For a few years after college, when I was working on short story writing and working at the church and trying to figure out the direction of my life (btw, if you find my personal compass, I ask that you return it to me, ’cause I still have not figured this out), I didn’t read much. I did a lot of TV watching because it required fewer brain cells and I was just tired all the time, didn’t want to emotionally invest or invest more time than 45 minutes to an hour on fiction media.
Then, a few years ago, I made the commitment to read again. Maybe not in the three to five books a week pace that I managed before I got my own car. Reading in the car used to be my primary reading time, which became much more dangerous when I was in the driver’s seat. You’re welcome.
I had forgotten how awesome reading is. Not just for filling up your leisurely time, but also for stimulating creativity. And for me, reading physical books are important. Reading off a screen just isn’t the same. I wonder if you hooked me up to electrodes, you’d see a difference in how my brain processes books on a screen and print books. I like reading some things online, but it reaches something deeper when I’m reading off of a page. No distractions, no blue light, just the words and the movie in my mind that accompanies them.
Reading is incredibly important for a writer. It doesn’t even have to be in your chosen genre(s). In fact, wandering out of your territory is encouraged, because you can easily get in a rut and lose sight of whole worlds of new perspectives. Not that you should neglect your favorites – I’m a chronic re-reader, which is why purchasing books is a good investment for me over borrowing from the library or something like that.
Not only does reading help shape your understanding of genre and its structure (the more you know, the more informed choices you can make as to whether to follow the genre conventions or subvert them). Not only does reading help you with your basic tools of writing, like spelling, grammar, syntax, pacing/timing, lyric quality.
Most importantly, I think, reading reminds you why you write. That feeling of being immersed in a world. That feeling that you gotta know what happens next. The satisfaction of a conclusion and missing characters when you close a book. I certainly don’t write for the money. I don’t know anyone who does. I can understand continuing to publish for the money, but I don’t know anyone who starts (and follows through) writing for the money. (If you’re writing for the gobs of cash, stop. Might as well buy lottery tickets every week.)
Money would be nice, certainly, but more than that, I want to share that feeling. I want to see someone nose-deep in my book, unable to put it down. I want people to get excited talking about what a character meant to them. I want people to wait anxiously for the next book. I want to share that excitement.
Because when I’m reading, that feeling is awesome, and who wouldn’t want to share it.
I read because I write. Take the time, make the time. It’s totally worth it.