On the Seriousness of Reading

New Year. We all love the sound of a fresh leaf turning. Maybe you’ve already made a resolution to make more space and time for your writing. I know the feeling, because I’ve made that same resolution I don’t know how many times.

But you’ve got it wrong.

There is only one resolution you can make that will make you want to write more, and will help you be a better writer.

Read More.

Maybe you got a Kindle for Christmas, or a bundle of book tokens, or, if you’re really lucky, a stack of new books handpicked by someone who knows you really well. Don’t wait. Dive in and start reading.

If you didn’t get something new, or don’t have something unread on your shelves waiting for your attention, then pick up something you love and start reading it again.

Just read.

Read as a reader, and read as a writer.

Take pleasure in the way stories unfold, in the pace and heft of the prose. Take note of how much you already know ten pages in. That’s about 3000 words of writing: how much does your first 3000 say? Delight in great descriptions, and delight more in figuring out how you would have said something better.

Engage with the words, get lost in the rhythms. Remember why you love the written word.

If you’re stuck for something to read next, or want to try something new, go for a browse in a bookshop, check out Goodreads, or ask someone you trust. (Remember, trusting someone’s book reading habits is not exactly the same as liking them, but it is a pretty good indicator of whether you’ll get on.)

Take a couple from my bedside table, if you like:

I wanted to read this when it first came out, because I adored the Corrections. I seem to have both a trade paperback and a kindle edition. I’ll probably read the Kindle because there are a lot of words.

The Penguin Book of Norse Myths: Gods of the Vikings
Likewise I have a paperback and the kindle edition. My husband bought me the paperback for Christmas without knowing I’d already bought it for Kindle. Smart fella.

If you’re writing, then reading is technically doing work. It’s legitimate, and absolutely not optional.

And remember, if you’re going to try writing something big, then the thing you enjoy reading the most is probably the kind of thing you should be writing. If you have shelves full of science fiction then chances are you’re not going to be able to sustain writing an historical romance. Writing a novel is a long business, and when your stamina fails, as it inevitably¬†will on some days, you’ll need passion to carry you through to the next day.

Reading is the key. Whenever you feel blocked, and crazy, and want to give up, just read instead. You’ll find your way back, I promise.

2 thoughts on “On the Seriousness of Reading

  1. I love dipping into your posts here, Joanne. You really make me want to be a writer, in spite of the fact that I’m perfectly sure I have no real possibility of being one. It makes me miss teaching literature too. But it also reminds me how much I love to read. Reading Ragnarok at the moment after being reminded how much I loved my Old Norse course by our twitter exchange the other day.

    Oh, and clever husband!

    Happy new year! x

    1. Happy New Year! I’m glad you feel like that – part of the reason I’m doing it is to fan the flames of me wanting to be a writer, which so often get put out by laundry etc.

      I still want to learn Norwegian. Really enjoying reading the myths and wondering why they aren’t taught more in schools. Feels more relevant than Greek Myths somehow. More fires and snow, rather than sunshine and olives.

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