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What Do You Mean, No Free Refills?

February 1, 2010

I’ve been struggling with ideas for fiction lately. I have a couple of stories in the works, but every once in a while I want to take a break from them and work on something else. Unfortunately, every time I sit down and do a quickie exercise or comb the Interweb for newspaper articles or free write (or any of the other things on my long list of “How to Get Ideas”), not much comes out. In my usual path-of-least-resistance fashion, I’ve taken to concentrating on some nonfiction work instead, but that doesn’t solve the problem. It just pushes it into the closet, down down down amid the ugly shoes I never wear and the Oriental rug covered in cat fur that I really meant to get cleaned but somehow it never happened.

Ridiculously extended metaphors aside, why can’t I think of a new story to write?

The answer, as usual, is that it’s my fault. This is one of the things about being self-employed that I hate the most. There’s no one else to blame. I guess I could blame my cat, but I don’t think I could convince myself of his guilt. It’s not his fault I’m devoid of clever ideas. His entire purpose in life is cuteness, and perhaps also badness, but definitely not inspiration.

The reason why my empty head is my fault is that I haven’t been refilling the cup. I haven’t been reading much of anything. I started a fantasy novel a while ago and reading it led me to one inexorable conclusion: I don’t enjoy reading fantasy. I used to enjoy fantasy when I was younger, but these days the formulaic nature of a fantasy story kind of bores me. So the unfinished book sits in my living room, its spine slowly breaking because I can’t be bothered to use a bookmark (you’d think a writer would learn to treat books better, but hey. It’s just a crappy paperback. I can buy another one, and then the author gets more money. Clearly the way I treat my books is actually out of respect and support for other writers, right?). I can’t start a new book because the old book can’t be abandoned. I have to finish that book. As much as I’ve lost interest in the plot and the characters, and as much as I kind of can’t remember what was happening when I last put it down, it must be finished. There are rules, ok? I may have made them up, but I still have to follow them.

In the meantime, the cup is empty. Because of my weird anal retentive reading habits, I don’t see an end to that any time soon. Obviously the solution is to force myself to finish that stupid book and then move on to something else I would rather read. Waiting around for ideas sure isn’t working.

Imagine that. Sitting around doing nothing, waiting for inspiration, is NOT an effective way to get new ideas. I have to PAY for my refill by reading a stupid dull book that I would rather chew on than finish.

Then again, some authors tell me that I should avoid reading crap:

“Eschew the trashy and embrace the readworthy. Remember the acronym GWIGWO: Good writing in, good writing out.” – William Safire

Thank you, William Safire, for giving me the strength (er, justification) I need to break one of my own cardinal rules. But wait, here’s Faulkner, he has a different opinion:

“Read, read, read. Read everything – trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it.” – William Faulkner

How can two guys named William have such wildly differing opinions? Dammit, it comes down to the fact that I love Faulkner and only vaguely remember who Safire is. So I guess I have to read that book after all.

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