READ MORE…BUT NOT AT ALL COST

A couple weeks ago, in place of a post with New Year’s Resolutions, I went back over some thoughts on the meaning of the new year. Here we are then in the first post of 2015 and I don’t want to go back on that, but there is something I’ve been thinking about in the last week or so.

In those past New Year’s Resolutions posts I almost always fell back on the resolution to read more, for pleasure, in the year ahead and usually ended up bemoaning my inability to find enough time to read, and so on. And last week’s craft idea was designed in furtherance of that, and as part of an effort to stop thinking of reading as a chore or a to do list item and remember that I read not because I have to but because I want to. I love reading, and always have.

And you know what? I have added reading to my to do list for the beginning of 2015, once again, but I try to look at this not as a “task” per se, but as a reminder: Take an hour and a half (at least) every day to read. And I’ve started exercising again, so that’s half an hour on the exercise bike devoted to reading—a third of the way there! So far, anyway, I actually have been remembering to read more, and it’s all good.

And keep that in mind as we continue here that reading is good, I want to read more and am determined to give myself permission to spend more of my busy day reading, and no one should ever think I’m ever saying anything except you should read, read, read, and read.

But . . .

In thinking about reading, and how much time I spend (or don’t spend) reading and the time I spend doing other things, I think I might have just caught glimpse of the coveted Bigger Picture.

In many of those past New Year’s Resolutions posts I also chastised myself for how much time I spend watching TV, and always determined to watch less TV, and so on. To that end, I even directed some measure of my crippling OCD toward keeping track of how much TV I watched over the course of a month and then compared that to statistics on how much TV the average American watches and then saw in stark black-and-white that I watch way more TV than the average American . . .

See, this thing where you track your behavior in order to figure out ways to change your behavior is something I do—and I do it a lot. I do it way too much. I may spend more time tracking my habits than I spend on any other habit. It’s a form of work avoidance, a way to provide excuses for myself to myself. I own that. Don’t be like me.

In that regard, at least.

You know what I should do? I should track how much time I spend tracking how much time I do things so I can see if I spend more or less time tracking how much time I spend doing things than the average American.

Or, not.

So, okay, I spend too much time watching TV and not enough time reading. Seems like a simple enough equation: watch less TV, read more. And I can do that.

But back to the Bigger Picture.

From time to time I write about the publishing business, and talk to classes about the publishing business, and help clients navigate the publishing business, and in general try to keep my ear to the ground in all things publishing. And though the news tends to be reasonably good year over year, the publishing business is a lot smaller than I think most people, especially avid readers (and aspiring authors) might think.

People do still read, and people do still buy books, and some authors still do get rich, and this is not going to be one of those doom and gloom things, but the fact is that the publishing business has settled into being a smaller(ish) part of the overall entertainment industry and expectations have been realigned to that end.

I’ve also spent a good portion of my life in the pencil-and-paper role-playing game business and have watched that shrink and shrink and shrink year over year from the front lines. What used to be a cottage industry supporting a number of good-sized businesses like TSR, White Wolf, Game Designer’s Workshop, Chaosium, etc., has shrunk to, pretty much, Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, and a bunch of one- or two-person Kickstarter-funded operations run out of someone’s home (like Wizards of the Coast used to be).

But that doesn’t mean that RPGs are dead. Far from it. There are still a ton of people (including yours truly) still playing RPGs, designing RPGs, and selling RPGs. The hobby has settled into its niche, which for whatever it’s worth, I do not mean as an insult. To some degree, everything is “niche.” Just some things occupy a bigger niche than others, and those niches, like publishing, RPGs, etc. grow and shrink over time.

There are still thousands of books published every year and millions of people reading them. But they aren’t the massive cultural lynchpins the were in, say, the 1950s. Books aren’t the “go to” media. But they’re still perfectly relevant.

