Why ALLi Author Advice Center Manager Debbie Young is horrified by indie authors who say they have no time to read books, and why she implores all writers to be readers too.
“Since I've started writing books, I have no time to read them.”
So said an indie author recently as part of a public talk. I managed to suppress my gasp of horror, but inwardly I wanted to shake him.
Surely being a writer makes reading all the more important – even an essential part of your job?
Subcontracting mundane tasks to free up time to write is fine. By all means, ditch the ironing, the cleaning, and the gardening chores to someone else – but reading? Nope, that's an essential part of an author's professional practicee.
Ignoring the end-product of the author's labours makes about as much sense as a chef giving up eating. Never trust a skinny chef!skinny chef!
Habitual Readers Make Better Writers
It's no coincidence that some of the best writers of my acquaintance are also the most well-read:
- Novelists such as John Lynch and Celia Boyd, who I see most months at a meetup group, are always citing other books they're read across a wide range of genres as part of their normal conversation.
- On the non-fiction side, Joanna Penn seems to have read every professional advice book going – so no wonder she's great at dispensing her own.
These are undeniably busy people, so if they can find time to read as widely, it puts to shame those who don't.
Whaddya Mean, You Don't Have Time to Read?
As with finding time to write, if you are really motivated to read, you will find the time: the odd half hour on the daily commute, a chapter to start or end your day, turning off the TV news and picking up a book instead.
Now that audiobooks are so easily available, even if you don't have time to read a book on the page, whether digitally or in print, it's possible to absorb the written word while you go about your daily chores – even in the shower.
Why Authors Need to Make Time to Read
“He who reads lives a thousand lives. He who does not read lives only one.”
When I worked for the children's reading charity Read for Good (formerly Readathon), we often cited George R R Martin's famous quote as a succinct summary of the power of a leisure reading habit to expand the imagination, the horizons and the emotional maturity of young people. Reading lots of books in which they encounter a wide range of characters and situations fits them better to cope with whatever life throws at them.
The same is true for authors. If all the experience that they have to draw on as material for their books comes from their actual experience, from what they've actually lived themselves, their resource will be relatively tiny.
“Ah, but I have a vivid imagination,” a writer might object. But if you never allow your imagination the stimulus of the numerous worlds and characters that you can encounter in books, it'll never flourish as much as one well-watered by an avid reading habit.
“Writers MUST read,” says ALLI Director Orna Ross, who also teaches creative thinking and how to lead a more creative lifestyle via her Go Creative programme and her Creativist Club. “Nothing in, thin stuff out.”
Put Yourself in the Reader's Shoes
Another important reason is that by reading other authors' books, you cast yourself in the role of reader – that person on whom you should be focusing when you write your own books. You'll be more aware of what works well for readers, what irritates them, and so on, and it'll stop you becoming complacent about our own writing. Finding yourself incensed by a series of typos in a book, for example, or by head-hopping, or by surplus or insufficient speech tags, for example, will make you take extra care of those aspects when writing yourself.
And speaking of shoes, don't you think that a cobbler who always wears shoes himself would be in a better position to design a comfortable, stylish pair than one who always goes barefoot?
What Should Authors Read?
Actually, I don't think it matters which books you read, as long as you're reading something. Some authors like to read widely within their own genre; others shy away from it for fear of becoming overly influenced by a similar writer. Either is fine.
The important thing is to read widely, often, and thoughtfully.
And you know what? I think your own readers will be able to tell if you do, and will glad of it.
Last word to former UK Children's Laureate Julia Donaldson – read her wonderful poem “I Opened a Book” to convince you of the lasting effect on you of reading a book.Why #authors should also be #readers, if they want to reach their full potential as #writers - @DebbieYoungBN makes a plea for them to make the time to read more books #amreading #amwriting Click To Tweet
OVER TO YOU What is your attitude to reading? Which books or genres do you prefer? Do you like to read other books in your genre or something completely different? Join the conversation via our comments thread!
OTHER GREAT POSTS ABOUT DIFFERENT ASPECTS OF READING
From the ALLI Author Advice Center Blog Archive
I couldn’t agree more. I set myself a challenge each year to read a set number of books – this year it’s 50 and I’m on target so far, even though I work as a consultant, do conference speaking, run a non fiction publishing enterprise and I’m writing a novel (and looking after my granddaughter one day a week).The only problem is I buy books at a much faster rate than i consume them, and then go off to the library and borrow more!
When I’m struggling with my fiction I turn to any book from one of my favourite author’s, to remind myself of the quality I should be aiming for, and the need for voice. It really helps.
Wow, that’s impressive that you manage to fit so much reading in to your busy life, Julie – and I share your problem of having books come into the house faster than i can read them!
Oh, I love that poem, and I could not agree more! I’ve found an endless reservoir of inspiration from some of my favorite books. I try to keep current with the contemporary stuff, but find myself irresistibly drawn to the authors of yesteryear. Just discovered Mary Stuart, if you can believe that, and I’m in heaven!