At various times I have compiled reading lists, things that I ‘really should read’. These would vary from either literary classics that my science-based education and subsequent busy life have never given me the time to read, to the latest shortlisted books and stories from local and international awards . Now, I’ve compiled plenty of these lists over the years, and dutifully filed away the occasional emails that came my way that listed the ‘100 top reads’ or ‘List of all time genre classics.’
I’m not sure if I have ever read a single book on these lists. In fact I have just about given up on making them. I was wondering about this recently and I happened to remember an article by John W Campbell (famous for the group of writers he fostered while editor of Astounding that included many of the future greats of SF) about the ‘little man’. I could not find the actual article, which I was given at a writers workshop aeons ago (and which I remember as a yellowed old photocopy shoved somewhere in my bookshelves). I do remember the gist of the article however.
Campbell was talking about his early years as I writer and how he had often found himself having a passionate need to read things that were in no way related to anything he was currently working on. What he noticed over time was that all of these strange books and interests he felt compelled to research and read up on always came into his work at a later date – fitting almost perfectly into context like some mystical jigsaw puzzle.
He evolved the concept of the ‘little man’ inside that urges you to take a little departure, or to read a book or take a direction that may not seem to make sense at the time. He put forward the notion that writers develop a special sort of intuition, and urged writers to follow the voice of the ‘little man’ and not to be proscriptive about what they themselves delve into.
When I read this article it made perfect sense to me. I have basically been doing this for as long as I can remember, and I’m sure I’m not alone!
I guess that was when I realised I had been doing this exact thing with my reading lists. I am always reading something – just not what the powers that be or literati tell me I should be:)
So I am going to happily let myself follow my nose.
Have you come across the quiet voice of the ‘little man’ (or ‘little woman’, Campbell’s article reflects the period in which it was written)? Do you follow your instinct with your interests and research, or do you follow a Game Plan?