Have you ever met a writer who didn’t love to read? I suspect most writers’ desire to write grew in soil made fertile by reading.
Reading continues to nourish writers at all stages of their careers. Reading can spark story ideas, deepen one’s knowledge of people and of the world, improve vocabulary, and provide models of good and bad writing, among many other useful gifts. But how much should a writer read?
One writing teacher I know of recommends that writers read five hours for every hour they write, which would seem a near-impossible goal for most writers. I try to average two work days of fiction writing a week. So I should be reading 80 hours a week? Not going to happen. I couldn’t free up that much time even if I gave up sleeping.
Other people recommend a book a week. That’s 53 books a year—probably manageable for most writers. Even in my craziest, most time-deprived years I read that many . . . but it's not enough to give me the foundation for writing I want.
The answer to the question of “how much should a writer read?” is probably “as much as possible.” That answer suggests a follow-up question: What should a writer read?
Writers who read only for fun build their stories on sand, with no foundation underneath to support it. I suggest that SF/F should also choose reading material that builds knowledge, nurtures creativity, and cultivates wisdom.
To that end, the reading pile of an SF/F writer should contain nonfiction, including books and articles on:
•animal behavior, especially primatology
•literary criticism of SF/F
•science and technology
•the arts—music, painting, dance, etc.
•running a business (because being a writer is a business)
as well as fiction, including:
•classic SF/F novels and short stories (to learn the tropes, to be able to converse knowledgeably with other writers, and to avoid accidentally copying well-known ideas)
•newly published novels by new authors (to see what publishers are currently buying)
•novels in other genres
•novels that are similar to ones they want to write
•bestsellers in their field (to see what readers are buying)
•works by great stylists (to learn new ways of putting words together)
•classic works of literature (to see what lasts)
In my next post at Novel Spaces, on Saturday, February 6, I’ll have more to say on the importance of reading nonfiction. Until then, what do you think of my lists? Are there glaring omissions? Items you disagree with? I'm curious to hear how your lists of suggested reading would differ.
As always, thank you for visiting Novel Spaces today.