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. 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?