How Much Should a Writer Read?

Girl Reading

As much as possible, because the more you read the smarter you get. That’s the usual answer. But I think that today, when there are so many paperbacks and e-books around, it’s easy to read too much too fast.

How much and how fast you read depends on what books you read. A play by Shakespeare is shorter than a contemporary novel, but to understand it well I spend twice as much time on it. The format also matters. An e-book is easier to read than a paperback, at least for me, while an audiobook is ‘longer’ than a paperback.

When you are a writer, the temptation to read much and to read fast is great. But there are dangers to that. I speak from experience. When you read fast you don’t think about all the possible connotations of a word, or the shades of meaning of a phrase, or the beauty of a metaphor. You ‘drink’ a book like you drink water, not like you drink wine…

Forgetting Books

At first characters and plots become confused, and then they fade away, and after a few months you remember only the author’s name, and the book cover, as well as the beginning and the end and a few memorable scenes that occurred in between.

‘Ah! I’ve read the book you’re reading months ago!’ you boast to your friend. But I don’t remember what’s it about, your thoughts echo…

I Am a Slow Reader

I rarely read more than a book a week, which means I read about 60-65 books a year. I don’t skip descriptive paragraphs. If I find a word I don’t know, I look it up in the dictionary. If I stumble upon a fine sentence, I reread it until I am bored. Sometimes I even note it down.

On some peculiar days, I am so excited that I am going to read a certain chapter that I procrastinate about the house for two hours before finally picking up the book…

I write at least 7-8 hours daily, 60% for my story, 40% for work. As a writer, I think that you need to devote more time to writing than to reading. Reading is probably the number one excuse writers use to avoid writing.

If I read more than one or two books a week, I don’t have enough time to think about the book I am reading after closing it. To me, thinking about a book I haven’t finished reading yet can be more enjoyable than actually reading it. When the book is closed the characters have time off from work, and I can meet them behind the stage and make friends with them.

A Sensible Conclusion

In the end I think how much and how fast you read, especially as a writer, is a matter of temperament.

Some readers enjoy a book more when they read it with bated breath, finishing it as soon as possible. These are the sort of people you don’t want behind you while waiting in a line.

Others, however, take more pleasure in a story when they read it slowly. These are the fellows you don’t want before you in a line.

The important thing is that people read.

Let’s rejoice! Books are now more popular than ever!

(This was an older post republished.)

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73 thoughts on “How Much Should a Writer Read?

  1. You should get a kindle! You can look words up from the page and highlight and insert notes. It took me a while to get used to mine, but now I can’t live without it…

  2. Excellent Post! I often read fewer and fewer pages at a time when approaching the end of a favorite book. The characters have become such an integral part of my life that I can’t bear to have them leave me so soon.

    Then, afterward, I sometimes can’t bring myself to start in on the next book. I guess I’m afraid that starting a new book might render them replaceable (which is not at all how I’ve come to experience their presence in my life).

  3. I read slowly too, and I don’t usually even read a book a week. As a rule, I tend to only read one hour a day before I go to sleep. I will occasionally read during the day, but usually it’s if I’m reading academic writing or non-fiction, as I exclusively read fiction at night. I agree with all your points, anyway!

      1. Hah yes. Audiobooks at night, that’s a good idea! I’ve never actually listened to an audiobook – I really should give one a go. It seems like a bit of a strange idea to me actually, listening rather than seeing the words on a page. Must be quite a different experience.

  4. It’s a fallacy that reading more improves writing. If anything, it increases the likelihood of plagiarism. Too much to lean on other than your own imagination. Not that reading is bad, obviously. But it’s not the answer to originality.

  5. I seriously never read. Other than a few psychology books, I haven’t touched a book in years. Only because there’s so much crap out there. I don’t care for the mainstream “Hunger Games”-bullshit. I like the writers that mainstream considers oddballs. But they usually never get the chance to publish a paperback or hardcover.

