I talk a lot about the writing process, but today I'd like to talk about reading. Specifically, my relationship to books and stories.
Growing up in the '80s, schools heavily pushed reading out loud. We learned to read by doing this every day. In front of the class. All eyes are on you. With a racing heart. And blurry eyes. You feel like you might faint. At least, that was my experience. My least favorite teacher, for first AND second grade who shall remain nameless, forced me to, despite my begging.
Here's what it felt like: I hated this moment. That moment every damn day where I had to stand in front of the class and read. It filled me with terror. I was painfully shy, easily embarrassed, and I just wanted to melt into that terrible carpet and disappear. But I had to do it. And something strange happened. When I went to read aloud, my anxiety kicked into overdrive and what made sense in my head came out as stuttering. Tripping over words, long pauses, the words foreign and garbled.
I understood nothing of what I read, I just wanted to get it over with. What happened was that as I grew up, this became how my brain interpreted reading. In my head, I heard the stuttering and the confusion, just as I heard it read aloud.
So what do you do when you love stories and books but reading causes an anxiety attack? I did well in school, so I made up for it. But books became this otherworldly thing that I NEEDED to conquer. Some books took me months to finish. I had to re-read pages multiple times to understand what was happening.
This would not do.
There are a handful of books that were so poignant, so fun, so engrossing, that they pulled me out of my own head. I could read like a normal person. I want to do that, I thought. I want to make a world so enchanting that it can suck the anxiety out of someone's life. I believe this is where my dream of becoming an author began.
But it was a struggle. Reading never came easy to me. I spent 9 years in higher education. Earned my Master's and my Doctorate, and still fiction books felt like a mountain I couldn't quite climb.
So I committed. It didn't matter how long it took me, I finished everything I started. What used to take me 6 months became 4 and then 2 and then 1. It took a few years, but I started reading a book a week. And now I'm at an average of five days (with a full-time job and kids and a writing career).
Was it all in my head? Maybe. But then, so was the way past it. Just like writing a book, you must get out of your own way to let the words flow.
I'm still jealous of the voracious readers who can tear through books. I will never be one of them. But maybe that's OK. I write faster than the average author. We all have our own strengths and struggles. Here is your daily reminder to honor your progress, wherever you may be.
A few of the books that took me to that magical place: Diary of Anne Frank. The Power of One. Memoirs of a Geisha. The DaVinci Code. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Eat Pray Love. There have been countless others since then. And there will be countless more.