We’ve all been there, that point when we look at our bookshelf the way a naughty puppy might look at its owner, and we hang out heads in shame. No time for reading, gotta finish these deadlines. No time for reading, gotta ______. For most, reading is a luxury, and it’s the first thing we can push off when we need to cook dinner, get a chapter written, watch the kids or fold the laundry. By the time we crawl into bed at the end of the day, we’re too beat to read, and would much rather fall asleep watching a sitcom or something on HGTV. We’ve all been there.
But writers aren’t most people, and while we do read because we love it, we must also reevaluate the idea that reading is a luxury. For authors, reading books is anything but a luxury. For a writer, reading is the equivalent of a carpenter keeping his tools sharp, a baker trying new ingredients, a computer specialist downloading new program updates. Reading isn’t an escape, it’s an education, it’s how we as writers continue to write.
When we dismiss our books, whatever they may be, as something less important than the “work” we need to do as writers, we are missing the point of what being a writer is. Writing isn’t just a matter of putting words to the page. In some ways, that’s the easiest part of the process. Writing is an amalgam of research and keystrokes and editing and editing and editing and, yes, reading.
Because every single time we open a book, be it physical, electronic or audio, we are learning more about how to write. We are learning the good, the pre-existing and the successful tropes and practices of our genre, and we are learning the bad, the tired, over-worked or stale. We can take inspiration from dialogue, character development, setting and world-building, and we can learn from those who have already done it badly just as we can learn from those who have already done it well.
Is it easy, to read as much as we want to, to keep up with other books, just as we need to keep up with our own? Of course it isn’t. Reading as work can feel like slacking, especially when you love the genre you write as much as I do. You mean this is work? There’s that voice in your head asking. Why don’t you put the Kindle down and actually get something done, instead?
We need to change the message, reevaluate the idea that reading isn’t an important part of being an author, of a day in the writer hot seat. There are a thousand reasons why reading is fundamental to writing, and until we believe it, we cannot move forward.
So we find a way to make it work. I rely heavily on audiobooks, which combines my need for daily exercise with a good hour or so of book. I can listen while I walk, cook, fold the laundry or clean the bathroom. Right now, in fact, I’m on a mad binge to finish in the ballpark of 45 hours of audiobook over the next three weeks, since all three of these books have library holds waiting for them. Maybe audiobooks will work for you. Maybe the trick is keeping a few ebooks on your phone, or carrying a Kindle around in your purse. Maybe it’s a genre or format change.
Whatever it is, finding a way to prioritize reading is imperative for every writer. Non-writers can see reading as a luxury, just as non-vineyard owners might see sipping wine on a Sunday afternoon, but in order to be the best author, journalist, essayist or poet possible, we must read, widely and often. We must never stop.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to get to work.♦