5 Reasons Writers Should Read Often

Written by A Guest Author | July 20, 2017

By Kelli Fitzpatrick

Writers are often pressed for time, especially those of us who work a second profession. Though it can be tempting to pour all my free time into fleshing out an outline or bringing that next chapter to life, I have found it is essential for my success as an author that I make time to read regularly as well, even when deadlines loom. Here is my list of reasons to prioritize reading, along with some strategies I use to fit it into a hectic schedule.

REASONS WRITERS SHOULD READ OFTEN:

  1. To get a feel for what works and what doesn’t. In her June 2016 blog post, literary Agent Janet Reid states, “The only way I know to have confidence in your writing is to learn to recognize good writing. And you learn to recognize it by reading it.” Spend time reading quality books not just for the enjoyment, but to analyze them. When I discover a text that is compelling, I ask: Why is it working so well? How is the author using devices like conflict and point of view and characterization to their advantage? What is new or unique or powerful in what is being done here? How might I experiment with incorporating aspects of these elements in my writing, but in my own way? Keep a notebook of ideas to reference as you write.
  2. To know your genre. In a season one episode of Writing Excuses podcast entitled “Blending the Familiar and the Original,” hosts Brandon Sanderson and Dan Wells discuss the importance of reading widely in your genre in order to get a feel for your place of opportunity within the larger body of work. What has been done before? What is the history of this type of writing–what struggles, controversies, and triumphs have other authors faced? What traditional aspects or conventions of this genre do you want to embrace and which do you want to transform or subvert?
  3. To support other writers. Last summer I took an online class from award-winning author Katey Schultz on the subject of Literary Stewardship, and it transformed the way I view my career as an author (I highly recommend this course, as well as the Writers Retreat Katey directs in Interlochen MI, which was recently featured in the Washington Post). Literary Stewardship is a mindset and a lifestyle of support for creatives, built around the concept that when one of us succeeds, we all succeed. If you read a book you love (especially from new or emerging authors), go write an Amazon review for it. Tweet/post/blog about how much you loved the story. Recommend the book to friends. Lookup that author’s website and email them words of encouragement, or just strike up a conversation about the things you’re both passionate about. Attend a book launch at an independent bookstore and engage with the author and community there. Building a writing world where we all lift each other up helps create the type of thriving publishing industry that is worth working in and worth fighting to keep.
  4. To support the larger arts community. In an age when national support for the arts is on tenuous ground, supporting authors, bookstores, libraries, and all the creative professionals tied up in the process of story creation is both powerful and necessary. Art is integral to human experience and societal progress; make and share yours, and then support others doing the same. Buy the books you love. Support the book debuts, readings, signings, events, and Patreon accounts of authors and organizations you believe in. Join professional organizations that offer members a voice in the industry (for example, as a sci-fi author, I belong to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America). Support your local library by checking out materials, participating in programming, and being active in advocacy. Finally, consider supporting programs like the National Endowment for the Arts which keeps art and reading alive in communities across the U.S.
  5. To keep the wonder. The glory of literature (of any genre) is its ability to allow us to get lost in a text, arrested by good writing and engaging stories. Keep this wonder alive by immersing yourself regularly in the word-worlds of others, and you might find your own projects that much more exciting to explore. For an unforgettable, poignant story filled with childlike wonder, read (or re-read) the classic The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. For a gorgeously-illustrated book on craft for imaginative fiction, check out The Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer.

WAYS TO FIND TIME TO READ:

  1. Use Audible. A lot.

Yes, it’s a paid service, but in my personal experience, it is the most powerful method on my list, and totally worth $15 a month. Audible is an audiobook subscription service that gives a number of credits per month (I get one per month at the $15 level) which I then use to buy full audiobooks (at WAY less than list price in most cases). I download them onto my devices and then listen ANYWHERE–while running, traveling, cooking, folding laundry, etc. With Audible I typically get in 1-3 hours of reading PER DAY that I otherwise couldn’t; this app is indispensable during my busiest times of the year. They do offer a 30 day free trial.

  1. Join (or start) a Book Club.

I rarely participate in book clubs because I prefer to have more choice over what I read, but I know many people who love this option because it offers a high level of accountability. If you struggle to finish a book once you’ve started, the knowledge that you will be discussing it with others in a few weeks might provide motivation to keep at it. Check with your local library to find book clubs in your area or start one yourself.

  1. Use your nightstand.

I am the type of person who enjoys winding down at the end of the day, so I leave a hard copy of a novel on my nightstand and read for 15 minutes before bed. If you do this five nights per week and read at the average adult speed of 250-300 words per minute, you can finish The Great Gatsby in two weeks, or Crime and Punishment in ten. (Though be forewarned, you may not want to go to sleep once you start reading!)

  1. Harness ebooks.

Instead of scrolling on social media when I have short periods of downtime (such as sitting in a waiting room), I switched to reading ebooks on my phone that I download via the Kindle app. Many classics are only 99 cents, and many other quality titles are only a few bucks each. The app saves my spot in each title so I can easily pick right up where I left off.

  1. Roll with the seasons.

Work with the rhythm of your life and read when it makes the most sense for you. As a high school teacher, I use the strategies above to find time during the school year and then spend entire days (weeks?) reading in the summer. You might discover larger blocks of time on weekends, after your kids go to bed, or while on vacation. Let it happen when it will, and enjoy the awesome fuel that regular reading can add to your writing.

 

NOTE: No affiliate relationships exist between the author and the persons/services/entities mentioned. Recommendations are given in good faith based on positive past experience only.

 

Kelli Fitzpatrick is an author, teacher, and community activist based in mid-Michigan. Her Star Trek story “The Sunwalkers” is published in Strange New Worlds 2016 from Simon and Schuster, and her sci-fi story “To Stick a Star” placed 4th in the international NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge. She can be found at kellifitzpatrick.com