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In Defense of Reading

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How many times have you stood in a group of writers and heard this:

“I never have time to read anymore.”

“It’s been a year since I’ve read anything besides my own work.”

“I don’t read because (insert reason here). But that’s okay.”

Um, no. It isn’t.

I’ve heard statements like these aplenty through the years and they’ve always made me a little sad. It wasn’t until I found myself in the same boat that I started to examine this phenomenon. There are so many excuses for us, as writers, to not read, and the majority of them boil down to one basic reason: TIME.

But I’ve begun to question: Will our writing/creativity suffer if we don’t read?

stack-of-books

Reading for pleasure should be a treasured gift to writers. After all, the majority of us came to writing through reading. But it also allows writers to:

1. Re-experience what its like for a reader to get “lost in a book”. We all have memories of this magical phenomena, but the more distant the recollection, the less the potency. Reaffirm your own wish for your readers by returning to your reading roots.

2. Absorb new techniques – not by “studying/dissecting” the written word, but through effortless osmosis. Just like we did before we ever started writing. Later, after you come out the other side of the story, you can ask yourself why you loved the characters or what kept you turning the page. But relax and let your writer’s eye take knowledge in while your reader’s brain is fully engaged.

3. Doing anything you enjoy, sparking your imagination, refills the creative well that gets drained with every project you invest yourself in. It relaxes you, opens your creativity to possibilities, and generally brings us to that peaceful place where we can create without straining or overburdening ourselves.

4. Being a writer doesn’t mean forsaking those things we enjoy. If we do, then our writing suffers. This quote from NYT bestselling author Linda Howard explains this very well:

The fact is, being a writer doesn’t mean you have no life other than writing, any more than being a schoolteacher means you live in the classroom and do nothing else.  Our lives are just like everyone else’s, other than the writing part.  We still have dentist appointments, need flu shots, have fender-benders and children (not sure there’s a difference <G>).  Those things — normal as they are — are stressful enough without throwing in the added stress of feeling frantic because they’re taking away from our writing time.  We still need to enjoy ourselves.  We’re driven by some weird internal chemistry, but we need to give ourselves a break.

Life happens to everyone.  It’s here for us to live, and we should live it, because otherwise we’ve thrown away the most precious part of our writing.  If we give up doing what we enjoy, whether it’s reading or taking long walks or anything else, we’ve given away a precious spark that makes us more human.  Yeah, you may write a more technically perfect manuscript if you devote every free hour to it, but if you really live, you’ll be able to write a more vital, human manuscript — and, as a reader, I can tell you that I’d rather read a book where the characters come alive, than one that’s technically perfect but is as limp as uncooked bacon.

That about says it all…don’t you think?

 

While I know all of this is true, TIME is still an issue. Believe me, as a writer with a full-time day job and a family, I know this is true. So let me share some strategies for fitting reading into a very busy life.

1. Read a little each night before bed or to unwind after work. If you’re the type of reader who can string out a good book, twenty minutes a day would work well for you. Give you a little boost at the end of a long day.

2. Another option for this type of reader is to carry a book in your purse and read while waiting in line, out to eat, etc. Fill those little pockets of time with the yumminess of good characters and thrilling plots.

3. I, unfortunately, can’t read a short time and put an interesting book down. I’m more of a binge reader, so I’ve set up a reward day (or weekends for big projects) when I give myself permission to indulge. Some reward-worthy tasks include finishing a rough draft, after revisions, after completing a writing challenge, or after a set period of strenuous writing. Then I can dip into a new book guilt-free (mostly) and come back to my own writing refreshed.

4. Set up a regular date night – just yourself and your new favorite book. Whether its once a week, every two weeks, or one weekend a month, mark your calendar for a regular reading time as a reminder that its important (and essential to your creative function) to enjoy some downtime.

So as a writer, do you still read? Let’s talk about the whys, the why nots…and how you work reading into your writing schedule.

