Positive Writer

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Do THIS to Improve your Writing

This post is by Positive Writer contributor Marcy McKay.

Writers write. That’s what we do. We write, write, write. We’re supposed to make time for our craft because the more we practice, the better we become.

There’s something else writers should do in order to be our very best, but I haven’t been making time for it and I’m suffering the consequences. I’ve felt mentally shaky and out of balance. Yes, I know that’s a regular day at the office for many creatives, but my anxiety had cranked up several notches.

To be a great writer, you need to…

read-every-day

Read. Lots. Every day, if possible.

Reading is fundamental, people. Remember those commercials? It’s correct. Read it all – fiction and nonfiction. Read the classics. Read books in your genre. Try out books you would not typically choose, but a friend highly recommends. Read for pleasure. Read to study story. Read for inspiration. Read because it makes you more empathetic (translation: less of a jerk).

Why I Temporarily Stopped Reading

I published a book.

A lame excuse, I know, but it’s the truth. My debut novel was released in December 2015. Spending years completing that manuscript was hard enough, but launching a book drained my energy in ways I hadn’t anticipated. All the giveaways and guest posts. Figuring out the different technology for said giveaways on my blog and Goodreads. Fixing problems when the technology went wrong (and it always goes wrong).

Now, my novel hasn’t sold a million copies or anything. Oprah hasn’t called me to be her latest Book-Club 2.0 feature (yet!), but it’s selling. In the past three months, I have 130+ reviews. Total strangers are reading my book and leaving positive reviews. My inbox has emails from readers each week who love my book and want to discuss it. That’s a magical feeling.

Even cooler, some of those folks are telling their friends to buy my book (free advertising, baby). I’m also talking to Book Clubs, either in person or via Skype. I’ve done three signings and done well, selling 74 novels at the first one, 12, then 19 to be exact. I’m still shocked, but delighted that my book is resonating with real, live human beings since it lived alone on my computer for so long.

All of above equals marketing, which demands time and energy, which used to be reserved just for my writing. It’s not just me, either. I have author friends on both sides of the publishing fence (traditional and indie), who all do most of the marketing themselves, using their own resources and money. I’m still learning to flex these new marketing muscles because it all wears me out.

How I Returned to Reading

I’m a slow reader, I mean s-l-o-w. I try to finish two books per month, but usually have to binge read to catch up. I’d love to read one-hundred books per year; that’d be my dream life. To just read, nap and snack every day, but all the Kindergarten classes are full around here, so I’ve got to adult my way through life.

My best writing time is 5 – 7 am, so I collapse into bed exhausted most nights. I’ve always read in the evenings, which isn’t wise since I’m lucky if to make it through a full chapter before conking out. Since my launch, I’ve been even more worn out and ignored the stack of hardcovers and paperbacks on my nightstand.

One Sunday afternoon, I picked up a book at exactly 5:25 pm. Laundry still needed to be folded, the dishwasher was full of clean dishes to be unloaded and dinner was waiting to be cooked. Nevertheless, I slipped back to my bedroom, sat on my bed and read for a full 30 minutes.

It felt divine.

All this week, I’ve washed my face and brushed my teeth 30 minutes before my regular bedtime and started reading. I’m remembering it’s all about time and choices. I’ve chosen to make reading a regular habit of mine again.

Since I’ve been reading more regularly, I find myself happier. I’m sleeping better. Plotting Novel #2 is even going better. Bottom line, I just feel more like me.

Don’t Read too Much

This may sound like a contradiction from this entire post, but it’s not. There’s a fine line here. Yes, you need to read to be a better writer, but not so much so that you let it become a distraction. Procrastination comes in many forms, and reading as “research” falls in that category. Don’t let books keep you from pursuing your dream. It’s all about balance.

So, there you have it. Write and read, so that you can give your very best to the blank page.

How does reading help you grow as a writer?

About Marcy McKay

Marcy McKay wanted to write stories ever since she read about Oompa Loompas in fourth grades. She's the Amazon best-selling author of Pennies from Burger Heaven. Join her on Facebook. Marcy is also a contributing author to The Audacity to be a Writer.

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Like a good friend, Bryan guides you through the process of facing your inner demons, conquering the craft, and creating work that matters. ―Jeff Goins

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  • Tonya Lucas

    Marcy- what an informative and inspirational outlook into a writers motivation in preparing themselves to draw creative juices.

    • Great to see you here, Tonya.

