December 10th, 2014

The Best Exercise for Writers Is. . .Reading

IMG_6582Show of hands …
How many WITS readers exercise every day?
How many of you read every day?

Sir Richard Steele said, “Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.”

I think about exercising every day. But I can almost always find a promising excuse not to exercise—I need the time to work or I have to clean the toilets (wait, scrubbing counts as an upper body workout, doesn’t it?).

I do, however, read every day. BC (Before Child), I would read for hours during the weekends. These days I read before bed or in the tub (sorry for that bit of TMI) or on those rare weekend days when hubby and child are off doing boy things.

And I usually have several things going at the same time because, like exercise, there are different types of reading.

Reading to learn
Craft books, blogs, writing magazines. Every writer should have a library of craft books and a “bookmark” with favorite blogs.

Sadly, reading and exercise have one more thing in common—you don’t get stronger without doing it. Having that treadmill in the basement won’t get you fit (although I keep hoping). And having those pretty books with pristine spines won’t help either.

Read them. Take notes in them. Tab sections you know you’ll come back to. Reread them until they fall open automatically to those special sections.

At least your brain cells will be svelte. 😉

Reading to keep up
If an agent you’re eyeballing to query is raving about a particular book, read it. It’ll give you great insight into what that agent likes.

What books are hitting the bestseller lists? Read them, and not just because everyone else is. What about those books stands them above similar books?

What books are your favorite authors recommending?

Reading for inspiration
Read authors you admire and take notes about what moves you, why something worked, phrases that made you sigh with longing for a smidgen of that talent.

If you’re an aspiring writer, read debut authors in your genre. Think about what made that book stand out to an agent and editor for it to be picked up.

And if you’ve started reading a book that you really are not enjoying, don’t shelve it yet. Read more. I know, I know … why waste your time reading something you don’t like? Because you can learn from these books as well. If you were that author’s critique partner or beta reader, what would your revision notes look like?

Reading for the sake of reading
A few weeks ago I was reading a blog post from Off the Shelf. The book being reviewed sounded interesting but it was the following quote by the reviewer that did me in: “I am constantly on the prowl for something that will distract me from the ‘task’ of reading and remind me of the joy of reading.”

Right? Remember those days?

Curl up with a beautifully written book. Don’t take notes and don’t analyze. Yes, I just told you to take notes and analyze. Go with me here. Read to read. Read for the love of words. Read to lose yourself. You can always go back, reread, and take notes.

I walk away from craft books and blog posts/articles with a determination to apply what I’ve learned. But it’s the books that make me forget everything around me that truly inspire me to get back to my own writing.

In On Writing, Stephen King wrote, “The real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing.”

If Stephen King says it, who are we to question it?
Now if he’d just write about the importance of exercising …

A question to WITS readers: Do you read while you’re in the middle of a WIP? If yes, what do you read—books in the same genre? Different genre? Craft books? Do you shy away from books that are similar to the project you’re working on?

About Orly

OrlyAfter years of pushing the creativity boundary in corporate communications, Orly decided it was time for a new challenge. Three women’s fiction manuscripts later (plus a handful of picture books), it’s safe to say she’s found her creative outlet. When she’s not talking to her imaginary friends, she’s reading or at least trying to ignore everyone around her long enough to finish “just one more paragraph.” Orly is the founding president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association.

You can find her on Twitter at @OrlyKonigLopez or on her website, www.orlykoniglopez.com.

43 comments to The Best Exercise for Writers Is. . .Reading

  • Great post, Orly – you made me think.

    I do read while I’m writing – I have to, because I’m always writing! I don’t have a problem reading genre, whether I write it or not. The only rule is, it has to be GOOD.

    “I am constantly on the prowl for something that will distract me from the ‘task’ of reading and remind me of the joy of reading.”

    That’s exactly right. If the book doesn’t do that for me, I put it down. I need escape, and where better, than in a book that I not only admire, but enjoy!

    Just wish I could find more of them.

