Stephen King once said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
We writers know that reading is one of the best ways to improve our craft, yet we often fail to make the time to do it. Frankly, many of us even fail to make the time to write!
But reading can benefit us in more ways than we know and making time to read may be easier than we think.
Good Writers Read Good Writing
See Jane Write Collective member Mandy Shunnarah-Reed of the book blog Off the Beaten Shelf reads more than 100 books each year. And she manages to do this while also working full-time, freelancing part-time, running a vintage Etsy shop, submitting work to literary journals, and writing a book of her own.
And she knows that book she’s working on and those essays, stories, and poems she’s submitting will be better the more she reads.
“It helps to see what’s possible,” Mandy says. By studying the work of other writers, Mandy gets ideas for narrative devices, story structure, and more.
Mandy is baffled by writers who don’t read.
“It would be like trying to compose a song when you don’t listen to music or you haven’t touched an instrument,” she says.
A Time to Write
Years ago I realized that to read more I had to have an “anytime, anyplace” attitude toward reading. I started carrying a book with me and would read whenever I had a free moment — standing in line at the pharmacy, sitting in the waiting room of the doctor’s office, sitting in my car will getting an express oil change, waiting for a friend I’m meeting for lunch. I once read an entire book waiting in line at the DMV!
Mandy has the same attitude and is also a fan of audiobooks.
“Reading doesn’t just have to mean curling up for hours in front of a fireplace with a book in one hand and a cup of tea in the other,” she says. “Sure, that’s fun, but few people have time to do that every day, so audiobooks can be a great option for putting a book in your head while doing other things.”
So while you’re commuting to work, washing dishes, or folding laundry, you can also enjoy a great story thanks to audiobooks.
“I’ve even started to enjoy tasks I previously hated, like doing the dishes, because I know it gives me a chance to listen to a book,” Mandy says.
Make It a Group Thing
If you need accountability to read more consider joining a book club. If the idea of reading a book someone else has picked makes you nervous consider Silent Book Club, which allows you to read whatever you want. Once a month you’ll gather with other word nerds, chat about the book you’re currently reading for a bit and then spend an hour or more just reading in silence. It’s like taking your book out on a date. I’m a part of the Birmingham chapter of Silent Book Club and I love it!
Shelf Help: Reading and Wellness
Reading more can not only improve your writing but also your overall wellness.
In an article for the July/August 2019 issue of Women’s Health, writer Leslie Goldman reports that reading can reduce stress, improve brain function, and even make you a more empathetic person.
Just six minutes of reading can reduce your heart rate and ease muscle tension, Goldman reports. Reading could help counteract brain damage caused by aging and reading someone else’s story in fiction, biography or memoir can teach you how to see the world from different perspectives.
I’ve long considered making time to read an act of self-care and this research shows you should, too.
20 Books for 2020
This year I’m committing to reading (or rereading) at least 20 books, in addition to reading more posts from my favorite blogs and more articles from my favorite online and print magazines.
Some of the books I plan to read this year include the following:
Girl on Fire by Cara Alwill Leyba
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi
Black Girls Must Die Exhausted: And Baby Makes Two by Jayne Allen
The Source of Self-Regard by Toni Morrison
Vanity Fair’s Women on Women
Be sure to follow me on Instagram where I’ll be keeping track of all the books I read this year.
What books do you plan to read this year?