The Flip Side of Writing

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. 
—Stephen King

Those words were everywhere: If you’re going to write you need to read. I heard them from writers. I read them in books. I saw them on blogs. And I promptly rejected them. I had my reasons.

  • Hello, Mr. King, not all of us write for a living. My free time is a precious commodity. If I ever want to finish any of my writing projects before the next millennium, I need to spend all of my precious commodity WRITING.
  • Reading someone else’s writing would change my unique voice and I didn’t want to distill it with the flavor of another author. (Besides, that sounds slightly unsanitary.)
  • As a recovering reading addict, I was on the wagon. I knew what would happen if I fell off.

My “reasons” turn out to be excuses in disguise. While my free time is a precious commodity, it doesn’t always go toward writing. Copious amounts of it are sucked into the vortex of the internet never to be seen again. As for flavor, my writing has never been compared to John Steinbeck, Sylvia Plath, John Green or Dr. Seuss. And the recovering addict thing? Well, that is its own story which you can read here.

Sylvia Plath, reading, books

Sylvia Plath

…will I stick to my damn stuff and practice? Read and think and practice? I am worried about thinking.
—Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

The case for reading is much stronger than the one against it.

Reading provides endless inspiration for writers. The writer who creates magic with words exhilarates us and dares us to make our own word magic. And reading something horrendously written, besides giving us a headache, motivates us to write because we know we can do better, and we’re going to prove it.

We also need to be pragmatic. If we want our work to be read by others, we have to be familiar with what’s out there. It gives us a feel for readers’ likes and dislikes, what’s been done to death, what’s new and fresh, and what may be missing. I know, we’re supposed to write our story and not write to trends. But if we’re writing for an audience of more than one, knowledge is power. Don’t use the information to write to the trend; use it to your advantage.

A few things about reading:

Don’t snub the classics. They’re classics for a reason.

Don’t just choose books of your genre. Be generous with your reading. Give every genre the opportunity to wow you. You’d be surprised.

Turn off the inner editor. Read for enjoyment. After you’ve finished the book, tear it apart. What did you love? Hate? What did that writer do that you can learn from, good and bad?

The Issue of Time

Time is a precious commodity for everyone, even the Stephen Kings of the world. How can you possibly add another to-do to your list? First of all, don’t consider it an assignment or chore. It’s actually a gift from the writer to you. Here are a few ideas to add reading to your day.

  • Finding time to read will be easier if you’re reading something that grabs you by the collar and won’t let you go.
  • Don’t waste time finishing a book you don’t like. Once upon a time, I took pride in the fact that I finished every book I started, even the ones I hated. Now, I don’t waste the time or the pride.
  • Get an e-reader such as Kindle or Nook. Books are available to you 24/7 (that can be dangerous for some of us) and samples can be uploaded before purchasing. You can find books in a variety of price ranges and many sites have free ebooks.  The Gutenberg Project offers over 50,000 free ebooks, mostly classics.
  • Much of a writer’s life is spent waiting. Put it to good use. Have a book with you at all times. Read while you’re in the waiting room, at a restaurant waiting for your meal, waiting in the parking lot to pick your kids up from basketball practice, waiting on hold, waiting to hear from an agent…
  • When writer’s block kicks your butt, don’t waste time staring futilely at a computer screen. Get comfortable and read. It may feel like you’re procrastinating, but it’s actually time well spent.


Helpful links:

Why Writers Need to Read if They Want to Be Good @ Goins, Writer

Want to Be a Better Writer? Read More. @ Huffington Post

The best advice for writers? Read @ The Guardian


13 comments on “The Flip Side of Writing

  1. Now I understand why the ironing is piling up.


  2. You definitely don’t have to twist my arm to read, but I like how nicely you’ve explained why I should be reading. I’m also super happy that you give permission not to finish a book. I’m also an “in it to the end” kind of reader, but I have one now that I am happy to put down. Great post, Dawne!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You are so right about the “not finishing a book you don’t like” thing Dawne! My motto is. . . “Life’s too short to read books you hate!” An author gets two or three chapters at most to get me or I’m gone! LOL! (This could also speak to my attention span, but that’s for another conversation;).

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post about reading and its importance to the writing life.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I agree. Reading is a necessity. When I read a beautifully constructed sentence or paragraph, I study it. Same thing with a poorly constructed piece of writing. I ask myself, why doesn’t this work. I learn as much from the bad stuff as the good–although I have more fun reading the good stuff! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I often find the attempt to become a recognised writer beyond painful. Almost like sending out a radio signal into outer space and waiting for a response year after year and getting little feedback. It is comforting to know that Steinbeck went through a similar period of testing. To be truly creative is to risk everything upon a vision without any guarantee that you are not deluded. He certainly was not and is one of my heroes without a doubt.

    Liked by 1 person

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