Reading … What’s That?

Some of the titles currently stacked on my desk.

Next on my list of suggestions for feeding the writing muse is to read constantly.  A few years ago I wouldn’t have thought it necessary to urge writers to read.  After all, isn’t reading what brought us to the dance in the first place?

Still, I continue to be shocked, astonished, stunned, appalled, outraged, incredulous, flabbergasted, and perplexed by the wannabe writers I meet who do NOT read. 

“I used to read,” they hasten to assure me, probably because I’m staring at them dumbfounded.

But the assurance rings hollow.  Would you want to go to a dentist who used to work on teeth, but hasn’t picked up a drill in the last ten years?

Some of the books currently stacked on my desk.

Writing requires a tremendous outflow of our creative energies, emotions, insights, and sheer ability to entertain.  It’s vital that we be diligent about keeping more ideas flowing in.  To do that, we need the words of others.  Not to steal, of course!  But to be soothed by and taught.  It’s so necessary that we have storylines, settings, characters, dialogue, phrasing, and imagery pouring into our minds.

Today, I’m reading John Sandford’s latest crime thriller, BURIED PREY.  He always brings a new technique or variation to how he handles his material.  As much as I enjoy his plots and stories, I also learn a little on the technical side as well.

Biographies stacked in the living room

No matter how much we adore the written word, we can still become squeezed by deadline pressures or the crazy-busy chaos of everyday life.  Fend it off, and keep reading.  Read every day.  Read a book a week, or twice a month.  Take chances on authors you’ve never heard of.  Explore genres beyond your favorites. 

Granted, when I’m writing a book I don’t want to start imitating the style of other authors.  It’s a hazard–especially when I’m deep in the pages of someone I particularly admire.  (I pick up accents and vocabulary, too, whenever I stay more than a couple of days in a new location.  Call me a chameleon!)

But neither–in the fevered midst of creation–do I want to stop reading.  It’s like oxygen to me.

So I read in genres very different from what I happen to be writing.  For example, if I’m working on a fantasy then I’ll read mysteries and thrillers.  Once I’m done with a rough draft, then I’ll dive into whatever I’ve been stockpiling.

Reading ensures that my story sense is still running true.

Books stacked on the piano.

If you’ve gotten lax about finding time to read, then there are various ways in which to reform the habit.  Figure out what time of day works best for you, then make an appointment for yourself.  It can be helpful to form (or join) a bookclub.  You can start a book journal, where you record the titles of what you’re reading with perhaps the date you finished and a sentence-long synopsis of the plot.  You can read aloud daily to your children, if they’re of an age to appreciate books you can all enjoy–or encourage them to read aloud to you.  You can set a stack of books on your desk and assign starting dates to them.  Research and collect the works of a chosen author and read them in publication order.  Or maybe just save up some splurge money and then fill a shopping basket with wild abandon at the bookstore.

Above all, keep reading fun.  Don’t wade through dreary books that bore you just because they’re something you think you should be reading.  Don’t keep yourself from reading books that are as light and insubstantial as popcorn just because you think you should spend your time on more important tomes.  And if you want to read all the works of Charles Dickens, then do it!

On my office wall at campus there hangs a poster produced by the American Library Association several years ago.  It’s a picture of Yoda, holding a book, and it says, “Read and the Force is with you.”

Kind of true, don’t you think?

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