“If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
― Stephen King
I know, I know, it's bad form to start with a quote. We're not in freshman English, after all. But it's a damn good quote and Stephen King is a genius. So there.
I've run into many writers who have told me flat out that they don't read much or at all. The reason they give is usually that they are too busy or that they'd rather be writing. I get it. This isn't a judgy post or a self righteous post. I've been there. I've had reading dry spells where I've an entire year *gasp* without picking up a book. This is what I've learned.
To begin with, as a child and young adult, I loved, LOVED reading. From sugary pop series like Sweet Valley Twins to The Babysitter's Club, to Beverly Cleary to Lois Lowry. I read Judy Blume and Avi and Roald Dahl and Gary Paulson. I read The Indian in the Cupboard and The Castle in the Attic and Parrot in the Oven. All nouns in all the things, I read it.
And then I read harder books, older books, like Jane Eyre and The Scarlet Pimpernel. In fact, I was so obsessed with The Scarlet Pimpernel that I tracked down the rest of the out of print series online and read those too. One time I heard about an out of print (at the time) book called Vendetta: The Story of One Forgotten by Marie Corelli, saved up my allowance and bought a copy that was no more than photocopied pages of an older edition. It wasn't that great.
I spent 9th grade struggling through Les Misérables (unabridged) and chased that down with some lighter Victor Hugo and read The Hunchback of Notre Dame. 10th grade I discovered The Lord of the Rings and after I finished that I thought, I will never again read something that moved me the way that book did. I always do that. It's kinda stupid. I read something great and I feel like I'll never ever find anything as good ever again.
Then life happened. I discussed my writing break in my previous post and it was the same for reading. I was busy and the spaces between books grew longer and longer.
We aren't born knowing how to read. It takes skill and practice and the sad truth is, the longer we go without using that skill, the more and more reading starts to feel like work. That's the sad state I found myself in. I wanted to write. I wanted to be a writer, but I wasn't reading.
Remember in my previous post where I said my writing used to suck, like really suck? Yeah, I wasn't reading. One of the major things that changed was that I got back into the habit of reading and *magically* my writing improved.
It was tough at first. In fact, Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters is still sitting half read on my dresser mocking me. I haven't picked it up in over a year.
But then I tried something that I'm going to call a "Life Hack" or whatever. It's pretty simple. I used audio books. I listened to audio books while reading along with a physical copy of the book. I read my first book start to finish in a while and was very pleased with myself. Then I did it again and this time, found that I had to speed up the recording to keep up with my eyes on the page. In other words, my reading skills came back and were overtaking my listening skills. That's how I did it.
The other thing I've discovered about reading is that, for me, it's the only cure for writer's block. Any time I go more than a few days with severe writer's block I know it's time to read a book. Reading unlocks my brain, makes the ideas swirl, makes the page more mailable.
I'm not one of those people who reads a hundred books a year and I doubt I ever will be. The way my life is, right now, I don't have time to parent, write, have a life, and then read piles and piles of books. But I read a lot. And I make myself familiar with different authors and new titles.
The final piece of advice I would give anyone who wants to get back into reading is this: READ WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY!! Don't get caught up in reading a popular title because everybody is reading it. Read something sappy or something scary or read Young Adult. I LOVE Young Adult! I want to write adult books that have the same ease and intensity and passion that Young Adult books have.
Whatever you do, read. Reading is essential to writing. After all, how can we expect other people to pick up our books if we don't pick up other people's.
So, to conclude, I will give you my top four book recommendations from my reading this summer:
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine: A Novel by Gail Honeyman A contender for one of my most favorite books I've ever read and a debut novel!
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee YA and freaking fantastic!
The Big Finish by Brooke Fossey Hey! I know her! A beautiful and hilarious novel about old age and youth and everything in-between.
Fractured Tide by Leslie Lutz YA! Scary and poignant! Great book!
I'm going to go finish Underground Airlines now.