34 Responses to “In Defense of Reading”

  1. Janet says:

    You are so right. Reading is my de-stressing time, before I go yo sleep. I enjoy revisiting books a second time. Rereading my favorite books makes me fall in love with them again. I also like to check out the more successful books and absorb some of their artistry.

    Thanks!

    • Dani Wade says:

      Janet, I’m a big fan of rereading my faves! That’s how I get reading in while I’m in the writing process. I can’t read new books, because I get engrossed and neglect my own writing, so I save new books for when I’m editing. :) I can pick up a favorite that I’ve already read, though, and destress for a few hours before returning to my own writing, because I can jump right into the good parts of the story without missing anything!

  2. I’ve definitely fallen into that trap! It got so bad, I decided to sign up for the P&P reading challenge on Austenprose- just so I would make myself read. That made me go to the library- yay! Feeling much better now. You’re right; we can’t get so locked into writing that we forget to do the thing that made us want to be writers in the first place.

  3. Addison Fox says:

    Dani:

    This is a FABULOUS post!!! And I think you’ve touched on something so very key. We are all readers first, before we are writers. Reading provides joy, it refills us and is essential to our storytelling abilities.

    And the quote from Linda Howard is absolutely fantastic!

    Addison

  4. Cate Rowan says:

    Wonderful post, and so true. At the end of December, I looked back at 2012 and realized how a few books I had read. That made me sad. So this year, my Kindle and I are going to be much better friends. To make room for that, I had to cut out a lot of the blogs I had been reading and I’ll need to unsubscribe from a number of writing groups on the web, but it’s worth it. I’m on a Regency kick and loving it!

  5. (Raising hand here) I’ve been guilty of this thinking, and I’m so much happier that I got over it. Reading really does feed the muse. I read most nights before bed and I find that I’ll think about my own story before nodding off. I’ve also scribbled really good notes to jump start my writing in the morning. Sometimes they’re hard to read but a word or two jars the memory.

    I love the Linda’s quote! Great reminder to be who we were.

  6. Caro Kinkead says:

    I’ve fallen into that trap myself. Didn’t mean books weren’t bought (my shelves can testify to that), but the TBR pile grew exponentially without having things removed.

    Two things helped. First, the reading apps on my iPad and iPhone. The books are always there with me and I’m able to sync between devices so I keep my place. Yes, I’d resisted ebooks for a while, but it’s convenient and I don’t have to dust the (still-growing) TBR pile. The husband’s late picking me up from work, I read a few pages. I take a break, I read a few pages. Waiting in line to get lunch? More pages. I used to read like this when I was younger and I’m not sure where I lost the habit, but it’s fun having it back.

    The other was putting “Read 20 minutes” as a daily task on my to-do list. I’ve gotten a bit fanatical about checking things off, so that’s a good motivator.

    The combination of the two worked — I read 35 books last year!

  7. I read during my lunch hour. I ready whenever I’m waiting on my husband (which is a lot) and I carry a book with me everywhere! Once I started writing, my reading slacked, but I never gave it up. I couldn’t!

    When I was working full-time, I read over 50 books in a year. Then I got laid off, have more time to write during the day (giving me my nights back) and read 86 books. I’m hoping to read 90 this year (and still get my books written). Reading helps my writing more than anything.

  8. Dani, I was just thinking the other day about how little I’ve read lately and how it’s affecting my writing. A good book used to inspire me, but I’ve had so little time to just sit down and enjoy *a* book that I’m feeling less than inspired these days. Coincidence? As you pointed out — I think not! :)

    My goal this year is to give myself one weekend day off from writing (and the computer) to spend with my family and to take part of that day for some *me* relaxation time.

    • JL Mealer says:

      Actually Cynthia… You have rarely stopped talking about NOT READING ANY MORE over the past week or so! I tried to give you my favorite book; Don Quiote, but you want something more relevant. I mean, what could be more relevant than Don Quiote?

