Fill your mind with words


I have a theory. If you want to be a writer, fill your mind with words.

I’m not sure of this bit, but I think it really helps to read those words. Maybe listening to them can also be helpful: perhaps it doesn’t matter how they get in. Just that they are there.

Of course, you also need the silence. The space, free of words. It’s not helpful to have continual signal going in. I find going for long walks (without headphones) helps here. It’s like baking with yeast: you add the words, then you leave them to do their thing. I also think that we have to rein in our tendency to let words flood our brains when we perceive, because words can shape our perceptions, and by going straight to words we can miss what’s actually there.

But to write well, and fluently, we must fill our mind with words. To this end, I’ve been guarding my reading time every day. In the midst of busy-ness, it seems a luxury to read a book, but think of it the same way you would regular exercise. Can you do without it?

What to read? In filling my head with words I focus on fiction, and I try to grab a balanced diet (although I’m not including genres such as chick lit or misery lit or crime drama here – I’m not brave enough to venture there). I’ve taken to buying novels from my local charity bookshop, and ploughing through them. Some are brilliant; some less so.

My last three have been:

Henderson the Rain King, by Saul Bellow

The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, by Gary Shteyngart

Vile Bodies, by Evelyn Waugh

I have a pile of several more candidates that I spotted in the charity shop, so I’m good for now. And I’m hoping that as I sit down to write, the words will come a little more easily, and also that they’ll be slightly better.

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