A while back, I listened to Alice Hoffman speak. She talked about how she thought it was important to read books for pleasure while writing a novel. Hoffman reads books in a genre different from the one she’s writing at the time. This way she doesn’t emulate the author’s style, which I personally consider to be an occupational hazard, by the way.
Hoffman’s belief is that by reading books constantly, we maintain the writing zone and keep our writing skills sharp.
Another proponent of reading while working on a writing project is Stephen King. King himself reads 70-80 books a year, even though he is a slow reader. That’s because he reads whenever he has downtime, like going to the bathroom, and he reads pretty much anything he can.
In King’s book, On Writing, he says, “If you want to be a writer you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” King says he doesn’t read fiction to study the art of fiction, and yet, there is a learning process. While bad writing can teach you what not to do, good writing can teach style, believable characters, narration, and compelling plot.
I have always read books while immersed in writing a story. I get inspired to write when I’m reading a great book. Every time I come across a passage or description or a character that takes my breath away, I think how great it is to be able to write, and how I can’t wait to get back to my own work to see what I can do. Maybe there’s some jealousy there, too, the burning desire to write like that. But, that jealousy is like a whip to a horse. It propels me forward, urges me to build my skills, learn the craft, write better and stronger.
Furthermore, reading a book is a surefire way to relax from the pressures of reality. While writing offers escape as well, reading doesn’t carry the pressure of performance. A great book is pure escapism. When my novel stresses me out, I often reach for a book, sink deep down inside the pages, and lose myself in netherworlds. I’m revitalized.
My 2013 To-Read list is extensive. It’s spilled over from 2011 and 2012. I would never admit this to Mr. King, but I can’t devour 70-80 books a year, no matter if I carried books into the bathroom. Not only do I have books from longtime favorite authors to read, but I also have books from fellow bloggers. They’re all sitting on my e-reader, my shelves, in a list on a computer file. Like hibernating animals waiting for the time to awaken, these books are waiting to come alive in my hands.
Because my To-Read list holds well over 200 books, I decided that I need to prioritize and strategize. I will move some classics to the bottom to make room for self-published books from blogging friends. I will choose one book per author for my first 50 books. I will rotate through all the genres possible, reading one book per genre before repeating the cycle. By the end of the year, I anticipate to have read a well-rounded, eclectic, enriching stack of books. All of which will have helped me become a better writer.
Reading every day is as important to a writer as writing every day. Reading is a pivotal piece of that writing puzzle, the one where you might learn how to create evocative setting, or how to pace a murder scene. Reading will show you some new ways of doing your work. Reading is a writing tool. Without reading, we might as well be writing with clouds.
What does your reading list look like? Do you like to read while you’re writing a story?
Editor’s Note – Happy Birthday Riley!