    • Dani Wade says:

      Cynthia, I think we as “writers” don’t think enough about giving ourselves time off. Especially when we have other day jobs. We use all the spare time we have to write because we “should”. But I’m quickly learning how easily that can wear me down. I’ve got a tough daily schedule, working 8 hours a day, commuting, writing min 3 hours per day, plus family. And I’m an 8 hour a night sleeper – without it, my brain doesn’t function.

      But I had to put my foot down and remember that I’ll deplete myself if I keep up that pace. So my goal this year is 1 weekend completely off each month! Reading, watching movies, hanging with my family. Replenishment. :) Enjoy!

  9. Kristina Mathews says:

    In my day job, I’m a teacher’s aide working with first graders just learning how to read. We started with one of the lowest groups and now mid-year, most of them are finally getting it. It’s been a struggle for many of them, and the ones who are still not progressing are the ones who don’t practice reading every day. But it is so exciting to see the confidence of those kids who are practicing and they are so proud of themselves for being able to READ!

    It helps me understand what a gift being able to read is.

    • Dani Wade says:

      Sometimes I wonder how people who don’t read can survive. :) I’m so grateful my kids are good readers, and that they enjoy it too. Keep up that good work!

  10. Tamara Hogan says:

    This is such an important point, Dani. I think it’s very important we make time to read, for so many reasons. As Chuck Wendig recently said in a New Year’s Resolution post, reading – widely, and often – feeds our brains, and expands the topics and experiences we have available to draw upon when we write. “Your mission: learn more, read more, do more.”

    Chuck’s Terrible Minds blog is one of the few writing blogs I read on a regular basis. The advice is frank, tough, funny, and NSFW. http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2012/12/31/25-writer-resolutions-for-2013/

    I read almost every night before bed, and also read in the bathtub. I’m a telecommuter, so I usually hop in the tub over my lunch break, and eat lunch later, at my desk. ;-)

    • Dani Wade says:

      Thanks for sharing this blog, Tamara! Ah, I wish I could take a bath over lunch…I love hot baths and don’t get the time for them nearly often enough! Although I’m developing a habit of starting my Saturday morning off with a leisurely soak. Such a relaxing way to start the weekend.

  11. Great topic, Dani – I found reading was falling by the wayside a couple years ago and this past year made an effort to bring it back into my regular schedule. I was hoping to read one book a week, and have done pretty well with it. And, if I read 20-30 minutes before bedtime, I find my brain rests better overnight because I’m not thinking about the edits I just worked on or the stuff I have to do the next day.

    Also, I’m trying to take a day off a month to read (as a reward for getting other work done or after a round of edits has been turned in). Unfortunately, I put way too many things on my to-do list, so that reward day rarely happens. I think I’ll make that a 2013 resolution – one reading reward day a month! Besides, it’s much cheaper than the spa. :)

  12. If I let myself read at home, I’d never write, so I have to be very disciplined about my reading time. So in my house, I limit myself to reading only non-fiction. Magazines, my RWR, self-help books, books on writing, etc.

    I work two hours a day as a crossing guard, but half of that time is spent in my car, waiting. So from September to June I read fiction about an hour a day, which works out to about a 100,000 word book a week, before and after I cross the kids.

    What’s really great is this makes me eager to go to work since, YAY, I get to read. Unfortunately, during the summer it’s a problem. I don’t read nearly enough during July and August.

    • Dani Wade says:

      Great way to motivate yourself, Laurie! Especially when it comes to the day job. :) I, too, have to stick to non-fiction when I’m in certain stages of my writing projects, but what you’re doing takes a whole load of discipline. Great job!

  13. Great post! I’m a huge reader and would probably look at a writer like they had two heads if they told me they didn’t read. Isn’t that a little like a chef saying he cooks but doesn’t eat?

    I do, however, have some trouble reading outside of my genre now that I’m fully immersed in writing, so I signed up for the Goodreads 2013 challenge to get myself to be accountable to books other than historical romance. Historical Romance I’ll read anyway, so I won’t tally those books up on my total. And I’ve dedicated one full hour every night to uninterrupted reading (if you read that and guessed I’m childless, you’d be right) to help me toward my goal. I get out my phone, set my timer, get my tea and reading journal, and let myself have the time to do nothing else but read or scribble the occasional note so I don’t have to fixate on something that’s caught my attention. Very enjoyable and rewarding. I hope this becomes a habit and/or ritual for the rest of my life.

