By David Sharp
I recently read an article that cited a particular professional's method for screening writers who want to talk to her about their books. Apparently, writers frequently corner her at parties hoping she can help them break into the biz. Hard to imagine, I know. She diverts the conversation by asking them what they're reading. Writers who have no answer or who give a non-answer like, "I'm too focused on my writing to read anything," are politely dismissed.
|A chapter a day keeps the doldrums away.|
I tried to put myself in the shoes of someone receiving that sort of rejection. I think it would sting more than all of the "I'm so sorry your fantastic book is just not for me," letters and all the "Why don't you give up writing and take up knitting or something?" letters combined! Effectively, she has labelled you something worse than a lousy writer. She has labelled you a phony. Another voice in the world that insists on being heard, but who can't find the time to listen to anyone else. In a word... Ouch!
But it does bring up a valid point. Who would spend hours writing and editing and rewriting who didn't first have a passion for reading? I can't imagine putting in all that work on a project that I didn't aspire to the same greatness I'd experienced from the works of others. For one thing, how would I even know what it should look like? Would I know how to draw people into fictional worlds if I've never been lost in one, myself? Or, perhaps I used to love reading, but haven't really finished a book in several years. Even then, would I be equipped to write one with such stale experience? Would I even understand how to implement the subtleties of theme and nuance?
|Too busy for books!|
I'll read when I'm dead!
Nevertheless, the two go hand-in-hand. Would you pay top dollar for a chef who only ever ate microwave dinners? Or a musician who never listened to music? Or a photographer who never... uh... looked at stuff? In that vein, I think it is a reasonable expectation that writers should be reading. And guess what? It doesn't have to be a chore! It's fun! This is the easy part. And you will be supporting the market to which you contribute.
Do you self-publish? Purchase and read some other self-published works. Do you write magazine articles? Great! You can read a whole bunch of those in one sitting! Are you going for a Big Five contract? Read some Big Five titles, but maybe include a few who aren't on the bestseller list. You never know who might become a new favorite. Why not beta-read for some other local writers out there? After all, what are writers in a world that has no readers?
|Interrupt me at your peril!|
It is hard to find time. But I earnestly believe that if you're not reading, your writing will suffer for it. If you want to make your writing the best that it can be, reading is not optional. None of us should ever be weeded out because we can't offer the title of our latest literary indulgence. We must make time. And social media totally doesn't count. While that certainly has it's place in a writer's world, our reading experience should be more robust.
Need a good book? Get a Goodreads account. Or consult one of the many degreed professionals who specialize in connecting readers with new favorites. (You can find them in your local library, and the consultation is free!) Some libraries even offer a cool Personalized Reading List service. Try it. I did.
So here's the big question: What are you reading? Let us know in the comments so I can extend my own reading list. And check out some of these articles on the importance of reading:
Neil Gaiman: Why Our Future Depends on Libraries, Reading and Daydreaming
-This one is worth your time. Seriously. Neil Gaiman speaks with more passion and insight on reading than I ever could. And you'll feel good about what you contribute to the world.
The Best Advice for Writers? Read
-Also uses a chef example. I wrote mine before I read this article, though. So there.
Stephen King's Reading List for Writers
-A list of 96 books Mr. King read in the span of time wherein he wrote 4. That's quite a ratio!
Book Lovers Live Longer - Denver Post
-And then, of course, there's this benefit as well.