk. It was pale yellow and foamy and dissolved in your mouth as quickly as cotton candy, but without the overly-cloying sugar content. We called this dessert “lemon fluff.”

Delicious as lemon fluff was, I realized even then that it probably didn’t have a whole heck of a lot of nutritional value. As far as desserts go, it wasn’t as calorie-laden as it could have been, but most of the calories it did have were pretty empty.

They say that you are what you eat. It’s just as true to say that we are what we read. Over the years, I’ve read some books that reminded me of my mother’s lemon fluff–enjoyable but without a lot of substance.

fluffy lemon gelatin dessert

This isn’t my mom’s lemon fluff, but it’s close. Picture and recipe available from http://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/lemon-fluff-dessert

I don’t think it’s bad to read a “lemon fluff” book every once it a while, but if that’s all you read, your reading life is going to lack some of the depth and thoughtfulness it could otherwise have. Just as eating only dessert does not result in the healthiest possible body, reading only “lemon fluff” books will not result in the most incisive mind.

On the other hand, we all know people who are overly proud of their healthy eating habits or their classic-laden reading list. These things can be great, but not if they make a person frustrating to be around. The point of eating well or reading great books is for your own well-being, not so that you can go around acting maddeningly superior all the time.

That’s why I strive for a “balanced diet” when I read. I’ll alternate a thoughtful memoir with a suspenseful thriller, or follow up a cheesy romance with Charles Dickens. I believe the key to a wholesome reading experience is to approach every book with the willingness to learn from it.

Even books that don’t have the most original plot or use of language can still make you think about the way the world works or the way people are likely to behave in a certain situation. It’s true that there are books which fail to do this, no matter how enjoyable they were to read. But there are also books that can surprise you by teaching you something you never thought you’d learn from them.

The Maze Runner series is an example of this for me. I don’t particularly enjoy James Dashner’s writing style, but the books definitely made me think a lot about ethics and what kinds of things are justifiable to do in the name of the “greater good.”

Have you ever had a similar experience? Would you describe your reading habits as “balanced,” or do they skew to a particular genre of books? Let me know in the comments!