The Importance of Reading

When writing it’s easy to get micro-focused on the word count. Numbers are good and can  give you a feeling of accomplishment, but don’t lose the forest for the trees. You hear all the time that a big problem with writers is their failure to “butt their butts in the chair and write.” While that is true for some, it’s also important that doing “non-writing’ things are not only helpful but necessary both to inspire and increase word count.

When I was younger, I played a lot of tennis.  Playing someone less skilled than myself did nothing to help my game. It’s only when I played someone better (and there were many that fit that bill) that I would work harder and learn from watching what they did. As a writer I do similarly by reading.

I can’t read books like I used to…for pure enjoyment…now when I sit down with a book I see past the words at what the author was doing – like being a magician and watching magic shows, I look where others don’t and see the slight of hand. I’m a self-taught writer. I didn’t go to college for writing, and my first post high school collegiate experience in the area of  literature was a single class at George Washington University that I attended only because it was the prize for a competition. I wanted to see what I had been missing. Besides, I’ve always idealized “university life” so getting off the Metro in the heart of DC and hanging with the other “students” at the local coffee shop was a fun distraction in the dead of winter.

Now that I’m finally getting into my rhythm with Rhune, I’m returning to my old routines.  Part of that routine is reading, both for inspiration and for motivation. In addition to Stephen King’s The Dome, which reminds me to reveal the story through the characters living it, I’m also reading Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. It’s probably the longest read I’ve ever done,  because I’m rationing it. I force myself to take just small bites, so that I can make it last as long as possible. I find the writing amazing, especially in its simplicity. Reading it makes me want to be a better writer.

Steve Jobs once said (or maybe he said it often), “It comes down to trying to expose yourself to the best things that humans have done, and then try to bring those things in to what you are doing.”  And that’s how I feel about what Roberts created.  So I guess my message for the day for any aspiring authors out there, to take the time and find your own Shantaram, that work that inspires and motivates you.  You’ll be glad you did and your writing will be better for it.

On to Chapter 5…

7 thoughts on “The Importance of Reading

  1. I was thinking about this last night, how hard it is to not write until I’m exhausted, and then only reading twenty or so pages when I should have read much more. The balance is out there somewhere, but right now it’s 80/20 writing to reading. I try and make up for this by reading a lot on my day off.

    I’ve never heard of Shantaram. Is that a book you’ve read multiple times?

    • No, I was only recently turned on to Shataram by one of the bartenders at the pub I hang out out with on Wednesdays. As I’ve said I’m reading it as slowly as possible so that I don’t “run out” of it.

  2. Good article. Learning from those who are better than you is a philosophy I try to follow in most parts of my life. The first step toward wisdom is accepting our own ignorance.

    Shantaram sounds very good, so thank you for mentioning it!

  3. I once heard a comedian refer to fellow comedian Bill Hicks as a “Comedian’s, comedian.” That’s the way I think about Gene Wolfe. He’s an author many readers don’t appreciate, but I think most writers can recognize his brilliance. “The Shadow of the Torturer” is unlike any other book I’ve ever read. He crafts that world so perfectly, and I think I’ve learned a lot from reading it several times. While I admire Wolfe’s ability as an author, I don’t ever see myself writing like him only because I think, because he takes things so far, his writing becomes inaccessible to a lot of readers.

    This is a great post. Spending time studying other authors is not only a lot of fun, but good practice. I would recommend reading and studying Wolfe to any author.

  4. “I force myself to take just small bites, so that I can make it last as long as possible.” I think it’s funny that you do this, since I just finished The Rose and the Thorn audiobook after more than a month of purposeful bite-size listens. I didn’t want to finish the Riyira tales 😦

    So, I guess I’ll see if I like this latest book recommendation. Blood Song was awesome, so I think your taste is pretty good. 😉

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