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The Balance Between Reading and Writing

I'm of the considered opinion that in order to be a good writer, you need to be a voracious reader. It's how we, as writers learn. There's no way an architect could become a better architect without inspecting the plans of other architects and keeping up on what's going on in advances in the industry. There's no way a doctor could stay up on current science and medicine if they didn't have to trade notes and do continuing medical education to keep their licenses. For writers, reading is our continuing education.

It's not something that's mandatory for us, either. And it's not just books about craft, we need to be reading all kinds of books. Because all of them, good or bad, within our genre or not, will teach us something about what we're doing. I love reading. And I am constantly analyzing what it is writers are doing in their texts. That's my version of pleasure reading. If you're not in love with that analysis and deconstruction, maybe you're a different kind of writer than I am, but I couldn't function without new input constantly.

I've been asked how to balance reading and writing, and I try to do both in equal measure. My goal is to average at least one book a week. And from different genres (and sometimes even different media.) Read a biography or history book, then follow it up with a fantasy novel written by a woman, then a Star Wars book, then a Vonnegut novel, or Graham Greene, then something totally out of my wheelhouse recommended by someone else. Then a graphic novel. Then a book on craft. Rinse, repeat. That's pretty much the pattern in when I'm not reading things for work. (Sometimes, four Star Wars books will come out at once and since I have to keep up, one book will turn into four in a row. It happens now and again.)

But you need to read writers that are different than you and writers that are the same as well.

I'm told averaging a book a week is ridiculous. In 2015 I averaged a book and a half a week. In 2016, only 1.03 books a week. This year I'm one week behind so far. Though I am in the middle of five books I plan to try to finish in the next week or so, which would put me back to three books ahead.

But how do you balance that time spent against your writing? For me, it's trying to create a set time and space where writing is the only thing I worry about. Usually, that's first thing in the morning for at least two hours. If I'm on a deadline, I might sneak in more time later, but that's usually my writing time. (When I'm a full-time writer, eventually, that time will probably triple, at least.) Then, I spend every other spare moment thinking about reading. Sometimes I'm better at it than others, but I try to keep books everywhere I'm likely to have five minutes. In the bedroom, in the living room, in my office, in the bathroom. That's kind of why I'm always in the middle of so many.

But I also have the Kindle app on my phone. That has been really helpful in reading digital tomes. Because it will sync to my Kindle Paper White, I can fall asleep reading the Kindle, then pick up on a work break on my phone at the same spot. It might not be a break long enough to get any writing done, or even anything else, but it's enough to get a chapter read. And that helps me cruise through the material.

I think part of the reason I'm so prolific is because I read so much. I'm constantly getting stimulating input that forces my writer's brain into action. It's not just books, either. Movies do that. Podcasts do that. Everything I do, really, can be a source to nourish my writing. But reading is the most important because it's the most similar to what I do.

I don't know what that balance is like for you. I don't know how much your speed of reading affects it. But for me, I've found a balance I can live with. I can't tell you how to find that balance for yourself, but I can tell you how I found mine. And it was a lot of trial and error. For me, the right balance is as much reading and writing as I can muster in a given day. Writing first, reading second. But for you it might be the opposite.

When I was talking to other writers about this, I was shocked to discover that people (not writers usually, but people in general) don't read all that often. And a book a week is a pace that some might only hold in their dreams. But that just makes it that more important. That's one thing that will give us an edge, right? After all, Mark Twain once said, "The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them."


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Also! here's the full list of "rules and guidelines" I've been collecting over my years of studying writing advice and process. 

 As far as my work outside of all this: There's a lot of great stuff on Big Shiny Robot! and Full of Sith for you.

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