Right now, I am waiting to hear from an editor about a manuscript I have already revised at least four times. The editor I am waiting to hear from isn’t even the editor who bought my book. That editor has gone off to start her own imprint and I am starting over with someone I don’t know. To say that the waiting makes me anxious isn’t exactly true. My unease comes more from the sense that whatever I thought I knew is about to change.
I find myself cleaning the floors a lot, swearing in the car in traffic (easy to do in DC), and reading more than usual. What I need, whenever life is scary, sad, annoying, or full of waiting, is to read. This fall, I have been on a tear, spending money I don’t have on hardcovers, new paperback editions of old favorites, and short story collections. A few years ago, one of my students said that I should have a better grasp of contemporary children’s literature. I guess she hadn’t like my suggested diet of George MacDonald, P.L. Travers, E.B. White, and Hodgson Burnett. I thought at the time how lucky it was that I hadn’t sent her in the direction of Henry James (I am not a huge fan of his, but Turn of the Screw is the best ghost story ever). Now I wish I had converted that student to my belief that reading beyond what you know is the only legal activity which can transform how you think.
We all became writers for different reasons, in that we all fell in love with different books. Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence may not be why you signed up for this life, but even if you couldn’t pay me to revisit Ann Rice or Stephanie Meyers, if they are why you are here, it’s what I most want to know about you. Just today, or sometime this week, read something that’s not for school or work. Read because you want to be the person who changes what you know. You don’t want it to be your editor. Or your floors or your colorful language. Read as if your life and your bank account depend on it.