“The most important thing is to read as much as you can, like I did. It will give you an understanding of what makes good writing and it will enlarge your vocabulary.” — J.K. Rowling
I have always had a deep love of reading. I believe it is what drove me to become a writer, because I realized after reading so many wonderful stories that I had a story to tell too. But unfortunately I have not always be an avid reader.
My story begins as a young girl barricading myself in my room and ignoring the rest of the world as I happily spent hours upon hours traversing the great worlds built by authors likes Lucy Maud Montgomery, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and later authors like Kevin J. Anderson and Frank Herbert, which then morphed into the likes of Charlaine Harris and Jim Butcher (and yes, one of my favorite authors is J.K. Rowling).
Then life started to happen and I got married and had a son. My reading started to slip, not because I didn’t want to read, but because I was afraid to read. In fact, for awhile I was terrified to pick up a book. I knew I had a problem, an addiction really. It was called reading-to-the-point-of-ignoring-everyone-and-everything and I had way too many responsibilities to do that. So my solutions was just to stop all together.
But then I started writing. And I liked it a lot. I thought, “well, I don’t have to read any more books because I’m going to do my own story. I don’t need to be tainted by all those other books out there. It may influence my own writing.”
My god was I stupid.
And I’ve heard many other writers make that same terrible mistake at one point or another in their writing journey. But this post isn’t about them, it’s about me. So moving on.
Anyways, so for many years after I started writing I read very little. I did read, but I would do it in spurts. I’d read a whole bunch for a few months, realize I was letting my reading addiction take over, and then I would stop for months and months at a time (sometimes a whole year would go by). Meanwhile, my writing suffered (and I didn’t even realize how much until later).
One day after many years of this cycle of reading and not reading, it dawned on me. When I read a lot, my writing makes significant improvements. Like huge jumping to whole new levels worth of improvement. And I knew I could no longer ignore the advice I so often heard from workshops and successful authors, “you want to get better at writing than you need to read as much as possible.”
Yep, I had finally decided to stop being stubborn and give in into that sage advice.
The best thing I ever did after I gave into that advice was to join a book club. In fact, a friend of my started one at the end of this summer. Since then I have read seven books and am now in the process of reading three more (and hope to have them done by the end of the December) Death Without Company by Craig Johnson, Cain at Gettysburg by Ralph Peters, and Irredeemable by Jason Sizemore.
Not only has joining a book club kept me motivated to read (and I get to have lots of fun with other readers at our meetings), but it’s also lead me to books I never would have picked up on my own. I have found wonderful books that I love like Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips, Watership Down by Richard Adams, Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Potzsch, and a Dirty Job by Christopher Moore.
I also now have a new favorite author… Christopher Moore and can’t wait to read my newly acquired books Lamb, You Suck, and Bite Me.
Oh, and let’s to forget the slush reading I’ve been doing the last few months too!
And what about my writing since I started reading so much? Ha, it’s been AMAZING! So much wonderful things are happening. My writing flows like it has a life of its own and things just make better sense. I also feel like I have a better understanding of the proper flow of a story and I find my word choices are better (more exact) than they were before.
So yes, I HIGHLY recommend being an avid reader, and not just in one or two areas. Branch out, read different stuff, read lots of stuff. Just read.
And one other thing, my days of addicted (over the top) reading are over. I have found a system that works for me. I can now read, and still manage my daily responsibilities. I do this by leaving my reading until the end of the day just before I go to sleep. I do not allow myself to pick up a book before then unless I am going to to doctors office to wait to be seen, or my son’s gymnastics class and I wait for him to finish. Otherwise, I spend the last hour or two before I sleep just reading. However, I did have to sacrifice one thing in order to make room for more reading time.
My TV time.
Instead of watching TV for three or four hours a night, I only do one or two hours at the absolute most (if at all). This means I stay behind on my shows quite often and some shows I have dropped altogether. But I find I’m okay with that. I now enjoy reading more than most of what I watch anyways and I’m finding that the majority of the stories I read are much better.
So when do you find time to read? What have you had to sacrifice to be an avid reader?