Writer, Are You Reading?

Sometimes, certain kinds of readers become writers. They are the type of reader who walks through the snow to read every book in their local library’s young adult section before begging the librarian to let them check out adult books. They do this while devouring the Nancy Drew mysteries their mom buys them and also dipping into Mom’s Taylor Caldwell family sagas and Dad’s Mickey Spillane. Okay, that’s just me.

It wasn’t that I loved school. I couldn’t wait to graduate and start living my real life. But in that real life, I continued to read. A lot. I read many of the classics before I finally decided to go to college and get a couple of degrees in literature. I mostly read fiction. Short stories and novels. Anything I could get my hands on. Even while the babies napped and my husband thought I should be cleaning house.

We’re divorced now. Are you surprised? He didn’t like me writing, either, something I’d done since junior high. Poetry and diaries for a long time but finally when I got up my courage I tried fiction. I even got some short stories published, back when print ruled and magazines still paid good money (my early stories earned $500) for fiction.

I wrote a few practice novels before I finally felt like I had one I could send to New York. In between all that I got married to a guy who thought my being a writer was one of the most interesting things about me. 35 years later, I’m still married to him. And I’m still reading instead of cleaning house.

True confession time: I read more than I write. Way more. My writing schedule, when I’m working on a novel, is five or six days a week for as many hours as I can go. I get up, make a cup of tea, and start writing. I warm up with morning pages, and can tell when my story juices start flowing because I tear the page out of my notebook and open my current WIP document. Sometimes I have other things to do, but I usually write for at least a few hours and try for four. Six writing hours is a really good day.

This type of full-out writing only fits into my schedule sometimes, but I really try to string as many days together as possible so I stay in the flow of my story and I keep getting ideas to make it better. Life (and laundry) often intervene and occasionally I take a day off to read. I also read every night. Novels, biographies, Buddhist philosophy, blogs, even a little light science. (I love astrophysics.) I still read short stories, too, and book reviews and the Washington Post. But mostly, I read novels.

Writers often say (and it always surprises me!) that they “can’t read much” when they’re writing. What??? I don’t understand that. I can’t give up reading for even a day without feeling something in my life has gone amiss.

I’m writing a crime novel right now. I just finished the last chapter today, and there’s still much still to do with the third revision, so I’m not doing a happy dance yet, but at least I can read crime novels again. Because when I’m in the thick of a book, and the writing is humming along, I do tend to stay away from reading books too much like what I’m writing.

My friend Jaye Marie recently published a crime novel, Silent Payback, and I really want to read it, but worried I’d inadvertently lift a plot point or some clever little clue, so I have been waiting to read it until I finalized the plot in my last chapter. Meanwhile, I’ve been going through Christmas romance novels like crazy and another friend writes dystopian fiction, so I’m reading her new one. It’s so good. Blackthorn. You should read it!!!

This is JMO but I think writers, especially newer writers, need to read. A lot. And it shouldn’t feel like a chore. Writers should love reading so much that they have to take a day off from writing once in awhile just to read. Writers who say silly things like “I don’t have time to read” puzzle me. I don’t get it. I don’t know how I’d ever have gotten here (12 books published) without having been somewhere else first reading a good book. Reading, I one hundred percent believe, makes me (and YOU too) a better writer.

My Favorite Things

Went to book group last night. Our final meeting before summer break. It was a good evening. Everyone on her best behavior, even me. It isn’t always that way. We often disagree about the merits of a book or an author. But last night, things were very mellow. Well, mostly.

One comment that took me a little aback popped out near the end of the evening. We were talking about getting together informally over the summer, maybe for dinner or something. And I said “We can catch up on what everyone is reading!” because none of us stops reading over the summer, although some of us read lighter stuff. 

That’s the thing I love most about my book group. We are serious readers, serious lovers of books. So it surprised me when someone responded to my innocent comment by saying “Oh, no, we don’t have to do that.” For me, there’s no “have to” about it.

Books are a huge part of my life. A major addiction. I love shopping for books, reading reviews, visiting the library, and talking about books, but I love reading them more. That’s what I did first thing this morning. Finished reading a book for review. Then I did my other favorite thing and drafted a review. My favorite kind of morning, doing my very favorite things.