      Thanks. I’m much happier since I’ve returned to reading. It definitely helps to rejuvenate me + it’s just plain fun! I appreciate you stopping by.

  • Phil Turner

    Spot on Marcy – Yes reading is like the oil in a writer’s car engine, without it the creativity engine dries up pretty quickly.
    Occasionally I have a readathon Sunday, but most evenings I switch off the computer by 8pm and read for 60-90 mins before bed (9.30pm).
    Reading is the last thing to be deleted from my day because without it. I don’t sleep.

    • Hi there, Phil!

      A readathon! Oh, that sounds incredible! Even 60-90 minutes sounds incredible. We all have the same 24 hours in a day, but it sounds like you’ve got your priorities in the right order. 🙂

  • Glynis

    I have a hard time finding the balance. I seem to be either a writer or a reader, but haven’t found time to be both. I agree completely, though, that when I’m both, I’m a much happier person.

    • You bring up an excellent point, Glynis. When I’m in the middle of a first draft of a novel, I don’t read other books. It’s like my head can only hold my story in it. I’m totally fine with that, because I know I’ll go back to reading. Thanks for bringing this up!

  • Jack Strandburg

    I have to force myself (through scheduling) to read. I try to read one fiction and one non-fiction (usually a writing instructional book) at the same time. I’d love to be able to read 5 books a week but as you said, can’t let it get in the way of writing. I never was much of a reader, especially after college (as Rodney Dangerfield once said – “I see the movie – I’m in and out in 2 hours:), but know it is an important part of writing. I normally read fiction for both enjoyment, but more for learning to see what might work and how other writers show characterization, setting, and plot. If I’m reading a novel that doesn’t hold my interest, I usually try to finish it if for no other reason than to find examples of how to write.

    • Wow, Jack. You’re able to read both fiction and nonfiction at once?! You’re my hero. My brain can’t do that. It’s one or the other + I seem to go through spurts. Totally fiction…totally nonfiction. Read and write on, my friend!

      • Jack Strandburg

        Obviously not at “the same time.” LOL. For me I still struggle mightily with focus and comprehension. Usually my mind is on 1,000,000 other things so I’ll go for paragraphs without knowing what I read. I guess the good news is I’m usually thinking about current or future story ideas. 🙂

        • I think we all struggle with focus and comprehension. Life moves too fast these days.

  • EmFairley

    Thanks Marcy! You know this is so me right now, especially with another launch on the horizon! I’m sooo close to finishing the amazing Pennies and will get the review written ASAP. I will. I will. I will!

    • You know, life ebbs and flows. I HOPE that I’ll keep reading during my next launch, but if I fall off the wagon again, I want to get back to reading sooner. It’s all about balance. Right?

      • EmFairley

        Right! It’s all about balance. If only there were 48 hours in a day…

  • I love this Marcy and totally agree! After I had my kids I stopped writing – and worse, reading. Then when I finally had time again I remembered how much I love to lose myself in a book. It’s interesting because now that my time is so limited I’m extra picky about what I read… Right now I’m in a memoir zone (odd for me!) but when I’m back to fiction, your awesome book is next on my to-read list!

    • Hey Dana,

      You bring up an important point…the mom/dad thing. It’s soooo easy to lose ourselves in our kids, or a new love, or whatever the case may be. Not only does reading help our writing, but it’s so important to reclaim that part that is just US: Dana, Marcy, Bryan, etc.

      I also vacillate between fiction and nonfiction. Doesn’t matter. ALL reading is good, in my book (ha – how punny).

  • RobynBradley

    Such a smart post, Marcy. And so true–it really is a balancing act. Reading regularly definitely helps me (but it’s something that sometimes slides due to other “pressing” things). I love it when I read something so exciting (for whatever reason–because of the prose, structure, theme) that is spurs me to get back to my desk. Your book had that effect on me–such wonderfully rich descriptions and characters!

    • Awww, thanks, Robyn. You’re a VERY talented author, so that means a lot to me. LIFE is balancing act. Some days, I juggle so well. Other days, I fall flat on my ass. The beautiful thing is I can always begin again…

      Thanks for stopping by.

