A Writing Life: Why I'm a Reader First, Writer Second

Monday, January 30, 2017

Why I'm a Reader First, Writer Second

"I'm always chilled and astonished by the would-be writers who ask me for advice and admit, quite blithely, that they don't 'have time to read.' This is like a guy starting up Mount Everest saying that he didn't have time to buy any rope or pitons."
- Stephen King

I'm sure I've posted this quote here before, but I'm going to do it again. It's an all time favorite of mine and one that hangs on the wall in my office. I read it multiple times a day. And I'm seeing more and more the importance of Stephen King's wisdom. I fear that as a writer, it's all too easy to get caught up in deadlines, word count per day, and the stress of churning out book after book that I forget the value of reading. It's not just would-be writers. I think some of us who have been writing for years have lost our way. We've stopped reading.

I'll admit I lost sight of the reader in me this past year or two. Over the holidays, I took time off from writing and did a lot of reading. A lot. It was so wonderful. So decadent to get lost in words and worlds on the page. Sure, I journaled and "wrote" each day, but without a deadline breathing down my neck. And with some extra time on my hands, I devoured books.

It reminded me why I'm a reader before I'm a writer:

1) I'm a reader because it takes me outside of my own story. When I'm working on a book, my mind is on that story almost 24/7. I think about it as I drive to run errands, while I'm cooking a meal, or when I go for a walk. Reading a story that isn't mine gets my brain outside of my story and let's it roam free for a bit. I've been inspired or have had the lightbulb go on in my head for my story many times while reading someone else's narrative.

2) I'm a reader because it teaches me various writing styles. Sure, I could take a class or two on writing styles, but I feel I learn most from reading other authors and how they do things. How do they use dialogue? Or maybe their strength is setting, which is not mine, and I can see how they do it well and take note of it for when I sit down to write.

3) I'm a reader because where would I be as a writer without being a reader? Again, I could take classes, but there's only so much to learn there. A good thing to do as a beginning writer, yes, but I'm talking here mainly to authors with a few books under their belt. If I did nothing but write and never dove into a book, my focus would become so narrow. I would see only what's in front of me. And I don't want to do that. Truth? I think it hurts my writing. Good writing takes time. It takes a lot of creative energy. And that isn't nurtured by sitting in front of a computer screen for hours and hours.

One of the most productive things I've done in my writing career is to put my reader hat on. As a reader, what do I do? Do I immediately follow on twitter a new author I find and like? (I don't, but that's just me.) Do I go to their website to see what other books they've written? (Yes. I do that.) What are the ways I like to find new authors? (Litsy is a new favorite app for this purpose.)

But if I didn't have a reader hat to put on, I wouldn't have a clue.

I'm in a book club in my neighborhood. I love it. I look forward to it. We aren't consistent with every single month because of our schedules, but when we meet, I'm so excited. I love nothing better in life than to talk books. I'm the resident writer of the group so they tend to think that I have some vast wisdom each time that they don't, but I assure them, what they offer me in their observations and opinions far outweighs what I bring to the table. These are incredibly intelligent, bright women and to hear their take on certain books is fascinating.

If I lived my life as a writer only, I would miss all of that. I'd have my head down over my computer keyboard, banging out tale after tale and never looking up to be inspired. I want to live inspired, I want my work to be inspired, don't you?

What about you? What do you love to read and why? What inspires you?

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