Reading and writing go hand in hand. That’s obvious, right? At least, it should be. But why are many writers so busy they claim they don’t have time to read?
I get being busy. I’m a mother of three. I home educate my children. I work as the cover coordinator for The Consortium. I also write novels, one of which will be published in May. So yeah, I know what “busy” means. I, as much as anyone else, can claim that I don’t have time to read. I can’t afford to do it.
But the truth is, I can’t afford not to. No writer can.
A Love for Books
I love reading. I always have. When I was a child, my parents had to restrict the number of books I’d check out from the library. I’d fight and complain about it, after all, if they let me get ten books in one visit, I’d have them all read within a day or two. And I couldn’t stand the thought of a day without something new to devour.
The reason I’m a writer now is because of my decades-long affinity for reading. I never planned on being a writer. It wasn’t why I went to college. In fact, I’ve only had one college-level English class. But I have a pretty good grasp on grammar, punctuation and the English language. All of that came from reading. I’d argue (feel free to disagree) that the best way to learn to write is to start out as a voracious reader.
Obviously most writers enjoy reading. If they didn’t, it would be an odd choice of occupation. Wanting to read isn’t the problem. We all want to sit down and enjoy a good book. The problem is, actually doing it often feels like slacking off.
If you’re a serious writer, you know it takes dedication. You’ve got to work your tail off. I say “no” to activities I want to do all the time, whether it’s watching television, going out with friends or cleaning the house (although truth be told, I don’t want to do that last one – I just want it done). So it’s easy to lump “reading for pleasure” in with all the rest. When I close my laptop and cozy up with a good book, it feels a little bit like I’m splurging. Especially if it’s a really good book. That little nagging voice reminds me that I could be writing right now. It tries to guilt me out. In the past, I’ve listened to it. But not anymore.
A License to Read
What is the cause of this newfound freedom, you ask? Honestly, a little bit of it is stubbornness. Not all of it. Just the part of me that refuses to give up something I enjoy that much. But the main reason is because I’ve received a license to read.
I can just hear the gears in your brain churning. You’re wondering who exactly gives those out. Well, Stephen King, for one. The guy’s something of an authority on writing. I recently wrote a post about his book On Writing, in which I shared a nugget or two about how to overcome writer’s block. In the same book, he talked about how vital (not just acceptable) it is for writers to read, and read regularly. He makes it a regular habit to read just about every day.
If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things… – Stephen King
When I read that, I was soaring high. I’d just been handed a permission-to-read slip from someone who knows his stuff. I clenched that slip tight in my hand and cracked open the nearest book, ready to sink my teeth in. Since then, the nagging guilt monster has backed off. I’ve got a license, after all. What can he do about it?
Consider this post your license to read. I may not be Stephen King, but he’s backing me up on this one. I want to free your mind (to quote The Matrix).
You are allowed to must read.
Maybe you didn’t need permission — mine or King’s. Maybe you already devour books guilt-free. If so, I salute you. We shall go forth and read, together. But if you are one of those who feel there isn’t enough time in the day for frivolous things like reading, I hereby grant you permission. Not just permission, I urge you to read – every day, if at all possible. It’s one of the best things you can do as a writer. Read — a lot and write — a lot.
How much (and how often) do you read? What are your favorite books? Do you struggle with guilt when you dive into an enjoyable read or do you devour it with no regrets?
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