I once heard James Altucher say the following: “I have to read a lot in order to write a little. If I’m going to write 2 hours worth of stuff, it’s almost like I have to read 10 hours worth of books.”
When i spoke with Jeffrey Tucker at ISFLC last year, he said he reads twice as much as he writes. For a man who publishes substantial pieces every single day, that’s a lot of time for him to devote to reading. When I asked him why he reads so much, he said “creativity needs fuel.”
Ray Bradbury agrees:
If you stuff yourself full of poems, essays, plays, stories, novels, films, comic strips, magazines, music, you automatically explode every morning like Old Faithful. I have never had a dry spell in my life, mainly because I feed myself well, to the point of bursting. I wake early and hear my morning voices leaping around in my head like jumping beans. I get out of bed to trap them before they escape.
Methodological solipsism, it seems, is the death of inspiration. The creative process can’t be approached as if the private content of one’s individual consciousness is sufficient. If you want to have good ideas of your own, you have to step outside of your personal framework and make sure you’re engaging the ideas of others. Other people’s ideas are like matches that light a spark when we strike them against our minds. A single provocative concept can set your entire worldview on fire.
The important thing to remember is this: Reading isn’t about internalizing ideas. It’s about interacting with them. “Stuff yourself full of poems, essays, plays…” not for the purpose of regurgitating preexisting material, but for the purpose of stirring up your soul so deeply that your own stories are eventually aroused from their slumber.