I'm A Writer Who Doesn't Read
A few years ago, I realized I was full.
As a child I was a voracious reader. I fell in love with music and movies in my teenage years. And I became obsessed with stand-up comedy in my 20s.
I wanted to map out the entire artistic universe. It was important for me to understand who influenced who. There was always something new to watch, read or listen to. I was born at the right time - thanks to the internet I could get my hands on nearly everything I lusted after.
There was always the thought that one day I’d become an artist myself. But I was infected with an insidious idea:
If you consume enough good art, one day you’re gonna spontaneously spew out a masterpiece.
At a certain point, I stopped enjoying what was in front of me. I couldn’t focus. I was too in my head, thinking about my own ideas.
When I looked for the masterpiece that was meant to be fermenting inside me, it wasn’t there. I hit the wall. I had to stop filling my brain with other people’s ideas.
The transition wasn’t easy. I was angry at myself for “wasting” so much time and not focusing on my own work. But I came out of the doldrums with a new manifesto; bad or mediocre art was better than nothing at all.
Nowadays, I create a lot of stuff, and I put it out into the world. Most of it sucks, but I’m having a lot of fun.
At the same time, I try not to be puritanical. I still choose to engage with stuff that grabs my attention from time to time. For example, I saw Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood recently, the first film I’d watched at the cinema in over two years. It blew me away and gave me tangible ideas about how to elevate my own work.
But nowadays I try to remember that if something captures my attention, I’m by default not creating anything of my own.
Also, like most of us, I’m addicted to a lot of frivolous online content. Meandering podcasts about nothing, cringe compilations on YouTube and hate-following certain cretins on social media. My justification is that as I write about the modern world, I need to engage with online content under the guise of “research”. Sometimes this excuse holds water. On other occasions I’m just wasting time and energy, hiding from the empty page.
There’s clearly a balance with this type of thing. I see a lot of “creators” on the internet who aren’t standing on the shoulders of giants. As a result, they create one-dimensional shit that grates on our collective souls.
Inside your head, you have a sponge which you can fill with juice. Dilettantes are blessed (or cursed) with oversized sponges. They can spend their entire lives consuming the juice and their sponges never get full.
But artists are blessed (or cursed) with smaller sponges. At a certain point the sponge gets full and heavy. If more juice gets poured onto the sponge it doesn’t get sopped up. The juice drains down to other parts of your psyche and starts causing issues.
So if you’re an artist masquerading as a dilettante, do everyone a favor and drain your sponge. Your work may suck, but you’ll feel much more like who you really are.