Why You Absolutely Have to Read if You Want to be a Writer
There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. If you want to be a writer, then you must take the time to read.
It’s one of Stephen King’s most famous quotes: “If you want to be a writer, you have to write a lot, and you have to read a lot.”
It’s so true. Makes so much sense.
And yet the reading part seems to be more of a struggle for me year after year.
It’s not that I don’t like to read. I love to read. There’s nothing more relaxing to me than curling up with a good book and getting lost in a story, getting lost in a world.
My love for reading of course came before my love for writing. I read all the time as a kid. ALL THE TIME. If I wasn’t at school and I wasn’t outside playing with my friends, I was in my bedroom getting enraptured with a new book.
I loved reading everything. I loved reading up, taking chances on adult novels by the time I was nine years old. I loved books so much I started writing short stories, and since 1993, I’ve been reading and writing to my heart’s content.
Since 2010 I have written nineteen novels, and any given week you can find me writing or revising my latest writing project.
But in the last five years the time I’ve had for reading for pleasure has noticeably dwindled.
I was in two Masters programs and teaching two classes each semester, and basically any chunk of free time I could find in a day I devoted to writing or revising.
I never allowed myself to read for pleasure if I hadn’t done my writing for the day yet, and I also wouldn’t read for pleasure if I still had something to read for my seminar the next day that I was a student in or my class the next day I had to teach.
Therefore, most of my reading I’ve done in the past five years has been at night, usually after dinner and a little television.
And I can’t tell you how many late nights I’ve gotten comfy on my bed or my couch with a book, started reading the latest chapter… and fallen asleep about ten minutes later.
I fall asleep about 10:30 and then wake up after midnight pissed off. Why couldn’t I have spent the last 90 minutes reading this awesome book instead of sleeping?
Anyway, last year I finally started forcing myself to read more.
After half a decade consumed with reading for school, I finally finished the last novel for my MFA annotations, and suddenly found myself with no more books I had to read for my Masters programs.
So I started something simple: I essentially made myself read a book a week for the entire year. Some books were short enough to read in two or three days. Others were longer that took me two weeks or longer.
But I was reading again, often, and I loved every minute of it. And since January of this year I’ve been keeping up with the same schedule, about four books a month.
Sometimes the book is Esio Trot by Roald Dahl and it takes me all of an hour. And sometimes the book is Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng that I savored for a wondrous ten days straight.
I’m not as strict this year if I don’t finish a book by Sunday. If it takes me two weeks, fine. What matters is that I’m reading, and reading often.
Because I do absolutely believe that reading helps your writing.
It’s fun for me to read a work of fiction, first as a fan, second as a writer. Even when I’m immersed in the story, I will notice a POV decision, the way a paragraph looks on the page.
And I love to mix up my genres. In the last two months I’ve read an adult thriller, an adult comedy, and two works of non-fiction. One thing I’m going to start this summer is reading, at minimum, one middle grade novel and one young adult novel each month, since those are the two age markets I write for.
And since last year, I’ve made it a habit, whenever possible, not to read after 10pm. I’ve had the luxury of working mostly from home, so typically I get all my writing work done in the morning and early afternoon, and a habit as of late has been exercising in the afternoon, then reading for about an hour between 5:30pm and 6:30pm, before I start making dinner.
I don’t read in a chair like Stephen King. I read on the guestroom bed, where the sunlight streams in perfectly from the window, where my cat loves to snuggle on my lap and go to sleep.
My cat can sleep all she wants. But when I’m doing my reading for the day, I want to stay awake, thank you very much. Reading is so important for writers, and it’s something that has fallen by the wayside for me a little these past few years.
Thankfully, I’ve figured out a schedule now that lets me get my reading in almost every day, and I have found my spot, where the light is perfect, where the room is quiet, where I can get lost in my latest story.
There’s simply nothing better!
Brian Rowe is an author, teacher, book devotee, and film fanatic. He received his MFA in Creative Writing and MA in English from the University of Nevada, Reno, and his BA in Film Production from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He writes young adult and middle grade suspense novels, and is represented by Kortney Price of the Corvisiero Agency.