I recently heard an interview with a published poet. When asked about a poetry slam she had attended, she suggested that aspiring poets would benefit from reading poetry—”good poetry,” she said. She went on to suggest the same for writers of any genre—fiction, playwrights, biographers, etc. To improve one’s writing, she asserted, one needs to read what others have written in that genre.
Most of my reading is fiction. Occasionally, I will read a biography or historical fiction, and sometimes poetry, but the vast majority of my reading is fiction.
And, as much as I love to read fiction, I write nonfiction.
So this playwright’s comments about reading the genre that I write highlighted a disconnect in me. Her comments stayed with me for the next few days and I felt invited to look more closely at my reading habits.
In my twenties, I read some non-fiction, mainly self-help books, and I found books about adult children of alcoholics to be very helpful. But other nonfiction did not hold my attention. I remember reading The Road Less Traveled, by Scott Peck, and thinking, “I could have written this.” He was telling me things I already knew, so what was the point of reading his book?
When I visited the l’Arche community where I would eventually live, I was carrying my copy of Community and Growth by Jean Vanier. I was about a third of the way through when I arrived. One of the assistants remarked, “Don’t bother reading the rest. You will be able to write it after you’ve been here a month.”
“A woman after my own heart,” I thought, although I did eventually finish reading the book.
As I pondered this disconnect between what I read and what I write, I had an aha moment.
By nature, I am a rather strong person (I am an eight on the Enneagram), and I tend to avoid vulnerability. The basic premise of self-help books is that I need help—that I am vulnerable.
Similarly with books about spirituality—reading them implies that I need help with my spirituality, which I know I do. But, for some reason, I am resistant to reading the very books that might help me.
Each book about spiritual or emotional growth invites me to lean into my brokenness and vulnerability, to let go of the façade of strength that I wear as armor, and I resist.
For many years, I felt God was inviting me to write about my spiritual life and the ways God has blessed me. I was resistant. And then a friend asked me to ghost write spiritual reflections for him. It was the perfect way for me respond to God, and I loved sharing how God had blessed me. After eight years of ghost-writing, I had the courage to start this blog.
Now it seems that God has expanded the invitation to include not only writing about my blessings, but also reading how God has blessed others.