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When Writing Keeps You From Reading

Earlier this week, I posted the following to Facebook:

I later realized there was something I forgot to include, something that keeps me from reading more than any other thing: writing.

I would get a lot more reading done if I wrote less.

Which creates a huge problem, especially for someone who is working to get a writing career off the ground.

Shortly after I posted that, I stumbled upon a recent post by Brett McCracken. Brett and I crossed paths years ago when he worked for Relevant Magazine and published a couple of my non-fiction articles. Since then, he’s moved to L.A., become managing editor for Biola University’s Biola Magazine, and is now awaiting the publication of his second book. I’ve interviewed Brett a couple times on this blog.

Anyway, a couple weeks back, Brett posted a piece entitled To Everything There Is a Season, in which he explains why he needs to scale back on his blogging, and writing in general.

I’ve already confessed to Schizo-Blog. And Brett’s article, unintentionally,  produced a reboot of the familiar guilt. He offered four reasons why he needed to cut back on his blogging. The fourth was the one that really got me. He writes:

I want to read more than I write. Now that I’m done writing my new book, I’m intensely hungry to read the mountain of books that have been piling up. I also want to find time to read some of the other things being written online on any given day. It’s overwhelming to me how much I wish I could read but can’t (for lack of time).

Oh, how this hits home.

In my case, writing does not just mean writing fiction, but blog posts, Facebook posts, twitter updates, replying to commenters, emailers, and attempting to engage in the discussions of the writing community cyber friends.

This is hard to do working a 40 hour week outside the home.

Sadly, it’s my reading that takes the hit.

My “mountain of books ” has since collapsed; it’s now measured in terms of its layers of sediment. “Gee, I remembered when I wanted to read this!” The book is then Carbon-dated and returned to the shelf, fossilized in its virgin state.

Listen, blogging has become a huge part of my life. And I like doing it! It’s hard to imagine going through a week not wrestling over a post, ginning up some controversy, or watching the witty, intelligent comments unfold. (Have I mentioned lately how much I appreciate all those who regularly comment here?)  I’ve met SO MANY great people through my blog. But I fear that, at some point, I simply must flip things and read more than I write.

If I don’t, I have to wonder how long I can continue to write.

Question: If you’re a reader, do you read more than you write? Generally speaking, do you think writers should read more than they write? And if you’re an aspiring author, can you really afford to scale back writing and blogging and social networking just to keep up on your reading list?

And, oh, by the way, I’m on page 970-something of “The Stand.”

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{ 22 comments… add one }
  • Kat Heckenbach August 31, 2012, 6:00 AM

    You know all those blog posts and articles and such that say you MUST write every day? That if you’re not writing every day, you’re not a real writer? Those are the source of my guilt, and my reason to cry, “bull(stuff)!” — because I write in phases. I tend to have a series of days or weeks or whatever when I write like a fiend, ignoring nearly everything else in my life. And then I re-emerge to the real world. And I read. Read, read, read. No writing.

    My second book officially comes out next week. Which means the last couple of months have been devoted to editing (and re-editing, and line editing, and proof reading, and cover art…). Before that, I had to finish the blasted manuscript, which meant writing like a fiend. So, this last week or so, with all of that over? The idea of trying to actually *write* something is enough to make me nauseous. I’m trying to get my kids on track with their homeschooling, trying to get my house clean again, trying to help my husband work in the yard — and trying to READ as much as I can. (This week it’s The Shining. Yup, never read it before….)

    I have to say I agree with Brett. For me, at least. I am just someone who has a hard time changing gears on a small scale. The little-bit-of-this, little-bit-of-that approach to daily life doesn’t work well for me. I’d rather tackle one project at a time, and sometimes that project is my TBR pile.

    That said, I still read every day. It’s just that when reading isn’t my focus, the reading is limited to late at night, right before bed.

    Anyway, I happen to believe that reading a lot makes a writer better at writing. I learn so much by example. I also think it helps me spawn ideas. It gives me time to re-energize. It reminds me why *I’m* writing.

    Also, back to those articles that talk about writing every-single-day…they almost imply that you’ll suddenly start to suck at writing if you’re not constantly putting words to paper. I don’t think that’s true. I think it’s more like riding a bike. You may be wobbly for a few minutes after you get back on a bike following some time away, but it comes back pretty quick. My art has been that way–I didn’t draw for a long time. Years. When I started drawing again, it’s not like I’d been reduced to crayon scribbles. I could draw just as well as I did before. So, really, what can it hurt to skip a few weeks and read for a while? Every other job out there allows for vacation time :P.

    • Mike Duran August 31, 2012, 9:25 AM

      “Reading a lot makes a writer better at writing.”

      Totally agree w/ that. I’m most inspired to write when I read a good story.