    You know what I want for Christmas? A new-to-me-author that I adore – and a backlist that will keep me busy for the entire year!

  • MM Jaye

    Ah reading! Will probably hit a three-digit score until the end of December with about seventy reviews on Amazon. I’m with you, Orly, one hundred percent. My only problem is that reading is how I choose to procrastinate writing. I, too, am a working mom of a difficult toddler, and when the energy hits the all-day low, and the kid is finally out, I will curl with a book and lose myself in it rather than sit up, pull my wits together and write. One published book after four years of writing. But the number of books read? Countless.

    Greetings from Greece!
    Maria (MM Jaye)

    • Orly Konig-Lopez

      Wow, Maria! I bow to your reading list. I’m so slow these days. Which is why my TBR pile is starting to take over the house.

      Greece … sigh. 🙂

  • You got me on both counts. Not enough exercise for the body or the mind. I don’t read nearly as much as I used to. I’ve never liked reading while I’m in the middle of a WIP, but since like Laura, I seem to always be in the middle (may it continue to be so and not just because I’m slowing down), I snatch any time I can. I just try to read a different genre than I’m currently writing.

    I also used to finish a book even if I didn’t like it, because I might learn something. Now if I don’t look up some-odd pages later and think Wow. Where did the time go? I put it down.

    I read a lot of articles, but fewer full length works.
    And I’m missing that fully satisfied feeling that comes from getting lost in a novel. I’ve already decided to try to organize my time better in the new year. fingers crossed.

    And exercising? No comment.

    • Orly Konig-Lopez

      For a while I made Fridays my reading day. Writing in the morning, maybe, but the rest of the day was mine to read. That lasted two weeks I think. Maybe it’s time to start that up again. 🙂

      I’ve heard a few people comment that they prefer to read outside the genre they’re writing when in the middle of a WIP. I actually seek out books that have similar aspects to the one I’m writing. I’m curious … Why do you go to a different genre? 🙂

      • Mainly I don’t want someone else’s ideas, sentence structure, rhythms. All those things filtering into mine. Or have me inadvertently slip off the rails into something else. Shiny things. Shiny things. I have a hard enough time not slipping back and forth between mystery and women’s fiction without meaning to. I read fantasy or historical fiction or more literary fiction usually when I’m working, though I’ve started a new historical mystery series and may have to cut even that out.

  • I have To choose reading material carefully if I’m writing (which seems like always) because I pick up other author’s voice. And the material must be written well So I tend to Read favorite andd reliable authors. It means I don’t pick up as many new authors, which makes me feel guilty.

    • Orly Konig-Lopez

      I pick up a lot of new authors through recommendations from writers who’s writing I admire. I figure if they’re reading this, there must be something there.
      I love reading debut authors though!

  • I do read everyday. And like your list, this includes blogs, email, writer’s magazines and BOOKS. I usually read mostly blogs/email during the day. Then I try to write some. At night after I’m in bed (yeah, the old TMI again) is when I read a book. I try and read something I think will help with my writing. Something else I do…I’ve kept books that I feel might help influence my writing by my laptop and when I feel my writing is going stale, I’ll open it up and read a few passages. I can’t explain it, but many times over, doing this will give me a fresh perspective on how to craft my sentences. It’s weird, but it works for me.

    • Orly Konig-Lopez

      Not weird at all. I have a few authors who I return to when I’m feeling uninspired. Works wonders for me too. 🙂

  • tashaseegmiller

    This is a great post. When I’m writing, I have to read something that has a similar emotional pacing/feel. Genre doesn’t matter, but I generally can’t read kick-ass or super intense because I don’t write that way.

    After? Craft books, craft book, craft books. I need to figure out how to fix the mess I made when drafting. And I want to be CC’ed on the list you sent to Laura 🙂

    • Orly Konig-Lopez

      “I have to read something that has a similar emotional pacing/feel.” <-- YES! Me too. I was on a psycho killer kick a while back and found that my characters, who are NOT serial killers, were getting a wee too dark for my style of writing. 🙂 Ha! Laura growls at me every time I send her an "oouuu, oouuu, read this" email. I'll send them to you instead. 😉

      • Orly, you’d BETTER keep sending them to me! I’ve found some good authors there! It’s just that my TBR pile in paperbacks is up to around 60, and I’m afraid to count them on my Kindle! Yikes.