Pencil and paper RPGs have been overwhelmed by video games, but they’re still here, and likely will still be here even as those online RPGs get better and better. Just like books survived the movies, TV, the internet, etc.

So when people talk about the shrinking book publishing business or the even faster-shrinking RPG business they often, as I just did, cite competing media for that decline in readership. And it’s not an incorrect assumption.

In the 50s, and even into the mid-60s when an author like Truman Capote could sell out Town Hall in New York for a reading of In Cold Blood, there were books and board games and movies and TV and the radio . . . and since then RPGs, video games of all categories, more TV, YouTube, podcasts, the blogosphere, and the internet in general have been added, while books, board games, movies, TV, and the radio are still here. The theater wasn’t destroyed by movies, but it was made smaller. The movies weren’t destroyed by TV, in may respects they merged. Radio wasn’t killed by TV either. Very few new operas, if any, are being written in a given year now, but operas are being performed in major cities around the world. Likewise the ballet, symphony orchestras, live comedy, puppet shows . . . madrigals, church choirs. If you passed by any graffiti recently, this is an “art form” that goes back at least to ancient times, and arguably all the way back to the Neolithic cave paintings.

Art forms don’t get killed.

They get bigger and smaller and change in a appearance and presentation over the years (or even millennia) as more new media is added, and believe me . . . even more will be added in the future.

What does all this mean, then, as far as a resolution to read more books and watch less TV, or my oft-given advice to writers to read, read, and read some more?

I want to encourage both you and myself to read more, but proceed with caution.

If you’re reading less and playing D&D less is that necessarily the worse thing ever? What are you filling that lost time with? If you’re watching Here Comes Honey Boo Boo for more than the space of time necessary to turn the channel then for God’s sake (or at least your own) turn off the TV and find a book . . . any book. But as much a champion of books and the people who write, publish, and sell them as I am, I can’t tell you not to watch Breaking Bad. If you’re a storyteller, are interested in writing, that series is can’t miss. Same for The Walking Dead.

I’ve been listening to Marc Maron’s brilliant podcast WTF. Is each one of those 90-120 minute episodes wasted time, or time better spent with a book? No.

In particular, check out his interviews with Louis C.K., and recent interviews with Bret Easton Ellis and Paul Thomas Anderson. Maron gets deeper into the creative process than any interviewer I’ve ever heard. That is not wasted time.

Have you watched Cave of Forgotten Dreams on Netflix? How about Room 237? These are as valuable as any books I’ve ever read. Blasphemy? No, I don’t think so.

After all, I’m the one who keeps telling everybody that as writers moving deeper into the 21st century we need to think of ourselves not as “novelists” but as “content providers.”

And though you do have to read before you can write, and really should read while you’re writing (across all genres and categories), watch TV, too. Go to the movies or watch movies from home. watch TV series like The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, Rome, Louis, True Detective, Wallander . . . TV has got some amazing writing going on right now, actually.

And play video games.

And play pencil-and-paper RPGs.

And watch football.

And go to a play.

And . . . ?

Will a few episodes of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo help you with that tricky accent in your work in progress? If so, Godspeed, my friend.

Godspeed.

 

—Philip Athans

 

About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and the recently-released How to Start Your Own Religion and Devils of the Endless Deep. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
This entry was posted in Books, Dungeons & Dragons, horror movies, horror novels, how to write fiction, intellectual property development, Publishing Business, RPG, Science Fiction & Fantasy Novels, science fiction movies, SF and Fantasy Authors, transmedia, Video Games, Writing, writing advice, writing horror, Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to READ MORE…BUT NOT AT ALL COST

  1. Kristoffer Harbo says:

    Hi Phil,
    Couldn’t resist asking, which Wallander? The Swedish or English version?😉
    It’s really interesting how they’ve made a British tv-series with the original Swedish setting
    Best regards,
    Kris

  2. jakeescholl says:

    One thing I do when watching shows is turn on closed captioning, to see how the dialogue is structured. Helped me a lot with writing.

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