Why Reading is Non-Negotiable for Writers

In the past, I've been guilty of the "too busy writing to read" line. When lost in WIP land, the word "moderation" disappears from my vocabulary. Especially when revising. My brain can only handle so many hours of drafting a day (I typically lose steam after 4-6K of new words each day), but when revising, I'm like the energizer bunny. I can revise ALL day. It isn't unusual for me to spend a solid twelve hours on a Saturday on revisions. During the writing and revising of my first two novels, I did virtually no reading for fun, saving that "luxury" for when I finished.

I've come to learn, in part during the Scottish writing retreat I went on with the rest of the YA League, that reading is not a luxury. It's a requirement.

During the past few weeks while drafting my new WIP (code named "The Trial" -- eventually I'll get an actual title for this darn book), I've been doing something revolutionary (for me, probably a pretty normal thing for most people): I've been reading while writing. And in doing so, I've learned some of the reasons it's so important to continue to read while you're writing.

So, without further delay, here are my top three reasons writers should always* make time to read:

1 - It prevents burn out

Reading is a great way to refill the well of creativity, so being able to read while busy in the writing trenches helps keep that well from running dry. You may find you still need to take a day or two off on occasion to fully refill your well (whether that's by reading, visiting new places, watching movies, etc.), but making time to read a bit every day, you can help keep yourself from burning out completely.

2 - It can reinvigorate your love of books

I recently read the first four novels in the Elemental Series by Brigid Kemmerer (book five comes out at the end of the month!). For the first time in a looong time, I fell head over heels in love with a series. Yes, I've really liked--and even loved--many of the books I've read recently, but this series is in a league of its own. It resonates so completely with my personal tastes, I'm utterly obsessed. I love the clever writing, the characters feel so very real to me (I fret over their well being frequently), and reading those books reminded me why I love to write so much. Now, granted, the type of books I write are very different than the Elemental Series, but reading those books made me want to write books that might one day affect another reader so profoundly.

Granted, there's also the risk of the: "This book is soooo good. Why do I even try????" feeling. But it's totally worth it.

3 - You can find the weaknesses in your own work

Right now I'm about 100 pages into HEIR OF FIRE by Sarah J Maas (book three in her Throne of Glass series). This book has been the perfect read for me right now, because in reading, I've noticed a few things I'm not doing with my writing that I really should be doing. I've noticed that I spend way too much time describing physical movements of characters and not enough time on what's going on with the character's thoughts/feelings/etc that are also driving the plot. I've noted that shortcoming on my scene cards so I can try to weave more of the internal stuff as I keep drafting, and it's something I'll make a note to look for as I revise.

Another example, this one from the Elemental Series. Kemmerer does a phenomenal job of portraying the internal thoughts of her characters. Like, seriously folks, she's brilliant at capturing the anxiety and thoughts of her characters, weaving it throughout their narrative, not just the direct thoughts (you know the ones I'm talking about, those direct internal thoughts identified by italics). I cannot recommend her books enough. She turns the paranormal romance genre on its head in such a brilliant and rewarding way.

(Seriously, do yourself a favor and read her books, starting with STORM. Just make sure you have plenty of free time as you'll surely need to read the rest of the series immediately!)

And another example: last week I read Dahlia Adler's debut novel, BEHIND THE SCENES. In reading her book, I was reminded to think past the cliches. There's a scene in the book where Adler could have had the quick, cheesy resolution to her plot conflict. I felt it coming. I was sure that was how everything would resolve.

But then it didn't.

Adler took what could have been a cliched resolution and twisted it on its head. She used the scene to further complicate the plot, further complicate the characters, so when she finally did get to the resolution, it was so very rewarding as a reader. I will definitely be picking apart the Trial during revisions to see if there are places where I introduce a common element as a climax or resolution and see if I can't turn that on its head as well.

And this, dear readers, is why I'd argue reading fiction can be just as useful (sometimes even more so!) than reading the "how-to" books on writing craft. Yes, those absolutely have their place (and I've read a few), but nothing shows us what good writing can be like great books do.

So you tell me, what have you learned about your own writing by reading good books? Let me a comment and let me know.

-Isabel

*Note: As with all writing advice, reading while writing may not work for you, and that's okay! There may also be times where external deadlines make it impossible to find time to read. Also okay. To each their own. I will say, however, is that if you're someone who thinks they can't read while writing but has never actually tried it, give it a try. I used to think that, but when I tried to do both, I found that not only could I do it, it was super helpful! *Cheers*