After 8 days of writing every day, I encountered my first day of writer’s block. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to write, it was that words would not even bother to show up in my mind long enough to make it on the page.
Thankfully I know the magic cure for writer’s block: read something. Once I have soaked in a bath of someone else’s poetry, absorbing their eloquence and breathing in the steam of sophisticated prose, it is easy to write again.
This is why today’s favorite thing is not just reading, but a good story.
The book I chose as today’s medicine was actually the Nobel Lecture by Mario Vargas Llosa In Praise of Reading and Fiction, which my wonderful brother mailed to me a few months ago in a surprise care package.
I have already read this book, but I return to it frequently as a reminder of why I read and why I write. Usually this is necessary after I’ve binged on Netflix for too long and forgotten how glorious book pages are.
In the lecture Llosa says, ““We would be worse than we are without the good books we have read, more conformist, not as restless, more submissive, and the critical spirit, the engine of progress, would not even exist. Like writing, reading is a protest against the insufficiencies of life.“
Writer’s block certainly counts as an insufficiency of life. Beyond that, reading will also cure loneliness and heartache, complacency and boredom. Reading urges us to be better humans, to reach the full potential of our imaginative neurons and compassionate hearts. All of this is achieved through story.
People have feared the disappearance of paper books ever since the first e-readers hit the market, but people also worry that television and digital content in general will make novels and voluntary reading obsolete.
Such concerns are silly when you consider that human beings are wired to love a good story. Marketing professionals know this, pastors know this, doctors, lawyers, salesmen, inventors, producers, and businesses know this. It is almost impossible to motivate someone to change or adopt your way of thinking without giving them a powerful reason through relatable narrative.
Stories can protest the insufficiencies of life because they fill in the gaps and the questions, even if that is done through more questions. Stories give us permission to ask more of our situations, demanding explanation or purpose. Stories also provide us with the comfort of not knowing, consolation in the face of loss, and room to grieve or wonder.
Stories are one of my favorite things because they give unconditionally, teaching me to simply listen, to be open to the world around me. Even a bad story can be humor in itself. Stories are also a way for me to give back to others, the way we can serve others with the gift of a good story.
Another book I recently reread is The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. The ending is marvelous, and it speaks to the power of this gift when it says “You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows that they might do because of it, because of your words.”
There is great power both in the giving and receiving of stories. They preserve our history and inspire our future. They renew us when life is insufficient and we can’t find our own words to say it.
As Llosa says in the Nobel lecture, “living is worth the effort if only because without life we could not read or imagine stories.”
Pay attention to the stories around you, they can bring any day back from the brink and leave you with something to give out in return.
How have stories affected your life?