Just how important is reading in the life of a busy adult today? Can reading help you be a better writer? How do I become a better writer without surrendering my originality? I used to have all those questions and more about reading. This post is my attempt to answer them.
It is a not-so-hidden fact about myself that I love to read. I read books all the time, in every spare minute of my time, on trips, at home, in the day, and at night. The bare white pages freshly inked with words are a magical aroma better than any perfume. I can go anywhere in a book. I can be anyone in a book. I have an unlimited passport and a free ticket to wherever I want to go in a book. I live to experience these moments.
Or, I should say, I DID…
Until I grew up.
There is something about grownups that’s gone terribly wrong in the world. Somewhere between high-flying fairytales and real-life careers, we have forgotten how to dream anymore. Heck, we work so hard we barely sleep anymore. Worst of all, we stop reading–apart from the latest status updates on social media and the mandatory readings for our careers, that is.
But did we really run out of time or did we run out of love? Where did the love of reading go?
In the home stretch of my Master’s degree, my love of reading got sucked up in all the boring mandatory texts I had to read for my career. I’ve read more textbooks and articles than I can count–I’ve written some too–but I can’t remember past the highlights of a few of them.
After college and in my career, I found my way back to reading through audiobooks. The commute became my favorite part of the day because my head was filled with the skilled craftsmanship of my peers: other writers. Something happened to my heart and mind in all that reading time. Books were strengthening my spirit and honing me in my skill.
When I became a remote worker and the commute went away, reading became something I had to be intentional about. I couldn’t listen during a Zoom meeting. I couldn’t listen while processing through writing. But that didn’t change the fact that this was still a very important part of my life and learning.
I couldn’t always give it the same quantity of time per day, but any amount of time I gave it made me stronger and more focused. I also discovered that I could read self-help books better when I had the physical book in my hand, so I used this intentional time to help me get through some books that were more like textbook pills for me to swallow.
If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut… If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.Stephen King
Writers have a lot of opinions on what it takes to be a writer, but more often than not, they all agree on this point: you can’t be a writer if you aren’t a reader first. For more quotes from writers on this subject, check out Austin Kleon’s blog.
I used to wonder why I struggled so to read self-help and textbooks, but I could remember full plots and details of the stories I read and loved. What’s the difference? The difference is love. When you find a genre that resonates with you, embrace it. It may be that it will speak life into the work you are supposed to do down the road. Either you will write for that genre or it will be an inspiration for what you do in service to your community.
The people and places and things we see and do and say that we enjoyed, leave a mark on us. We are shaped by these moments of pleasure as much as we are the moments of pain in our lives–if not more. When I look back on a childhood filled with books, I see a life full of adventure and joy.
Adults have to make a conscious effort to read for fun today. Turn off the TV and pick up the book. Skip the talking heads and play the audiobook on your daily commute. Share the experience; sit and read a book to a friend. I promise you will get more out of it than all that other stuff. I am.