Reading for Writing Part 1

I’ve had quite a literary week. On Monday I went to see the entertaining and debonair Joe Abercrombie talking about his new book, Half the World, at Harry Hartog’s (and what a beautiful Canberra bookshop that is.) I had the opportunity to chat to him before and after his talk; beforehand I quizzed him about the sex scenes he writes (!!!) and after the crowds had drifted off my CSFG buddies and I had a chance to chat to him about a bunch of things including the fantastic covers on his books.

Meeting Joe Abercrombie at Harry Hartog's
Meeting Joe Abercrombie at Harry Hartog’s (That’s me on the right, behind Shauna O’Meara. The rest of the CSFG crew, behind Joe, from left to right: Craig Cormick, Ross Hamilton, Tim Napper)

Then on Wednesday, we had our first general meeting of the CSFG for 2015, which my good friend Kimberly Gaal and I kicked off with a session on goal setting for writers.

How are these two things linked? Well, one question Joe was asked on Monday night was what is he reading now? His initial answer to this was interesting: he said “I don’t read anymore.”

I found this interesting because a quick Google search will throw back at you plenty of quotes from high profile writers telling aspiring authors that the one thing they must  do is read. But even so, this is not the first time I’ve heard a high-profile author say they just don’t read anymore.

Joe then went on to demonstrate that, actually, he does read (of course). But when he talked about reading, it was very clear that it’s not something he does for leisure these days. He reads a lot of non-fiction for research, and he indicated the fiction he reads now is mostly in genres other than what he writes (dark fantasy).

At our CSFG meeting on Monday, one of the things we talked about in relation to goal-setting, was doing a reading challenge as a useful way to expand our horizons, connect with readers, understand markets and feed the muse. (Here’s a great post from Elizabeth Fitzgerald over at Earl Grey Editing about reading challenges.)

This all got me thinking about what and why I read. I absolutely do not read anywhere near as much as I used to. I have no hesitation in saying it is one of life’s great pleasures. I was an inveterate bookworm as a child. I read Charlotte’s Web when I was six. I started reading the likes of Anne McCaffrey and Tanith Lee when I was about thirteen. I read and read and then I reread and reread again. In University, I wrangled my degree so that it was about 85% English Literature subjects. This meant I (was supposed to) read something in the order of thirty to forty books a year. I can’t say hand-on-heart that I did read that many, but I read most.

But now…

I find reading uses a similar part of my brain as writing. It also scratches a similar itch and fills in the same few spare hours. So for me, it’s often a choice. Read or write. Still, I definitely do read. I just have to be very selective. I’m also pretty brutal now about finishing books. If it’s not doing what I want it to do for me, I stop reading it. I do not have time to persevere with duds. I set aside one massively popular bestseller just recently because I could not stand either of the two main characters and I did not want to spend another minute in their company. If I decide I want to know how it ends (I’m not fussed right now, I don’t want either of them to prevail), I’ll go see the movie.

Having said all that, I do still read, and it is still one of my favourite ways to spend an hour. Or three. Or eight. Like most people who love books, I have a to-read pile that in its darker, more unstable moments could kill small children if it toppled over. So in my next blog post, I’ll talk about what and why I read, and how I prioritise that growing stack beside my bed. And the one on the bookcase. And the one beside the bookcase on the floor. And –

*sound of books falling*

*muffled screams for help*

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7 thoughts on “Reading for Writing Part 1

  1. Pingback: Reading, Writing and Research | Cat Sheely

  2. Enjoyed your post and like Elizabeth, look forward to part 2. I had to chuckle at your ‘to read’ pile as mine is making the bookshelf next to my bed teeter dangerously.

    I find reading excites my writing nerves and gives me ideas about my next stories. It also allows me to look at writing styles that I like and don’t like. So for me, reading is part of the writing process.

    That said, I no longer read books I don’t like either. There are too many good ones out there to waste time on characters and stories that don’t inspire me. If I can be bothered I check out the last few pages for the ending.

    Also, I have a stack of books written by writer friends. I do give them all time to read because I like to provide feedback and make time for reviews. So far, all the books I’ve read from CSFG’ers have been well worth the read.

    1. Thanks Cat – you last page cheater, you! I agree, I find the really good ones so inspiring and really helpful in working through my own writing issues. For me, part of the writing experience, though, is that sense of losing myself in an unfolding story, and reading a good book does exactly the same thing. The only problem is it’s a hell of a lot easier being carried along on someone else’s words than slogging out my own. So sometimes I have to keep the candy bars on the shelf, so to speak.

  3. Pingback: Reading for Writing Part 1 | CSFG

  4. Thanks for sharing this. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I found it a really interesting read.

    I want to say that reading and writing are quite different for me, though I find that when I’m reading a lot I also tend to write a lot. Having said that, I really don’t write a lot by the standards of most.

    I’m really looking forward to your post on prioritising your reading. I’d also be curious to hear whether you have anything in place to track your Mount To-Be-Read. Do you go by the physical piles of books or do you have a list to make sure you don’t buy anything you already have?

    1. Thanks Elizabeth! No, I don’t track my TBR pile. There have been a couple of occasions when I’ve purchased another copy of something I’ve already got, but it’s usually when I’ve found it on special or at a school book fair or somewhere super cheap, and grabbed it in the heat of the moment. I imagine you’d need to track yours, at the rate you read!

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