  • I read when I eat, brush my teeth, cook…basically all those in-between spots in life are when I read. However, when I write I have to put the books in the other room. Not because I worry about voice issues, but because I’ll pick up the book I’m reading to escape from the stress if things stall.

  • Fae Rowen

    Wow, Orly! When I read, I write. When I don’t read, I don’t write–and I’m not happy. I can read anything when I’m writing, but usually it’s regency. Works well with science fiction, right?

    • Orly Konig-Lopez

      What are you reading now? 🙂
      That’s the beauty of a good book – it pairs with any wine, I mean genre.

  • I’ll hit over 500 books read this year by Dec 30th [I didn’t count a lot of the books on writing I read]. So yes, I read when I’m writing. No I don’t pay attention to genre. I read what I want when I want.

    • Orly Konig-Lopez

      Wow, Phil! What’s the secret?
      I’m not counting all the beta reads I’ve done but even if you take a zero off your number, I’m not close. Impressed! Very impressed!!

      • Me too! Phil, what’s your secret?

      • It takes me about an hour to an hour and a half to finish a Johanna Lindsey size book. I can speed read. It doesn’t mean that I miss anything, I just learned how to read according to the content of the book. Some of the content of speed reading such as efficient eye movement helps you read more efficiently which in turn helps you read faster. I realized a long time ago that when we are taught how to read, we are not taught how to read well. If the book requires more concentration to learn something, I slow down. The same with research, I slow down.

        I see words in pictures. I always have. I don’t see letters that make up the words. When I learned to read, I taught myself. I realized the “pictures” of words always mean the same thing. If the picture changes, so does the word. I would go to my Grandmother or mother or Grandfather with my comic book and ask what word was that picture. They would tell me and I would learn a new word. Since I see pictures allows me to read much faster. It’s pure hades on spelling but reading is a snap.

        By the time I was in first grade, I was reading at a much higher level. See Spot Run was boring when I was use to reading advanced library books and comic books. I wouldn’t read for the teacher. She finally made me and I rattled off the page. She looked stunned and said “You can read. Why didn’t you read before.”

        Because I didn’t like her and I didn’t want to read out loud to the class.

        I realized in high school if I wanted to read what I wanted to read, I had to pick up speed so I started paying attention to speed reading techniques. I read 150 books in a summer according to the library contests when I was still eligible for the Children’s summer contests. As I got older, it smoothed out a lot.

        I’ve been told by many that “I read slowly because I want to enjoy it.” It seems a bit silly as if they think I can’t enjoy it because I read faster. Their loss. I’m enjoying 3 times as many books when they are focused on only one.

  • The hardest thing that I find to do is to actually mark up a book! I know I should be breaking down what works in novels I love, but it’s so hard for me to scratch up the pretty pages with ink or highlighter. I’m far more likely to do that on an e-reader.

    But yes, I can get so lost in a book and the joy of reading, and then I think, “Wait. How did that author do that?” So I try to go back and see how the author achieved that effect, and it does encourage me to write better. Thanks!

    • Orly Konig-Lopez

      Oh Julie, I can’t write in a novel either. But craft books are like text books, those I can underline!!

  • It’s hard to read without analyzing a book to death. Writing has ruined me for reading! Every now and then there is that golden book that makes me forget everything but that particular world. Great article Orly!

    • Orly Konig-Lopez

      Thanks, Deb.
      I’m lucky then – I can still read for the joy of reading. I’ll analyze certain aspects but not to the point that it destroys the read for me. Maybe I should analyze MORE, DEEPER, but I don’t want to lose the love. 🙂

  • karenmcfarland

    I have to read! Especially when writing. I don’t find that the author will influence my voice. But you’re right. If I don’t partake of the written word, I am all but starving myself. Which in turn leaves my writing weak because I did not feed/exercise my brain/muscle. My first swipe through is for pleasure. The second time, that is if the book is written well, is for learning. I underline, write notes. I find it stimulating. What a wonderful post Orly!

