Developing a Reading Practice (or Why Reading as a Writer Is Key)

Maybe it’s the impending warmth of summer—the long days, the promise of vacation or the fantasy of spending an afternoon in a hammock—but I’ve been thinking a lot about reading. Dreaming about it, really. Closing my eyes and picturing the stack of books I’d like to get through this summer. Because summer is the perfect time for reading, and reading is essential to good writing…

And yet, whenever I try to schedule more reading time into my life, I come up against all the same obstacles I face in carving out a writing practice: time is scarce and life is demanding, and I, like many of my students and writer friends, can barely eek out time for the book I’m writing, much less for all those I want to read. And shouldn’t the writing take precedence, in any case?

But hear me out for a second. This way of thinking might actually be getting in the way of our creativity. It seems counterintuitive, but what I’ve found in my own life is that without fail, more reading almost always leads to more writing… It’s sort of like that maxim that a baby who naps during the day sleeps better at night. It doesn’t make sense, but somehow it’s true. Reading more just makes us better writers, even if it seems to take away from writing time.

I think in part this is because when we read as writers, we aren’t just reading for pleasure or to pass the time. We read with an artist’s eye, constantly examining what’s working in the books we read, how the author is keeping us engaged (or not), and what s/he is doing with language, imagery, dialogue, perspective…

Recently, on a trip to Italy with my family, I noticed that my husband, David, who’s a builder, was looking at the architecture with a completely different awareness and appreciation than the rest of us: he was examining the stair treads and snapping pictures of brackets, commenting on the spacing of balusters, or the geometry of arches in cathedrals… And I realized that he was seeing buildings the same way that I, as a writer, read books.

As we develop an awareness of what we love in the books we read, we really do start to emulate those elements in our own work.  And so, I would argue that a reading practice is its own form of writing practice. A craft practice, really, which is why so many of us find more inspiration in an hour of reading than we can in an hour of revising…

So I’m going to try making more time for reading this season. Maybe I’ll try reading a short story before I start writing each day, or skim a few pages of poetry first thing in the morning with my coffee, or listen to an audiobook while I drive instead of obsessing on the news. Anyone want to try this with me??

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  One thought on “Developing a Reading Practice (or Why Reading as a Writer Is Key)

  1. Kate
    April 25, 2019 at 10:15 pm

    Dori, great idea! Maybe we can all share not just reading lists (or suggestions, or hot tips), but also brief notes on what brackets and balusters we notice in some of what we’re reading.
    That would be a useful prod for me, since I tend to race too fast through each book in my haste to get to the next one. But I’ve just started reading Terry Tempest Williams, who continually pulls me up short with arresting images. I’d like le to figure out how she does that.

  2. May 6, 2019 at 10:43 am

    Thanks, Kate. I love that idea!

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