As of today, I’m on holiday. I’m off to sunny, sunny Scotland. A holiday for me means warm food, cold drinks, and plenty of time for me to catch up on my reading.
“Do lots of reading” has got to be one of the most common pieces of writing advice. Reading should be a basic staple of any writers day, but I have a suspicion it’s often one of the first things that fall by the wayside when time gets tight. I’m guilty of it, and I know plenty of other writers who are too.
I ran the numbers, and so far this year I’ve definitely read less than ten books, some of those audio-books. Screw you, yes they still count.
I’ve been slacking, and that’s bad.
One of my favourite Tyrion Lannister quotes from George R.R Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” (better known as Game of Thrones):
‘A mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge. That is why I read so much.’
Reading improves your vocabulary, your sentence structure, your pacing, your dialogue. Basically every part of your writing. Reading helps you spot what works and more importantly what doesn’t. The more you read the more refined your own writing “voice” becomes, the end result is something of an unconscious amalgamation of all your favourite subtleties, and that’s pretty cool.
Reading also helps me a lot when I get stuck with writer’s block. When I get trapped too much in my own head reading a book helps ground the writing process and once again make it an attainable thing. I think, this seems easy enough, maybe I can do this.
Hell, there are reading benefits that non-writers need to get in on too. Studies show reading helps your memory and fights against diseases like Alzheimer’s.
More than that, reading is fun. You get the same pleasure as you would from watching TV, but with the added bonus of it being vaguely intellectual, meaning you can lord it over people.
More seriously, it’s been suggested reading increases analytical thinking ability and a person’s empathy, improving a person’s ability to see things from someone else’s perspective. My God does the world seem to need a bit more of both of those things lately.
I know it sounds dramatic but I really do feel like reading is slowly becoming a lost medium. Literary fiction is in decline, and naturally, that scares the hell out of writers. Movies, TV shows, even big video game releases have become these big cultural events. It doesn’t seem to happen for books anymore, not since the Harry Potter frenzy years ago.
I have faith that it’s a temporary blip, despite the decline there are also reports that millennials are reading more than ever—so maybe the next generation is going to help with a resurgence.
I know I need to start getting more consistent with my own reading. In 2019 I’m setting myself the modest goal of reading at least 50 books, which roughly means reading a book a week. I’m going to set some time aside to read before bed, spending less time on my phone, and hopefully benefit from a better nights sleep as well.
How many books have you read this year? Are you on top or could you stand to do better? Why are people reading less and how can we fix that? Maybe you’re freaking out about all this and want to something to read RIGHT NOW.
– H. L.