How I Feed My Writing – by Robert Benson

I have very specific ways I read to feed my writing.


I consider a day without working the crossword in the New York Times has been lived considerably less than to the fullest. I can live for a day without sunshine, or orange juice for that matter, but a day without a shot at bringing famed puzzle master Will Shortz to his knees is hardly worth living.


I find it better to read autobiography or memoir by day and fiction or history by night. The daytime reading helps me to focus, to concentrate, to do the writer’s work before me on any given day.


On discouraging days Herr Rilke will remind me why I write. The Reverend Buechner will point out that a small episode in my life that I am journaling may well reveal something important if I keep scribbling.


Ms. Dillard will kick me in the pants. “Draw, Antonio, draw, Antonio,” she says, quoting Michelangelo. “Draw and do not waste time.” I can hear the rest of her admonition even though she has never spoken to me—“Write, Robert, write. Write and do not waste time.”


The night reading helps me to rest and to wonder and to wander and, perhaps, to dream. I believe I sleep better after sailing the seas with Captain Jack and Dr. Maturin and Mr. O’Brian, after staring down Karla with Smiley and Le Carré, or after wondering with Mr. Foote at the courage of those who charged across a Pennsylvania field on a hot July day at the behest of General Pickett.


Reading these writers gives me time away from the places and things and people I am writing about. The rolling seas, the streets of Berlin, the battlefields of our own sweet land keep me from staying too hunkered down in the work I must tend to on my board tomorrow morning.


– Robert Benson, from “Dancing on the Head of a Pen”