Posted in Books, Writing

Why You Need to Read If You Want to Write


In his 2000 craft book On Writing, Stephen King says,

I read where I can, but I have a favorite place and probably you do, too — a place where the light is good and the vibe is usually strong.

It’s one of Stephen King’s most famous quotes, one I’m sure I’ll get to discussing in an article eventually: “If you want to be a writer, you have to write a lot, and you have to read a lot.” It’s so true. Makes so much sense.

And yet the reading part seems to be more of a struggle for me year after year. It’s not that I don’t like to read. I LOVE to read. There’s nothing more relaxing to me than curling up with a good book and getting lost in a story, getting lost in a world.

My love for reading of course came before my love for writing. I read all the time as a kid. ALL THE TIME. If I wasn’t at school and I wasn’t outside playing with my friends, I was in my bedroom getting enraptured with a new book. I love reading everything. I loved reading up, taking chances on adult novels by the time I was nine years old. I loved books so much I started writing short stories, and ever since 1995 or so, I’ve been reading and writing to my heart’s content.

Since 2010 I have written eighteen novels, and any given week you can find me writing or revising my latest writing project. But in the last five years the time I had reading for pleasure noticeably dwindled. I was in two Masters programs and teaching two classes each semester, and basically any chunk of free time I could find in a day I devoted to writing or revising. I never allowed myself to read for pleasure if I hadn’t done my writing for the day yet, and I also wouldn’t read for pleasure if I still had something to read for my seminar the next day that I was a student in or my class the next day I had to teach.

Therefore, most of my reading I’ve done in the past five years has been at night, usually after dinner and a little television. And I can’t tell you how many late nights I’ve gotten comfy on my bed or my couch with a book, started reading the latest chapter… and fallen asleep about ten minutes later. I fall asleep about 10:30 and then wake up after midnight pissed off. Why couldn’t I have spent the last 90 minutes reading this awesome book instead of sleeping?

Anyway, this past January I finally started forcing myself to read more. After years consumed with reading for school, I finally finished the last novel for my MFA annotations, and suddenly found myself with NO MORE books I had to read for my Masters programs. So I started something simple on my Instagram: I started posting a book cover a week of whatever I was reading. I have essentially made myself read a book a week since early January, and last night I completed my 29th book so far this year. Some books are short that I read in two or three days. Others are longer that take me two weeks or longer.

But I’m reading again, often, for the first time in years, and I do absolutely believe that reading helps your writing. It’s fun for me to read a work of fiction, first as a fan, second as a writer. Even when I’m immersed in the story, I will notice a POV decision, the way a paragraph looks on the page. And I love to mix up my genres. Just this month I’ve read an adult thriller, an adult comedy, and two works of non-fiction. One thing I’m going to start this fall is reading, at minimum, one middle grade novel and one young adult novel each month, since those are the two age markets I write for.

And since January, I’ve made it a habit, whenever possible, NOT to read after 10pm. I’ve had the luxury since early June of working from home, so typically I get all my writing work done in the morning and early afternoon, and a habit as of late has been exercising in the afternoon, then reading for about an hour between 5:30pm and 6:30pm, before I start making dinner. I don’t read in a chair like Stephen King. I read on the guestroom bed, where the sunlight streams in perfectly from the window, where my cat loves to snuggle on my lap and go to sleep.

My cat can sleep all she wants. But when I’m doing my reading for the day, I want to stay awake, thank you very much. Reading is so important for writers, and it’s something that has fallen by the wayside for me a little these past few years. Thankfully, I’ve figured out a schedule now that lets me get my reading in almost every day, and I have found my spot, where the light is perfect, where it’s quiet, where I can get lost in my latest story.

I’m curious: what’s your favorite reading spot?

2 thoughts on “Why You Need to Read If You Want to Write

  1. Brian, I heartily agree with you about S.K. because his writing flows out of a place that is both “literary” and real, honest and pure. I am considering reading “Joyland.” Have you read it?

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