When To Read

When a writer isn’t reading, he or she should be reading.  Stephen King is quoted as saying something like, if you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write.

I believe that’s true.  Otherwise writers are simply trying to imitate television and movies and comics in prose form.  That doesn’t work.  A writer has to read the medium he or she is going to work at in order to understand it.  It’s simple logic really, but most people miss it.

As an example, let’s take a cobbler (shoes, not pies).  The guy makes shoes day in and day out.  He knows from shoes.  Probably knows how to make ladies shoes and how to make men’s shoes.  Maybe he even knows how to make sandals and slingbacks, but I’m betting probably not because those are special skills too.

At any rate, let’s say this cobbler is commissioned to make a pair of boots.  Seems like it would be easy, right?  Except that’s deceptive.  The leather would have to be cut differently, the stitching would have to be done differently, and even the fit would be different because a lot of boots (cowboy boots) don’t have stitching.  Work books could be a type of tall shoe, but I don’t think stylistically that would satisfy.

So when a reader sits down to write a particular kind of book, some studying is necessary.  I’m not going to try to analyze what should be read and whether it should be read while you’re working on your story (I believe it’s okay to do so although other people think writers unconsciously “borrow” from things they’re reading).

I want to approach WHEN you should read.

Most people read for diversion.  They pick up a book, read for a while, go see the doctor, read for a while, snooze, read for a while, go get the kids from a sports practice, read for a while…you get the picture.  That’s fine for those folks.  We want them.  They provide a means for writers to keep a roof over their heads.

Writers need to approach reading as part of the job.  When you’re reading (anything you’re reading, book, magazine, fiction, nonfiction), you’re on the job.  You’re supposed to be paying attention to the writer working his or her craft.  Pick up nuances of how characters are handled, how situations are introduced, how conflict is elevated, how backstory is spooned in.

Most writers feel they can read any time and pick those things up.  That’s just simply not true.  Learning to write from reading isn’t strictly osmosis (though a lot of it, thankfully, is).  But at a certain point your writer’s education is going to be through unswerving observation and dedication.  You can’t just learn a trick or two.  You’ve got to learn them all, then figure out which ones you need and which of those you do best.

All of us have books that we start and don’t finish.  I think most of that is because we read when we’re tired or we start on a book and don’t have enough time to finish it soon enough.  We expect our minds to be resilient enough to maintain everything.  Readers enjoy genre reading for this reason, or favorite authors.  They can sit down with a new romance novel or mystery novel or western novel or Famous Author novel and set their minds to cruise through the pages on a familiar voyage.

Writers can’t afford to be lackadaisical in their approach to reading.  So I have some basic premises I’d like you to consider when reading.

1)  Know whether you’re reading to learn or for pleasure (no, these are not mutually exclusive, but learning should be)

2)  Be rested (you can’t read effectively if your eyes are tired or your brain is struggling to focus)

3)  Block out enough time that day to read (I would set an arbitrary amount of time, anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour, or an appreciable page count — I make it a point to sit down for 50 to 100 pages a night when I’m reading a book)

4)  Block out enough time in the next week or two to finish the book in a timely manner.  (If you read 50 pages a night and the book is 400 pages long, you should finish the book in 8 – 10 days, allowing a missed day here and there)

5)  Make notes about the book (I do this best by writing review of books I finish and putting them on my blogs and on Amazon) so you can remember what you read, what you liked about it, and what you think might have been improved.

6)  Make notes about new information you find intriguing or interesting.  These may be things you will revisit in your own fiction after a little research.

7)  Try to read at the same time every day.  Doing something is easier when you make it a habit.

I hope this helps you realize the importance of your reading time.  Don’t take it for granted.  Reading is funamental, and it’s probably the best way to understand what it is you’re trying to do in your own writing.

And if you read something good, please send me a note and tell me what it was.  I’m constantly looking for new books to read that are worth my time.

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