Does reading make you a better writer?

I have often heard that the best writers are also the most avid readers.  I’ve been thinking a lot about this, because, you see, I haven’t had much time for reading lately.  I can only speak for myself, but if I was reading as many books as I would like to, or even as many as I used to, I would be getting very little writing done. Sad, but true.

I’ve always been an avid reader, ever since I was a young girl and would walk to the library with my sisters, checking out a stack of books, and then finishing them and trading books from my sister’s stacks.  We ate up books like the chips in a Pringles can.

Each season of my life as an adult can be marked by the books I read; rocking one baby in a rocking chair for hours as I devoured every single Agatha Christie paperback I could get my hands on and every Grace Livingston Hill with another baby and a different rocking chair. During a bout of pneumonia, I got through the Left Behind series.

Then there were the many magazines related to the current interests in my life; Mothering, Refunding Makes Sense, Home Education, among others. About the time I started writing, I began reading more non-fiction books and magazines related to writing; The Writer,  Writer’s Digest, and a now defunct, and much-missed magazine, Housewife Writer’s Forum.

When I was working on my book, I wasn’t reading much at all except for other books related to cancer. I immersed myself in everything cancer, from memoirs to non-fiction.

When I completed my book, it was the books on writing proposals and queries I read.  And when I expected my book to be published, I began studying how to promote it.  I learned how to write a press release, make up a press kit, and other ways for self-promotion. I have been building up a platform. This blog was started for that very reason.  (besides the fact that I like talking)

And while searching for an agent or publisher, I have kept myself busy with writing even more. This morning I was transferring my list of submissions from my journal into a new writer’s calendar and was pleased to note I have sent out 24 pieces since November. A few were contests, but more were submissions to anthologies or magazines.

In the meantime, I have been reading a lot of writing magazines, agent blogs and websites, and books on the craft of writing.  I’ve been studying markets and analyzing publishing trends. I read Publisher’s Weekly for fun, and subscribe to several market newsletters. I live, eat, and breath writing, from the time I get up at 6:00 until my bedtime at 11:00.  I don’t, however, write all day, though I wish I could.  Instead, I get up and write what I can before my sister arrives at 7:00 for our walk. When I get back from our walk at 8:00, I write some more. When the kids get up, I physically stop writing, but my mind is still swirling with ideas, and if I get a chance during the day I’ll sit at the kitchen table and write some more, or at least jot down notes for my next writing session. I carry a tote bag with my writing in it whenever I think I’ll have a wait somewhere.  During the summer, I carried the tote bag on the bike and wrote while the kids played at the park or went on the computers in the library.  And, then there are those mornings I go away to write at a restaurant, a lovely gift of writing time from my husband.

All those snatched minutes of scribbling and jotting down add up to a decent amount of writing time, but they don’t leave much for reading anymore, other than the aforementioned magazines. I have probably missed a lot of wonderful books in the past couple of years. If a favorite author like Jodi Picoult or Elizabeth Berg has a new book released I always manage to make time to read it, but I can’t help but feel guilty when I do.  I arrange for a day when I allow myself the luxury of reading (for that is what it feels like now, a luxury) and on those days I can spend hours reading. I usually do this on a Saturday, and I can complete an entire book in one day. In fact, if it is a Jodi Picoult, I won’t be able to sleep until I do finish it, so I plan ahead and start it very early, then go late into the night, until, with a sigh, I can set it aside and think about those characters that have felt very real to me, characters and plots that blend into my own reality for several days if the book was really good. And then, my favorite books are the ones that make me cry. We all need that once in awhile, a good cleansing cry.

So, while I am not immersing myself in reading books like I have done before in my life, I am immersing myself in writing. 

Last night I spoke about writing at the TOPS group I lead.  At the end of my talk I read an as-yet unsold essay I’ve been polishing up for submission. My voice cracked with emotion as I got to the final paragraph and when I looked up I saw nine pairs of eyes looking up at me, at least seven of them welling with tears.

I think it’s time to send that essay out again.

2 thoughts on “Does reading make you a better writer?

  1. christasterken says:

    Great post. I am in the same position in many ways. I long for time to read, and find my spare reading time often filled books on writing-my thoughts filed with writing and hopefully at the end of the day that translates into “actions” about writing 🙂
    Blessings, Christa

  2. Martins says:

    Your blog is inspirational to me. Sometimes you write just what I am feeling. I have little time to write or read what I want to also. I admire seeing your new posts and what you manage to accomplish.

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