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Why I read

Image of woman using laptop inside giant book

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.
~ Stephen King

You can find amazing things between the covers—actual or virtual—of a book.

I’ve been a book lover since I first sounded out the words detailing Spot the dog’s adventures. As an only child with lots of time on my hands, reading offered adventure, romance, education, and thrills during long, boring summers (and pretty much any other time of year).

I became one of those awkward teenagers whose friends made fun of her for knowing weird, “big” words—though not necessarily how to pronounce them—like gauche and risqué. By age sixteen, I had solved dozens of mysteries with Nancy Drew, visited exotic places full of intrigue with Mary Stewart’s independent heroines, run with spies, chased down terrorists, lived in worlds of pure fantasy, and traveled in time.

Not that I spent every moment buried in a book. I’ve always loved to travel, explore, hang out with friends, and be active in the real world. But reading was by far my favorite way to fill downtime. During the summers in junior high and high school—before I could drive—I would burn through 10-14 books a week.

Thank you library.

I can still read like that, but I rarely do. There are too many other things I want and need to do.

And yet, as a writer, it’s imperative that I continue to read for more than research or obligation. Not only because I still love stories, and they soothe me, but because they refill my creative well.

As a reward for finishing the first draft of Blind Ambition (Book 2 in my Men of Steele series)—insert happy dance here!—I bought Joanna Bourne’s latest book, Rogue Spy. [If you love history, romance, intrigue, spies, danger, daring and exciting characters, and twisty plots all wrapped in prose so beautiful it makes you want to cry, you must check out her books. I wrote more about her here.]

Twenty percent of the way in, I was struck with the need to take notes for the book I’m working on next. Something about the way the hero viewed his world—through the eyes of a painter and a spy—got me thinking about how my own hero must see his world—as a photographer and a sniper.

I know this stuff. I’ve studied it. But sometimes seeing it done well is better than reading a craft book, attending a lecture, or taking a class on the topic. These are lessons I already know, but reading a good book can inspire me to see my own work in a different light, and apply those lessons in a new way.

The only way to become a better writer is to write. Absolutely. But writers also need to read. Reading is what fed my passion to write in the first place. It’s where I acquired my intuitive sense of story structure and narrative and character.

Reading inspires me as a writer the way a painter might be inspired by walking through a museum.

Reading a really good book also just makes me happy. 🙂

That’s why I read. What about you?

20 Comments

  1. Reply

    Hi Gwen,

    Why do I read? Let me count the reasons. I’m addicted to curiosity and imagination. I wonder about a lot of things. I live by the question. Mostly, I live by the question why? But, also, who is she, he? Who are they. What are they about.? So, I read.

    I wonder. How does that work? How did that happen? I see things and something in me goes mmmmm, I need to look into that. I look for answers, a hint, an insight, a word. So, I read.

    I’m fascinated by the world I live in and the people who populate it. I see it whole not fragmented. Specialization may be a necessity but it creates huge blind spots even ignorance. Books help banish the darkness. People who are free to read are free. People who are free to read and speak their mind are truly free. Books are important. So, I read.

    Books, or more to the point, the voices of the people who write them help me connect the dots. They help me understand. They help me keep the cycle of curiosity, imagination and wonder alive. There really is a river that runs through it. So, I read.

    • Reply

      That’s fabulous, Curtis. I think you should have written my blog post instead. 😉 I definitely read out of curiosity, whether I’m perusing fiction or nonfiction. Everything informs on some level. Thanks!

  2. Reply

    I think you and I may have shared similar childhoods! I too read everything in sight and vicariously lived a much more exciting life than my real life! Looking back, I have regretted that I didn’t keep a journal or record of what all I read. Of course, Nancy Drew, but my favorite sleuth was Kay Tracy. I grew up thinking fiction was the only interesting read; I didn’t find interesting biographies until I was in my mid-twenties. And now in my mid-eighties I read family histories and genealogy books and your blog!

    • Reply

      Janie: I wish I’d kept a journal too. I’m always thinking of snippets from books that affected me in some way and I have no idea of the title or author. I thought I’d never read another nonfiction book again once I finished my undergrad, but it didn’t take long for me to find nonfiction I actually wanted to read. It helps when you have an intrinsic reason for picking up a book, rather than an upcoming exam. 😉 Thanks for including my blog in your reading!

  3. Reply

    I pronounced “hors d’oeuvres” as “whores da uvers” until I was in my 20s. I still say it that way in my head sometimes!

    • Reply

      Too funny, Sara. I was pronouncing gauche as “gotch” for years, until I finally heard someone say it, recognized the context was the same, and had my “aha” moment. And I do the same thing in my head. 😉

  4. Reply

    Hi Gwen, I read for enjoyment, but I also read to learn. Like you wrote above, seeing how it’s done can be so much more powerful than reading the how-to’s of a craft book. And you get the side benefit of losing yourself in a good story.

  5. Reply

    This got me to remembering all of my “friends” from the books I read way back when I was young: The Hardy Boys; Chip Hilton; Billy, Old Dan & Little Ann and Grandpa; Tom and Huck; Travis and Old Yeller; Luath, Bodger, and Tao Cat, et al! Thanks for a nice post, Gwen…:-)

  6. Linda Buice

    Reply

    You are absolutely right! I forget that because of lack of time so thanks for reminding me.

  7. Reply

    Totally agree with you here. When I’m working on a novel I instinctively reach for other novels off my shelf which I know will inspire and educate me as to how something is done.

      • Reply

        Gwen, try this one. It is great fun. Sometimes I go totally random when looking for someone “new” to read. I go to a Big Box store and randomly go through the shelves. I’ll pull this book or that book. Flip it open and go with the first chapter and read a couple pages, maybe three. I’m not looking to be hooked on story, I’m listening for “voice.” If I hear you I I will read you. I found Tom Robbins that way. Voice with an attitude. Even Cowgirls get the Blues and Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness. Reading is an adventure.

  8. Reply

    Just like viewing art or listening to music, reading sometimes just cracks me into trying something different in my own writing. Tolkien, Poe, Lewis Carroll, Emily Dickinson, Asimov– some of my heroes. And many thanx to the Public Libraries. Nice post. Peace.

    • Reply

      loujenhaxmyor: You just never know where inspiration will strike. Music does it for me frequently, reading an article, a good book, a bad book, research, fun. It could come from anywhere. That’s the frustration and the joy of it. 😉 Thanks!

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