“Imagination is the voice of daring. If there is anything godlike about God, it is that. He dared to imagine everything.”
– Henry Miller, Sexus
For almost a year I avoided reading a lot of fiction. Like most men, I thought that I had outgrown make-believe stories about Eldritch horrors, messy divorces, and hard-drinking detectives. When you go ton the gym every day and have a set of life goals Holden Caulfield becomes less of a martyr and more of a whiny nuisance. Reading about a socially maladjusted dweeb is no longer something that appeals to you. It’s alien, something that might as well be set in a far away mystical land. You can’t relate anymore.
You also outgrow other genres. As was written long ago, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” Spaceships, wizards, zombies, and all rest lose their appeal. There’s a reason that the golden age of science fiction is twelve and not twenty-seven.
While there’s nothing wrong with growing up there is something awful about segregating yourself from an entire area of thought. You become a philistine. Sure you might read and make a living as a writer, but you’re cutting yourself off from an entire world of rich prose. A book about fitness or business might have great information but it will always be written in a utilitarian manner. Updike never penned an exercise guide, if you want to write like him you’ll have to read something other than Brawn.
Blogs won’t increase your writing skills either. While there are a handful of good writers out there, most rely on jargon and simple descriptions in order to covey their point. Commenting on the fact that Joe Blow “looks like a gay beta” isn’t really that creative or hurtful. Describing him as “A creature with the grotesque and twisted visage of an ancient pagan’s solstice mask” is slightly better. It sounds more biblical and epic.
Joe Blow could be in some godforsaken village eating all of the townsfolk and then Beowulf could show up to chop his head off. Charging into his lair he’d see just how vile and repulsive the creature looked, filling the reader with terror and building suspense. When Joe Blow get reduced to being no more than a “gay beta” he loses something. He becomes another schmuck, some generic dork. Bad guy number thirty in that big shootout scene towards the end of Commando. We are deprived of any reason to hate him.
If you want to be descriptive you have to read descriptive books. Even if the subject might not be “cool” you still learn a lot. Henry Miller, Vladimir Nabokov, John Updike, Herman Melville, and countless others are great sources of rich prose. If you want to grow as a writer you need to challenge yourself and seek out deep works of literature.