  • Kate M. Romero

    I loved this post. Just what I needed to get myself in gear. I am procrastinating to write a 5 minute story for a Moth event this evening (yes, I know…11th hour) where the theme is Siblings. I feel stuck because there are 7 of us and I am the middle child and we all have different fathers. You’d think I’d zip right through it and nuthin! Thanks for this post, I sense it has greased the wheels now all I need to do is grab a pen and pad to find some quiet and let it spill out. Wish me luck! 😉

    • Wow, Kate. Glad my post inspired because, girl, there are OODLES of stories in a family of seven kids. Hope you JUST DID IT! 🙂

  • Loved this post Marci. In fact I was just at the library yesterday to pick up 3 nonfiction books ( one on love and personality, and the other two on time management). I also have a portable kindle with dozens of stories on it- you never know when your going to be somewhere and have to wait. But that’s when I whip out the kindle like a gun fighter whips out their 6 shooter and boom I’m ready.

    Right now my characters are walking around waiting for me to pick up the pen and start writing where I left off. Some of my characters and I have such fun.

    Write ( and read) on!

    • You are one prepared reader, Debra. I should start carrying around my Kindle, too, because I often find myself WAITING. I just may try it! Thanks.

  • catuskes

    Great article! Reading for me is like therapy. Whenever I’m feeling particularly stressed I read. Usually fiction. I’ll even jump on fanfiction just to take my mind off things. Yes it is very hard to find the time sometimes. I feel it’s so important as a writer though. We need to know what’s out there! Sometimes I do get ideas from what others have written. I haven’t read your book yet, but I’m looking forward to it.

    • Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you see reading as paramount. It’s shocked me how many WRITERS aren’t READERS. Many say they don’t have time. But, as you so aptly pointed out, how do you know what else is out there? We need the inspiration, the ideas….EVERYTHING you said.

      Read on, sister!

  • Dang having to adult our way through life. Lol. Love it

    • Right? Why did we RUSH to adulthood? Adulting is not all it’s cracked up to be. 🙂

  • Judy Peterman Blackburn

    I’ve always loved to read. Am reading my mom’s old books. Gene Stratton Porter, Harold Bell Wright, Campfire Girls, etc. some old ones for sure, but they are interesting. Yeah, I like the Kindergarten way lol.
    Enjoyed the read. Thank you for the inspiration. Congratulations on your new book. 🙂

    • How wonderful to feel not only such wonderful stories, but also your mom as you read her old books. Love it! Glad you enjoyed the post. I appreciate your insights.

  • Sarah Riv

    My internet gave out, but luckily I had this tab open already. I should’ve been writing instead of refreshing the internet every 5 seconds, but I wasn’t alone and writing is too personal to do in the company of others (in coffee shops I’m ok with it but at home no). Reading gives me ideas! It’s usually how my ideas get started. I see something and don’t agree with what happens or I think “what if” and boom idea launched. I haven’t been reading fiction lately so I’ve had a bit of a dry spell writing wise, but I started reading again and I’ve written every day this past week. I’m going to count this as a sign and continue reading to continue writing.

    • Totally cool, Sarah! I agree it’s a sign to keep reading! I love how fiction gives you ideas. I’m not sure it does the same for me, but it sure inspires me. LOVE to read. Thanks for you comment!

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  • I used to read a lot in my teens. Then I stopped. Then I went back to read a few books here and there. I stopped again. Then I got my first iPad so I discovered iBooks and Kindle. And now with my writing interest, reading is paramount. I usually have three books going at one time. Early AM reading on my iPad. An audio book for when I am out and about. In the afternoon, I read technical stuff such books about writing, marketing etc. Though I found two short story mags at the newsagent and my friend bought me two short story books I have yet to read. Some days I will more than others but I always find time to read at least one chapter a day. And I have a busy lifestyle. I get up earlier in order to read and write. So I don’t get it when people say they don’t have time.

  • Sue

    Ahh. Reading too much. That’s my problem. It sounds like a good problem – and it mostly is ☺ But sometimes it’s not just simply choosing to stop reading to write. Sometimes it’s choosing to stop trying to read the whole internet and instead to put down the tablet and pick up a book.

    The paper kind of bool with a snappable spinel turnable pages with ink on them, and with NO LINKS IN IT. Just the same thing, page after page. When I go to bed and the tablet’s in the other room so I have to resist picking it up after three pages – that’s the kind of reading even I don’t get enough of. And that’s the kind of reading that allows you to stop, stare off into the middle distance, think about what I just read, daydream a little, before returning back to the book again.

    It’s the most beautiful reading of all. Deep and light at the same time.

  • Great post, reading has becoming part of my life, cannot be separated with it. Marcy, Congratulation to your book.