For those of you who follow my other blog (Authors to Watch), you might have noticed I’ve been doing a ton of reading over the past few months. Well, there’s a very good reason for this. Since moving from Missouri to New Hampshire, I haven’t been working outside the home. There’s only so much cleaning, cooking, laundry, and show shoveling one can do, so to fill up the rest of my days and nights, I read. With the exception of Downton Abbey, I very rarely watch television. You can imagine how much time is left for reading and sometimes writing–a lot.
All this is about to change. I’m starting a new job tomorrow, so I’ll have to cut down on some of my writerly activities. I’ll have to cut down on some of my reading, but I refuse to cut back too much. As a writer, reading should be one of my top priorities.
I’ve blogged about this a little in the past, and I’ve read articles by other bloggers who have tackled this issue. I’m sure most of you have run across a writer who says they don’t have time to read. As Stephen King said in his memoir, On Writing, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
I absolutely agree with Stephen King. For a writer, reading isn’t just for enjoyment–it’s also part of our research. It’s how we develop and improve our craft. I’ve learned more about writing from reading fiction than I ever learned in school.
When I first began writing, I thought I was too busy to read. In fact, if it wasn’t for the book club I belonged to and the pressure my mom put on me to keep up with our assigned reading, I probably wouldn’t have read at all. During a nine month period, I only read a book a month. Sometimes less. I’m sure a lot of writers go through a period of reading-drought when they first begin writing. We might read less when we’re in the middle of writing a book, or facing an editing deadline. But to give up reading altogether? Nothing could possibly have a more negative impact on your writing skills than giving up reading.
Something that really baffles me is when I stumble across a writer you says they don’t like to read. Or a writer who says they seldom read before they began writing. As a reader, I would be wary of an author who says something like this. How could a writer possibly tell if their work is any good if they have nothing to compare it to? While I believe it’s advantageous to take classes to improve grammar or creative writing skills, I don’t believe it’s possible to learn everything you need to know about writing fiction if all you’re doing is sitting in a classroom. If you’re writing a non-fiction article about the cancer research you’ve been doing for the past twenty years, I’ll give you a pass on reading fiction. Chances are you’ve truly been too busy to indulge in fiction. By all means, please share your research with the world. But, if you’ve decided to try your hand at writing fiction, you darn well better be reading it.
If you suddenly find yourself short of time, the last thing you should be doing is eliminating reading from your schedule. Cut back if you must, but don’t cut out reading altogether. Your writing–and your readers–will thank you for all those invaluable skills you learn while simply indulging in a good book.