      • Katherine Coble August 31, 2012, 12:34 PM

        Plus there’s the stuff that sticks in the back of your mind as far as style and pacing. You find out what works and what doesn’t.

        • Kat Heckenbach August 31, 2012, 3:37 PM

          Yes, Katherine. I so totally learn by example. Reading a lot gives you a feel for what works and what doesn’t in a very different way than “learning craft” does. It improves the intuitive side of story telling :),

          • Marion September 1, 2012, 8:37 AM


            Your words were the basically the same thing I was going to write. You beat me to it. LOL!!


  • BK Jackson (@BKJacksonAZ) August 31, 2012, 6:28 AM

    That “read read read” philosophy is one of those rules of writing that gets crammed down every writer’s throat along with other rigid advice.

    I LOVE to read. But it isn’t realistic if you’re a writer who works full time in your day job and spends the rest of the time trying to find pockets of time to write. I also haven’t had time to read “The Stand.” When I sit down to read it, I want to really focus on it, and I just can’t do that right now. Too many other things going on in life.

    That said, I’m on a writing break right now, so I am enjoying the opportunity to read some books–but not fiction. I tend to lead toward non-fiction to fill my well. Because scintillating fiction in my chosen genre is hard to find.

    Reading is a high priority for a host of reasons, but I’m not going to beat myself up if I don’t read the chosen number or titles of books as touted by others.

    • J.S. Clark August 31, 2012, 8:58 AM

      Totally agree.

      I devote the time I can though . . . bathroom before bed.

      Bathroom during the day.

      I actually find the bathroom is a great place for a style/grammar guide.

  • Katherine Coble August 31, 2012, 6:56 AM

    I read vastly more than I write. Vastly. Like Kat, I write in phases. But I read daily.

    I must say, though, that few phrases are as insulting an dismissive as “I have a life”. Everyone has a life. Even those of us who can read _The Stand_ in two days and have read it 7 times.

  • Kristen Stieffel August 31, 2012, 6:59 AM

    Like Kat, I tend to go in phases, where sometimes the focus is on editing and sometimes on writing. And I agree about bull… If anything is going to go, it’ll be the blogging, Tweeting, social media …stuff. I set aside a little time each morning to read before anything has a chance to go kerflooey. And I often get some serious reading done on Sundays. But I’ll sacrifice my blog before I’ll sacrifice my reading. When I stop reading regularly, I feel as if my brain atrophies.

  • Melissa Ortega August 31, 2012, 7:12 AM

    I have slowly come to the realization that my current book (the first one I really believe in feeding to a publisher) is finishing more slowly than I would like, but it’s better because I’ve stuck to reading. I went off blogging a few years ago after I had a featured blog that attracted an overwhelming amount of attention. I realized that while I enjoyed the feedback and it encouraged me to write more, what I’d written hadn’t really accomplished much of real importance (to me). I was reminded of the warning not to cast my pearls before swine (Harsh, I know!) and realized that maybe the time I had poured into that somewhat romantic and meaningless post could have been poured writing something of much greater value. Since then, I have tried to sharpen the focus of my writing and reading. It works, but alas, I fail in summer, when I tend to just dive into an oblivion of “worthless” novel reading that produces in me nothing useful except the sheerest form of pleasure. Then, I remember Northanger Abbey, chapter 5, and Austen’s wonderful sermon on fiction being the better thing because it has only its wit to recommend it, and am reminded that the problem of pleasure is a good thing. Real joy always transfers to my written page. Still, I cull. There are novels I’d like to read before I die, and then there are novels I MUST read before I die (all still judged on a pleasure scale) and I try to reach for those most desired books first. I gave up reading what was on hand a long time ago – and I stop reading books I don’t like now (unless its proper research, or it’s just made me mad – the best books in my life almost always make me mad first, so I stick with those). But, it took me FOREVER to get to that psychological allowance of stopping reading once I’d started.

    I have written far less than you, have published nothing, so my word is water, but I do know that at the end of my life, I would regret not reading more than I would regret that blog post I didn’t write for total strangers about some meaningless thing. If I published only one really wonderful book, I think I would be happy. And being without any real education at all, I wouldn’t trust anything I’ve written near a publisher’s rejection pen unless it was the product of a having read a hundred wonderful books.

    Now if I could just get myself to read only one book at a time, then that would be something!

  • Nicole August 31, 2012, 7:51 AM

    I don’t know if I read more than I write, but I definitely read more when I’m running away from writing. However, I doubt I can get to all the novels I want to read. And the drag of blog posting does detract from writing the novel, so of course I’m faithfully blogging when I’m hiding from the novels in progress. I get quite a bit of reading in, but then my “work” days involve the freedom to write, so of course I have no excuses for anything involved with either more reading or more writing. This was helpful, huh?

