Rendered Fat Content


Nicolas Lagneau:
Elderly Man Reading a Book (C.1650)
" … one can be fairly certain it isn't …"

What does a writer really do? This kind of question seems useful, whatever the profession, for professions notoriously label themselves as something other than the professional's primary occupation. A cook might spend considerably more time prepping than cooking. A typical astronaut might spend less than 1% of their time actually astronauting, the balance spent primarily in training. Surgeons can only spend a few hours each day in surgery and expend the balance of their days engaging in all the ancillary activities attendant to performing surgery: diagnosis, evaluation, follow-up, consultation, etc. Nobody actually does what they're advertised as doing, not primarily, and a writer's no exception. So what do writers do in lieu of writing? They read.

Every book I've ever read about how to become a writer prescribed precisely the same regimen: Read.
Read voluminously, they insist, for it's only by exposing themselves to a wide variety of writing that a writer learns the craft. Writing alone could never produce the requisite variety of good and bad examples. Writing might provide practice, but unaided, it lacks underlying theory. The distinction between good and bad writing seems situational. I suppose there was never a book or periodical published that the publisher believed was garbage, yet I've failed to find several memorable and even found a few absolutely unreadable. I avoid some writers because their prose doesn't match my reading style. My own work has even been deemed unreadable by some.

Now that I've assembled my latest work into manuscript form, how do I celebrate that feat? Yes, I Read. I tuck in and begin again. If I was a Zen master or even an apprentice, I suspect that I might feel in good practice because whatever the accomplishment, whatever the occasion, if writing or Publishing's involved, I know for sure what sort of celebration will be observed. Not cake, music, or dancing. Not speeches intended to rouse a wounded heart. Not supper on the town. No, we'll be called to sit down and Read something. Most likely, to Read it again, for the umpteenth time, but with a fresh and unblemished eye just as if this wasn't the umpteenth time. The skill involves engaging with a beginner's mind when you're well accustomed, when you already know who done it, and when you've already experienced the plot twist or even concocted it. A writer reads as if he's his audience rather than as if he personally created the stories. He Reads as an out-of-body experience, detached rather than present. He becomes naive and unprepossessing. He reads like he might inhabit a coma.

Days disappear between the covers of his latest. He was reading every inch of the way when he wrote it, then Read again while editing. Assembling, too, was primarily a matter of reading the reassembled stories to confirm that they still made sense and to repair the ones that didn't. Once the manuscript finally takes something closely resembling final form, it becomes curiously compelling. The writer/reader becomes preternaturally interested in pagination, for instance. He finds some paragraphs that do not seem to love their page and might choose to delete them from the subsequent draft. He's changing as he reads, but he's reading much, much, much more than he's changing. He's essentially and seemingly always and forever reading. I wonder why we're not called Readers rather than writers, but we might be confused with librarians, who, themselves, are hardly ever called upon to read while working. Whatever any professional's doing, one can be reasonably sure it isn't whatever they call themselves.
©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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