Writers who don’t read voraciously perplex me. If you don’t love reading fiction books, why would you want to write them? Yet I know a number of writers who have lost at least some of their childhood love of reading.
TOP THREE REASONS I’VE HEARD WRITERS GIVE FOR NOT READING FICTION:
1. Life is too busy.
With full-time jobs, trying to stay fit, kids, sick parents, sick pets, etc... it can be very hard to carve out time to write and so some writers have sacrificed their leisure time in order to write. I get that.
This post is not meant to browbeat you or make you feel guilty, but rather to encourage you to try to find time for reading. You can still have a book on the go even if it takes a long time to finish it. Case in point: I read a chapter a night to my kids. Since I alternate with my husband which kid I read to and some evenings get skipped, this means about three chapters a week. I’ve read ten books this way this year.
Here’s an earlier post of mine on Six Ways to Squeeze More Reading Time into Your Day.
2. When I’m tired, it’s easier to turn on the TV than pick up a book.
There are a lot of wonderful TV shows being aired these days. I grew up on shows like Three’s Company and Dallas, which simply cannot compare to the storytelling and sophistication of modern shows. Also there is so much more to choose from! I love SF/fantasy. There used to be maybe one or two programs in my genre, now there are dozens. Good shows that I want to watch.
Furthermore, watching TV is often a social thing. My husband and I love to discuss shows we’re watching. We’re also enjoying rewatching Buffy the Vampire Slayer with our teenager. Even a poorly watched TV show reaches a wider audience than the vast majority of books, so discussing them can give you common ground at the office cafeteria.
But here’s the thing: I still prefer a good book. I will often turn down TV watching in favour of finishing a book. Books are a different medium than TV and to me they are more satisfying. More immersive, richer, with room to be as long as they need.
If you genuinely prefer watching TV to reading books, then my question is: why aren’t you writing scripts?
3. I don’t enjoy reading as much as I used to because my brain goes into critical/thinking/editing mode when I try to read
This one makes me wince. You have my sincere sympathies.
The only thing I can really suggest is to read better books. Sounds flippant, I know. But the analytical side of my brain only tends to turn on if I’m having trouble getting into a book—books that I end up not finishing or rating only two or three stars on Goodreads. When I’m reading books by my favourite authors, that are four and five star reads, that side of my brain doesn’t engage until I finish reading the entire novel.
Life is too short to spend time reading books that you don’t enjoy. Yes, even if it’s an award-winner.
Find a book that hooks you. Maybe it’s an old favourite, a guaranteed thrill ride. Maybe it’s the new book everyone’s raving about (or maybe you hate that book, if so, put it down.) Download the first chapters of ten books that sound interesting onto your ereader and hold a little first paragraph contest (or do the same while standing in a bookstore or library.) Make them audition for your time. Read the winner.
REASONS WHY WRITERS, MORE THAN ANYONE, NEED TO READ:
1. To learn technique.
Take your favourite book and think about what it is that makes you love it--strong pacing, great dialogue, awesome character moments, plot twists, whatever. Then reread the book and notice how the author achieves this.
You can, of course, also learn from watching TV (here’s another post on this topic) but TV and books are different mediums and IMO you can’t learn as much from TV as from a good book.
2. To learn to be critical of your own work.
Critiquing skills are vital to learning to rewrite--and they're much easier to practice on other people's work than your own. Not enjoying a book? Analyze why, then figure out how to apply the lesson to your own fiction.
3. To keep current in your genre.
I don’t necessarily mean chasing fads (though if you’re one of those lucky writers who can write fast, why not chase them?) but if you haven’t read much in the last fifteen years, you might have missed crucial things. Like the rise of steampunk. Or the changes in urban fantasy. (It used to be that all contemporary fantasy, that is books with magic but set in modern times, required the magic/fantasy element to be hidden and secret. Thus whole chapters were spent gradually revealing the magic element to the main character and building up their belief that it was real. Writers like Laurell K. Hamilton revolutionized the genre when they created worlds in which vampires had ‘come out of the closet’ and were an accepted part of the world. This allowed for faster pacing and opened up so many new story possibilities, it’s no wonder the genre exploded.) Young adult literature has undergone similar changes since I was a teen. In my lifetime mystery has spawned legal thrillers as a separate genre.
4. To support your fellow writers.
Read because if all the writers out there bought five more books a year, then more writers could make a living at this stuff. (Okay, I don’t have statistical studies to support this. I still think it’s true.)