"I Could Write This": A Writer's Reading Pathology
I don't remember when the switch was flipped exactly. But it got flipped. Now, whenever I read for pleasure, I find myself thinking, "I could write this," and then I stop reading for pleasure and start examining word choice and mechanics and so forth. I'm not sure if this is something that plagues all writers, or if it's something that only plagues arrogant and narcissistic ones like myself.
Last night I chose from a stack of books at my bedside Golf in the Kingdom, which is mystical and spiritual book about golfing written by human potential author and scholar Michael Murphy (co-founder of Esalen Institute). It is beautifully written. I do not possess Murphy's writing style, nor do I wish to. But the idea of the book is a compelling one. Murphy plays himself in the book (written in 1st person and following what could well be a real sequence of events in his life). In doing so, he gets to describe a transformative experience he has had in life as it unfolds on a Scottish golf course.
Unable to simply follow along and enjoy a book that has earned high praise, and rightfully so, I begin wondering about writing a book about running. I think of the many running gurus I could "run into" on my long runs and during races. I begin planning the book in my head as my eyes pass over the lines of Golf in the Kingdom.
So I set the book down. It's late, and I'm done writing for the day (total word count for day: 0, I'm on holiday). I pick up Vonnegut's Jailbird. Vonnegut's writing style has inspired and informed me more than any other. The topic of Jailbird is irrelevant to me, but I love seeing how Vonnegut forms his story. In the excerpt I'm reading, Vonnegut is giving a backstory of the unlovable lead character and it makes me laugh. I can't help but think of the novel I'm working on, and who might need a backstory. I only make it a page or so and find I can't stop thinking about my book. So I set Jailbird down.
My next book is Running and Being, the classic set of essays by runner and writer and cardiologist George Sheehan. The chapter is about Sports, and what the philosophers of today and yesterday have had to say about Sports. I don't connect with Sheehan the way that I used to, but now I appreciate the courage it takes to be honest. It doesn't make me want to write another philosophical book about Running (I've tried this once before and it was too preachy), but it does make me wonder about writing a book about teaching using Sheehan's style. I, too, could draw on personal experience as well as the writings of Dewey, Palmer, Rogers, Freire, etc. I begin wondering about which publishers would consider such a book, and whether I would need an agent, and if getting an agent or getting published would be possible.
But I gut it out. I read the whole chapter. I force myself to listen to what Sheehan has to share from philosophers Santayana and Weiss and Plato and Aristotle. But I don't enjoy it. And I don't remember what I've read.
Maybe I'm just tired or I'm a lousy reader. Maybe I need a break. Or maybe I have a reading pathology: Narcissistic Reader Disorder or something like that.
Unless I'm reading to solve a problem, I struggle. I lose interest. I become distracted. I make it about me.