    That’s why I read blogs. Like yours, unusually written, yet so captive, creative and interesting. I like to learn and nowadays there’s nothing to learn in mainstream.

    Thanks for sharing this.

    Regards,

    Daan van den Bergh

  6. I find that different books call for different approaches. Sometimes the written words are there just to deliver the story. There’s nothing particularly interesting about them, or beautiful, other than the construction of the message. With these books you can read as fast as you can comprehend.

    Other books are more than just a delivery vehicle. The words are a work of art in themselves. Or may even be the primary point. Those books require careful reading and consideration. Possibly rereading. I may want to read parts of it aloud to myself to savor the experience.

    I think both approaches produce great books, you just have to be cognizant of what kind you’re dealing with.

      1. I love it when I can find something that combines the two.

        I like speculative fiction, and I think China Mieville and Cat Valente have hit that amazing balance between lyrical writing and interesting stories that eludes some many people. (Including me!)

  7. I do prefer holding a ‘real’ book in my hands, when it comes to me that I get a free time to read something. Is that old fashioned? I really like the smell of a paper book and so on… don’t tell me am old fashioned… am not that old
    good blog Vincent 😉

  8. There is no doubt that reading the right books can only help one write better. There is also no doubt that a reader will not enjoy writing done by a person who is not well read. A writer who doesn’t read heavily is a lazy writer.

    1. P.S. Sorry about the typo. The second sentence should read “I’ve nominated you for the inspiring blogger award.” but my keyboard has been fairly faulty recently! 🙂

      1. hahahaha Can be mentally? The only pie I know how to prepare is lemon pie and I probably would not be able to stop eating. ^^

  9. There is one detail about reading books that I’d like to share with you…

    To enjoy a book is one of the most wonderful feeling in the world! It brings magic into real life and makes you live a bit of a fantasy that’s more sweet than any mature fruit! However to enjoy a book so much also leads to finishing it soon… and that leads to sadness. Cause you want more of that magic, and with the last word of the last page…it’s gone. It’s just that little bit of sweetness left in the mouth after the last bite after which you have to get back to your everyday duties…

    1. Well said!

      I love the way you use ‘Cause’ not only in this comment but in others as well.

      I suspect you pout your lips when you write ‘Cause’, but I might be wrong. 🙂

  10. NOW THIS IS A QUESTION I OFTEN ASK MYSELF, I AGREE WITH YOU WHEN YOU SAY IT IS GOOD TO ALLOW WHAT YOU HAVE READ SINK IN BEFORE READING ANOTHER BOOK,,,HEY THANKS AGAIN (:

  11. Agreed. When i was younger I carried a purple bag with my writing journal, notebook , and book in it. I carried it everywhere. And rather than actually read, i would stroke the cover like a horses mane and conjure futures for every single character. It was more fun than eating

  12. Incredibly true.BUT I’m one of those readers, more often than not, that rush through books because the end is whats pulling me in. But I also find that I conjure the ends of books prematurely, and most of the time I’M correct. SO, as I rush to the concluding word, I rush to potential accuracy..and enhanced ego. I love to read, more than I love to write.Is that a thing to worry about??

  13. Reading too much too fast leaves one confused and annoyed. Or at least it leaves me like that. Then the novelty of sweet savouring of the book is lost.
    Id say read at the pace that inspires to write.

  14. My reading speed depends on the substance and the writing styles of the writers I read. If he/she writes fluidly, that makes everything faster to me. However if its a book that is quite profound, this will take me a long time. On the other hand, I am guilty of skimming what I read. Sometimes I find heavily descriptive lines/paragraphs in a novel unnecessary like where the lamp was. How the bright was. Things like that. 🙂

  15. I read very few books, because inevitably I find that I ‘take style’ from the book I am reading. I am very jealous of my own signature style and I cannot protect it because it is natural to me, not forced or assumed. But if I read Jane Austen I find myself writing in her style; and heaven forbid I should ever read anything Russian in translation!

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