    • Kevin Lucia August 31, 2012, 9:28 AM

      Katherine: Reading and writing is my life (Outside of family and kids and God, of course).

      But that works out, because I’m an English teacher. So I can always excuse all the reading I do as “work related.”

      Mike, I think it’s different for everyone. I think all new writers – especially unpublished ones – should read more than they write (my opinion, only). And right now, I read FAR more than I write, though I write daily. And for me, I have to write daily, not because someone told me to or a blog said it was important, but I literally can’t go a day without writing.

      For me, it’s also deeply tied to how I was raised. My parents read to me since birth, literally. I was the kid who got skipped ahead two readers in elementary school, who was allowed to trek over to the high school library in sixth grade because I’d maxed out the elementary library, and by my senior year, most books in the library had been check out by me. Three or four times.

      But that was just me. I became a writer naturally because I wanted to write the same kind of stories I loved, but if I’d never become a writer, I’d still be an obsessive bibliophile that carries a paperback in my pocket wherever I go.

      So = reading, definitely important for a writer, especially a new, unpublished writer. But it’s different for everyone.

      • Katherine Coble August 31, 2012, 12:36 PM

        Kevin, you and are are of similar mind on the importance of reading. And I’d say it’s pretty much my life at this point as well. I actually get edgy if I don’t have a book on tap. 🙂

        • Kevin Lucia August 31, 2012, 3:34 PM

          Yep. And it’s always been that way. Once, when I was fourteen, we left on a 2 hour road trip, and I somehow forgot to bring a book. I was apoplectic . Until I realized my sister had brought several of her “Anne of Green Gables” books with her. So I expanded my horizons a bit that day….

          Ended up reading the whole series.

  • Alan O August 31, 2012, 9:20 AM

    I’m with Kristen & Melissa.

    I think of it in terms of Return On Investment…out of all the activities that I could be engaged in, given the limited amount of time I have available, what’s most likely to help me improve my performance as a writer? Writing comes first, reading comes second. Everything else takes a distant third. The trick is to not get distracted by all the “bright, shiny objects” in that third category…and stick to the harder, more profitable things.

  • Jennifer Major @Jjumping August 31, 2012, 9:40 AM

    I read the fiction WIPs my friends/CPs send me, I write like a maniac and read the research books I have so that I don’t write in my book that Navajos live in teepees. Other than research and varying WIPs, I really want to read, but I also have 3 kids at home, a dog, a husband and a house to run.
    If I had time, I’d read more. But I know for a fact that f God dropped another 2 hours into my day, I’d still be behind the 8 ball.

  • Jeremiah August 31, 2012, 10:05 AM

    I have been workong through this as well. I want to read more than I write because I feel like reading is the fuel for the author in me. If I don’t read, I won’t be connected to what I’m doing as a writer, and I won’t be learning from authors that are much more skilled than I am.

  • Aaron Sharp August 31, 2012, 10:15 AM

    This is something that I ponder nearly every day. As someone who has recently had book #1 published and is busy working on the next one(s) the balance between reading, the writing of books, blogging, and social media is one that I have not found. I will say, however, that blogging is quickly becoming, at least to me, the least important of the four.

  • Kessie August 31, 2012, 2:54 PM

    I can only write for two hours a day, when the kids are in bed. But during the day, I can sit with a book and keep an eye on their antics at the same time. So I nibble away at reading and writing both. I read more when I’m between writing projects. I also draw more when I’m not writing.

  • Kevin Lucia August 31, 2012, 4:26 PM

    And on a side note, much as love Robert McCammon’s work – Boy’s Life is my absolute favorite of all time – I started Swan’s Song and couldn’t finish it. Mainly, because I’d already read “The Stand”, and kept thinking during Swan’s Song: “I’ve already read this, kinda…”

  • Jonathan September 1, 2012, 4:50 AM

    It seems that I have taken the summer off from writing but since my reading picked up, this post makes me feel slightly better about it. Meanwhile, the words are bursting to come out, so I think I will start again, even though my reading will suffer. The reading/writing debate will again take center stage.

    It seems appropriate that you would make me feel better about it because my reading more than writing started on 16 May when the name of the season finale of ABC’s The Middle was “The Telling” and I purchased the only copy of your book from Books A Million in Biloxi.

    About 3 weeks ago my wife finished Stephen King’s latest book and (finally) picked up my autographed copy of The Telling to read. Ever since she started she has told me that The Telling is the scariest book she’s ever read.

  • Todd Michael Greene September 15, 2012, 5:31 AM

    Since you’re reading The Stand (a fave of mine BTW) I’ll toss out some Stephen King wisdom on reading and writing. It’s one of my fave quotes of his:

    “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

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