Monday, October 5, 2015

Why a Good Book and a GPS Don't Mix
It took me a long time to come to the conclusion that I didn't have to finish every book I started, but one day, I simply realized that there are more books out there than I'll ever have time to start, let alone finish. The sad result of that revelation was that some of them just aren't worth my time. Others that are worthwhile still get set down at some point before I finish them, only to collect dust when shiny new reading materials sparkles its way to the top of the pile.

Really, it's not a bad problem to have.

The same is true with television, though I feel less deprived when it comes to shows I haven't watched than with books I haven't read. I am, however, someone who needs to watch something, whether a show or a movie, from the very beginning. I make exceptions when it comes to reruns of favorite shows, but only because I've already seen them once from the very beginning.

A while back, I wrote an email to my sister, in which I was telling her about TV shows and movies I've been watching lately. I found myself dissecting the shows, taking apart their plots and characterizations bit-by-bit. Later in the email, as the topic of studying writing came up, I stopped myself just short of saying I didn't see myself pursuing an MFA because I really didn't enjoy dissecting writing at that level.

But wait -- wasn't that what I'd just been doing with those TV shows?

When I first started attending my writing critique group, other writers talked about how they could no longer look at a book the same way. Gone were the days of reading for pleasure; each new reading experience provided not simply entertainment, but the opportunity to improve one’s craft by learning from others.

I thought that was really sad, and I vowed to avoid it at all costs. I couldn’t imagine not losing myself in a book. I didn’t want to figure out the road map; I wanted to stay lost and revel in the escape. 

Photo: Leon Brooks
And that’s exactly what happens with the books I finish and the television shows I have to watch from the very beginning. I get pulled in, usually by the characters, and I want to know what happens to them. I pay little attention to what highway we might be on, let alone the scenery. I just follow the characters, hoping they’ll do the right thing and ready to yank them back when they don’t.

And that’s what the books I finish and the television shows I have to watch from the very beginning have in common. I’ve been writing long enough now that I can’t help but notice a few landmarks, but if a writer (and an actor) is really good at his or her job, I’m much more interested in what lies ahead than where we are at any given moment.

And I don’t want to miss a single footstep.

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