[I first wrote this 8 months ago. Originally posted on Medium.]
I’ve been enthralled by the beauty of life through reading and writing for as long as I can remember. I’m now an English Literature university student, and until recently, I was weeping because I seemed to have lost that spark of ardour, cruelly slipping out of my grasp, taunting me as if to say, ‘You’ll never find it again.’ Don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying my studies immensely. Reading books for class which I would otherwise read for pleasure is undoubtedly a privilege. But I immediately noticed the passion once kindled in my breast fading quickly. My ability to devour books on end, to churn out pages and pages of the story I was dying to tell, stifled by academic pursuits. In other words, intellectualism killed my creativity.
Books became a chore to read. Reading between the lines should be a natural process, not a forced one. I started escaping from worlds created to keep me in, finding gaps to squeeze through and rejecting the tingling sensation of imagination. I was unable to write stories anymore. Overwhelmed by essay deadlines, I could barely manage 300 words a day, let alone fill them with life. Losing my ability to enjoy and produce art was utterly tragic.
This was how I managed to regain that love and passion for two of my favourite pastimes.
3 Rs: Remember, Repeat, Retain
[How to rediscover your love for reading and writing]
by Justin Lau
Maybe you’re too busy with work. Maybe you’re in the office from 8 to 10 with barely enough time to sleep. Maybe you have four children. Maybe you have to put dinner on the table for your family every night. Maybe you’re a student bombarded with deadlines and assignments, not to mention jazz band on Monday, debate on Tuesday, football on Wednesday, and so on.
These are wonderful. These lives are fully legitimate, beautiful in their own ways. But maybe, every once in a while, you miss those carefree days, free from responsibilities, when you entitled yourself to a hardcover novel and a cup of hot chocolate, a notepad and a pen, nothing more, nothing less.
Is that you? It sure was me.
What happened to our love for reading? For writing?
Have we lost the simple joy of opening a new book, careful not to crease the spine, smelling the fresh pages, diving right into it, completely aware that you will lose yourself for hours, and being completely fine with that? Have we forgotten how to articulate, poignantly or wittily or both, our deepest thoughts and emotions, something we used to deem necessary to save our minds from overloading, our souls from overburdening?
We’ve either run out of time (unlikely) or these innate activities have tragically become chores.
What happened to the kid who would sneak a torch into bed just so he could finish a book that occupied his whole being? What happened to the kid who had to be called to dinner five times just because he couldn’t tear himself away from narrating the harrowing adventures of his hero?
Something was wrong, I was nearly driven to despair. But experience never lies. These two functions had constituted the majority of my life and I refused to believe that I had lost that passion forever.
My stubbornness paid off. I was right, it was too precious, too engrained to be neglected. The following was how I gradually regained my love for reading and writing.
Remember finishing a book so quickly that your family, friends, even teachers didn’t believe you actually read it? Remember being forced to read it again because they were so convinced you didn’t read it ‘properly’, but in reality, all you wanted was to find someone to share your favourite passages with, to share how much you related to a certain character, to share the unrelenting exhilaration?
Remember awkwardly waddling over to the library counter with fifteen books, careful not to drop any because each one was so precious and would contribute to your life’s meaning in some profound way? Remember having a philosophy of finishing every book you started, even if it seemed boring, because you were well aware that even the very last line could change your life completely?
Remember your fascination with grand fantastical worlds, which seemed more realistic than life itself? Remember being ecstatic at the fact that you were also capable of creating such a world? Remember the eagerness to detail out your universe elaborately, not necessarily for the sake of others, but first and foremost for your own thrill?
Remember those angst-filled days when you lived to rant and spammed your online blog with posts about your breaking heart or the futility of life, the universe and everything? Remember the ramblings of your soul where words and emotions collided in an ugly jumble of authenticity? Remember the intimate words noted in your diary, mostly nonsensical yet wholly representative of your current state, containing your deepest and darkest desires?
Keep those memories in mind. You’ve felt those emotions before, you can and will experience them again.
Pick up a book and read it. Repeat.
No doubt, it’s hard to zone in because of distractions. Shut them out. Make time, prioritise. Seclude yourself with nothing but a book and a cup of preferred beverage. Make it a perpetual habit, it’s a good one to have. Regain the ability to read anywhere at any time. Bear in mind, reading is not anti-social but a necessary recuperating function just like sleeping or eating.
Similarly, isolate yourself and write. Write a novel, a short story, a poem, a diary entry, a blog post, a letter to a loved one, a message to your future self or to your future spouse. Jot down everything that enters into your head. If you wake up at 2:38 am with a vague idea, make a note before it is forgotten forever. We won’t remember everything, we’re only human. Pen down your thoughts, keep a record. Channel those ideas into something original, something others can respond to.
Don’t force anything, but do make an effort. Transform it into a naturally occurring way of life.
Retain the habits you’ve slowly picked back up. Carry a book everywhere you go. Stick to your writing routine.
Retain the conscious mindset that you’re not obliged to procure something deep every time you read, but you are obliged simply to enjoy the act of reading. The meaning will follow if it is meant to. Same with writing, you’re not obliged to produce a work utterly profound. The trick to creating something substantial? Pour your heart into it.
Find a friend, or two, or a group of people (if you’re blessed) who love reading and writing just as much as you do. Cling on to them for dear life. Never let them out of your sight. Chances are, they’ll try to do the same to you. Spend hours at a local café, a posh Italian restaurant, a crowded attic room, discussing and marvelling over the latest books you read. Have heated debates where you attempt to persuade each other about why your favourite book or author is better than the rest, when in reality you know that everyone who creates a work that touches the heart, mind and soul in any way is the best.
Connect with a close friend, a loved one, a mentor or mentee. Connect with somebody’s personal tale or your own. Together, notice something different, pioneer a new perspective to life. Walk down the paths you were always meant to tread.
In this moment of actively retaining, embrace and enjoy inspiration.
Rediscovering that love for reading and writing may be immediate for some, but for others it may take a while. But I beg you, take a step out of your comfort zone to retrieve the comfort zone of your past.
You’ll soon figure out you didn’t have to rediscover it, but rather simply to realise that it had never left. Dig it out from under the pile of distractions that accompany growing up, inevitable but not impenetrable. Many things in life decay, perish, are lost forever. But the love for reading and writing transcends life and will remain.
Preserve and reserve the basic human right to give and receive words. Take part in such a privilege granted to us and us only. There will always be readers and writers, overwhelmed by their love of words, who will sacrifice even their lives to ensure the continuation of such a gift. Help them, help each other.
C. S. Lewis said, ‘Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.’
And when you do, you will smile as brightly as that kid who felt nothing but joy with a new book in hand, with a new story to tell.
© Justin Lau, 2014
- C. S. Lewis
- English Literature
- reading and writing
- short story