    • Dani Wade says:

      Oh, Anna, that sounds so relaxing! I’d love to do that! And I could after my kiddios went to bed…if I could stop at an hour. :) But I can’t!

      Now that I’m dealing with the publishing part of the business, along with a full-time day job and family (and hubby with more than full-time day/night job), I understand more the writers I’ve heard say they don’t have time to write. It can get more than a little overwhelming when the To Do list never ends. That’s usually when the things we do to pamper ourselves and rejuvenate our creative spirits fall to the wayside. Oddly enough, that’s when we need those things the most!

  14. Diana Layne says:

    Funny you should mention this now. I’ve given up my aerobic weight training dvds that I love in favor of walking on the treadmill so I can read. There is just no other time in my day, but I’ve gone a couple years now with hardly reading anything and I miss it! Loving to read is why I started writing in the first place!

    • Dani Wade says:

      I SO wish I could read while I’m on the elliptical. But embarrassing as it is to admit…I get motion sickness if I try to read more than the occasional facebook post. :S

  15. Hope Ramsay says:

    I have to say I can’t imagine not reading. So if a writer came up to me and confessed that they were not reading, I’d be kind of surprised. Shocked even.

    I posted this on yesterday’s blog, but it bears repeating here. I make time for reading by propping my e-reader on a treadmill. I walk an hour a day, and get my reading in at the same time. And since I love reading, it makes the exercise something I look forward to. I also read for about half an hour at lunch time. That’s my break in the middle of the work day, and I can’t imagine not taking it.

    My e-reader lives in my purse and goes with me everywhere. If I have to wait on anyone or anything, out it comes and I’ve got my nose buried in it.

    I’m a very slow reader, so even though I get about 1.5 hours a day, 5 days a week, I only read about 25 books a year. But I can’t imagine being without a book somewhere within easy reach.

  16. Rita Henuber says:

    I recently reviewed what I was doing during my most productive writing periods. One of the things was reading an hour every day. Not exactly reading. Listening. I listen to most of my books while I’m doing other work. I feel guilty when I sit, digital reader in hand, and read when I have things to do. I use the reader a couple of times a week but most of the time my iPhone is tucked in a pocket as do dishes, laundry and other unpleasant things. I must say since I went back to read/listen every day my own writing comes much easier.

  17. I think I’m on the other end; I don’t know any professional writers personally, so my writer friends all have day jobs and we read probably more than we write! Well, that might not be the case for everybody. Sometimes I have to put a book down so I can go write. I tend to write in binges though–all day Saturday or stay up late on a weeknight writing, then not write again for a week. I agree, reading enriches writing so much. I’ve also taken to reading before bed, and occasionaly ignoring coworkers at lunch to sit in the employee lounge by myself and read. Stephen King said that’s OK… :)

  18. Kate Parker says:

    I end up going to a lot of doctor appts. thanks to my hubbie, so I use that as reading time. Dragging myself away from the book when the doctor comes in isn’t always easy. Unlike many of the other commenters, I can’t exercise and read because I swim and dance. The results would not be pretty! Some evenings I’ll curl up with a book, even if it means rereading an old favorite. But I can’t imagine not reading. I wouldn’t be able to write without the inspiration of books I’ve enjoyed or books where I think I could do a better job.

  19. Vivi Andrews says:

    I could not agree more, Dani, that reading is absolutely crucial to writers. My first mentor was fond of saying “writers are readers” and encouraging me to consume books of all kinds whenever possible. The things we love are worth making time for. :) Great post.

  20. Liz Talley says:

    Great post. I try and read every day though sometimes it doesn’t happen. I see it as part of being a writer. Stimulates my creativity and admiration and makes me determined to bring the same to my work. It’s pretty necessary.

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