It’s the most underestimated asset in a writer’s toolbox, primarily because it’s so darn obvious. But obvious or not, if you are serious about being a writer, you need to read for a variety of reasons. Reading exists as an exercise in both industry and imagination, craft and creativity.
That said, there are plenty of reasons why we don’t read enough, and the biggest is time. On second shift, I can average about a book a week if I stay focused. That goes down to a book a month on first shift. I know plenty of serious writers who only get to flip through a couple pages of a book before they go to bed.
The good news is that reading a couple pages is ultimately all you need. As a infamous skimmer of books, I’ve long since learned it’s quality of reading, not quantity. Reading “War and Peace” in a day isn’t going to make you a better writer, but it does bring up another question: what should you reading?
The answer is simple: whatever you feel like writing. Be it science fiction and fantasy, romance, memoir, self-help, all or none of the above. There’s a few reasons for this. First, it shows you how it’s done (hopefully well, but writers can learn just as much if not more from a poorly-written book as they can be brilliantly executed one). Secondly, it gives readers a view of what’s been done in their chosen genre. Don’t make the potentially fatal mistake of thinking you know what’s out there simply by what’s been adapted to TV or movies – if you aren’t careful that story you’re working on might not be original at all (tune in next week for how to handle these implications).
Let’s say this all sounds great, but you are still convinced you can’t read. Maybe it’s a short attention span , a condition such as dyslexia or a general lack of interest in what’s out there. It still doesn’t matter, because there are plenty of options out there. Try reading short stories – from collections to literary magazines, there’s a wide variety of available. There’s also flash fiction – short short stories written with minimal word count for maximum effect. Daily Science Fiction is a great example of this.
Imagine a form of exercise which required consuming delicious morsels. That is what reading is – consuming and enjoying information for the benefit of your mind and imagination (unfortunately, we don’t have a physical equivalent yet.) If inspiration is the gasoline for our writing, reading is the motor oil – a little can go a long way, and ultimately, our imaginations runs a lot better as a result.