Rereading the same book produces new insights because the reader is a different person. Indeed, a good book is much like a mirror: the glass is the same year after year, but the reflection in it changes over time. (Christopher B. Nelson)
I like to think of myself as a creative person, but often I find the creative impulse seems to be in conflict with my desire to consume. If I’m reading a novel, I can’t simultaneously write my own. If I’m surfing the Web, I can’t bake the amazing pumpkin recipes I just discovered unless I get off the Internet.
So far, the only way I’ve found to combine the two processes is to knit while watching television, and while this does help increase the length of the scarf that I’m working on, it does nothing to increase the length of the stories I’m writing.
In many ways, our culture seems to be constructed to encourage (perhaps even to program) us to consume. There are so many books to read, websites to visit, news articles to skim, YouTube videos to watch, and Facebook post to fill our Newsfeeds, it’s impossible to take it all in.
In some ways, this avalanche of information is good. We can find the answers to many of our questions with a simple Google search, and there is a treasure trove of recipes, patterns, and blog entries to encourage us to create our own masterpieces.
So the question is, why don’t we? Or more specifically, why don’t I? Why don’t I write the poems that I could form from the phrases bouncing around inside my head? Why don’t I finish the story that is currently a tiny kernel of plot in my notebook? Why don’t I blog about the thoughts and ideas that I have?
Surely I could if I just put my mind to it. When it comes down to it, I have about the same amount of free time that I’ve had for the past few years. But somehow, when I get home from work, I find that in the few hours before I have to go to bed, it’s so much easier to consume what other people have created than to create anything myself.
And so the poems never get written. The pumpkin recipe remains untried. The story idea languishes in my notebook…
I don’t want you to think that I believe consumption is all bad. Sometimes it is very good, necessary even, because it is through consumption of other people’s words and ideas that we can learn different ways of thinking or discover “tips of the trade” for writing.
I think that most good writing is (in some way) in dialogue with the writing that has come before it. The problem occurs when we stop conversing with these ideas, and instead allow them to replace our own. Balancing consumption with creation in the writing life can be difficult, and I don’t think that I’ve achieved this balance yet. But I’m still pretty young, and I have plenty of time to keep trying…