    • Orly Konig-Lopez

      Thanks, Karen! 🙂
      I’m like you, the author’s voice doesn’t influence me as I’m writing. A lot of times I’ll take notes about a particular phrase that melts my creative cells but it serves as inspiration.

  • Brianna Soloski

    I answered yes to both questions, because I walk to get around (and I’m trying to be less lazy about not taking the stairs to my fifth floor office – it’s not that hard). I’m always reading two or three books. I have a Kindle full of books, but more and more lately I’m finding myself drawn to physical books. To me, there’s nothing better than a stack of books and other reading material on the nightstand.

    • Orly Konig-Lopez

      Oh Brianna, a girl after my own heart! I can’t live without my tree books. There’s just something so comforting about being surrounded by them. I’ve started reading on my iPad but I still default to buying physical books most of the time. Even if I’m reading a novel on my iPad, I’ll have a tree book for bedtime. I don’t get as lost in the act of reading when it’s electronic.

      • Brianna Soloski

        I don’t really buy books (mostly because I am not a re-reader and don’t have the room to store stuff I’m not using), but I haven’t read on my tablet in ages. I buy physical books for my classes at school and I think that has led me away from reading electronically. Even when I went to Vegas for Thanksgiving, I brought an actual book with me and left my tablet home.

  • I try to read every day. I usually manage to read 5-6 days per week. My problem is I don’t read for many hours. I can’t do it for more than 2-3 hours. In my defense I read books in English mainly, which is not my native language. I’d like, however, to read around 40 books per year instead of the 20 or so I manage currently. I read stuff that are related to the genres I write (fantasy, dark fantasy, horror, scifi etc) and I read even when I write. 4 hours of writing or editing (or until I get 1500-2000 words) and 2-3 hours reading. Don’t know if what I do is the right way or not.

    • Orly Konig-Lopez

      I don’t think there is a right way for any of this. 🙂
      But it sounds like you have a process that works well for you.

      I miss the days of sitting for a couple of hours and reading. These days I’m lucky if I can get 30 minutes in one stretch, maybe an hour on a weekend. Changing that in the new year. You’ve inspired me!!

  • Robin Witt

    Thanks for an interesting article. 🙂
    I don’t think I could write without reading, and I’m always reading a few things.
    I read at night, the hour before bed in a no-screen time for me, so it’s easy to shift to a book, and I listen to unabridged books in the car while I commute. I have about 3 books going at a time, something non-fiction, something middle grade to listen to in the car, and then something more adult. We have excellent public libraries where I live, so I’m not buying nearly as many books as I used to.
    While writing historical fantasy I’ve been reading more sci-fi than before. The only thing I found I have to avoid while writing is Terry Pratchet… much as I adore the Discworld, I pick up his sentence rhythms and lose my own voice way too fast.

    • Orly Konig-Lopez

      Listening to books … that’s one thing I haven’t been able to warm up to yet. I have to give it a try again. Love the idea of middle grade books since I’m reading a lot of those with my son these days. Thanks for stopping by, Robin!

  • I read lots more non-fiction than fiction, but it still informs my fiction writing is ways I never anticipated.

  • Andrew Marmion

    Hi Orly. I love reading. I read a novel per week–most of the time. I need to vary genres though as I tend to stick to those of fantasy, thrillers and crime.

    I truly love writing and have finished one novel, nearly finished a second and am in the middle of a third– i write this while editing as I find it so tedious. I will try for publication next year but am terrified of the prospect of rejection.

    But I will soldier on into the mists of Avalon, sword and shield in hand, and will win the day!!!

    Oh, and just to say, this website is fantastic! I just found it today and hope to receive support as the road of a writer can be lonely sometimes.