Like a lot of kidlit writers, I read a ton of children's books--picture books, middle grade and young adult novels. I also read a lot of adult fiction and memoir. I have no grand plan--just a huge mess of a to-read pile, sprawling throughout several rooms in my house.
But it seems like the books in my pile have been talking behind my back. Conspiring. I can almost hear them. "She hasn't been terribly productive." "Do you have any idea when she last wrote?" "Do you mean wrote something good or just wrote? Because there was a Costco list yesterday but it didn't have a lot of depth or promise." If you've ever read that great short story by Dave Eggers, imagine those voices as the judgy squirrels' voices. If not, just enjoy the very idea of judgy squirrels.
When I purchased Judd Apatow's new book, Sick in the Head, I expected to be entertained. But Apatow's interviews with comedians (including the first one, with Jerry Seinfeld, conducted when the ballsy Apatow was fifteen years old and the follow up, thirty years later) have been so intelligent and insightful. For reasons I don't remember, I'm simultaneously reading Poking A Dead Frog: Conversations with Today's Top Comedy Writers, by Mike Sacks, which has been equally thoughtful. Combine those two with the other book I'm reading, Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit, and wow. My brain! My writing soul! The loud concert of ideas in my brain!
My rediscovered drive to get back to that novel I started! (Shhh. Don't hold me to that.)
I still have a long way to go in each book, but I kind of want to thank my books for this simultaneous messy, meaty read. They have gotten my attention. My reading--right now, at least--has a pretty clear connection to what I'm going to do in my writing life. Even though I won't be choreographing a single dance or performing stand up any time soon (despite the moans of disappointment I can imagine hearing right now), these loud ideas and philosophies are herding my thoughts in a new, interesting direction.
It probably won't come as a surprise that Twyla Tharp is exceedingly invested in every step she takes. I love her description of the cardboard box she keeps for each project, its name hand-lettered in marker, into which she places every single bit of research and inspiration as well as two index cards, on which she has written her initial impulses, as reminders. The best comedians are equally focused and open and earnest about their craft. That isn't a surprise--comedy is not easy--but I am so grateful for a glimpse into the processes of Albert Brooks, James L. Brooks, Harold Ramis, Jon Stewart. (I am still trying to figure out how Eddie Vedder worked his way into this book.)
Maybe it's time for you to listen to the books in your TBR pile. They may be trying to tell you something.