Feeding the Reader to Nurture the Writer

Presidio Public Library signThis post popped up in my blog feed this morning: The Editor’s Blog It’s by Beth Hill, who’s a freelance editor and a writer. This is something that’s been running around in my brain for a little while. When I was first dreaming about publishing, I never imagined all the new jobs that I would be taking on, along with the writing. Arranging promo, researching background material for stories, doing the social media thing. On top of the normal daily life stuff, it means my days are full in ways I never anticipated. The thing that most often gets pushed to one side is reading.

And by reading, I don’t mean the kind of reading you do for research, or to learn a tactic or trick to up your writing game. I mean reading for pleasure. Filling the well with someone else’s words.

What I’ve noticed over the past two years is that, the longer I go without reading something that simply piques my interest, the more it affects my own writing. The same wordcount takes twice as long, and isn’t nearly as well constructed. It takes more work to fix and more effort to put in that work.

My word choice becomes–blander. It’s an easy fix, but more time intensive than simply having a wide range of words at my fingertips the first time you write the sentence. When I start reading, the first thing that happens is that I notice words they author has used that would fit in with the story I’m writing. And when I come back to my own story, these words are sitting there, anxiously waiting for me to find the right spot to pop them into the text.

Plotting becomes more difficult. I get lost in my own story, because I haven’t stepped back from it. Dropping into someone else’s world gives me an easy way to pry myself out of my own story. It helps create the distance I need in order to see my story for what it is on the page, not in my head.

It’s also down-time. Before I started writing, I was a reader. A voracious reader. If there’s one regret I have about starting on this new career, it’s the loss of reading time. However, it’s the only fly in the ointment and, from reading my Twitter feed, I know I’m not the only one suffering these withdrawal symptoms. Dayjobs have vacation time; as writers, we have books. But it’s important, as a kind of professional development and mental health care, to make sure I immerse myself in other worlds, other thoughts than mine. That I explore different mindsets, and different approaches to subjects. Just as you need to eat a variety of foods to support the health of your body, a writer needs to read a variety of books to support the health of their muse.

But go read Beth Hill’s post. She says it pretty well.

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