Forgive me Stephen King, for I have sinned. I am a bad, bad writer.
There are two cardinal sins that a writer can make: failing to make time for writing, and failing to make time for reading. I’m stepping up to admit that for the past year I have fallen from grace–I have stopped making time to read.
I had my reasons of course. Between all the stuff needing done around the house, family commitments, time with the kids, volunteer work, writing time and critiquing, when did I have time to sit down and read? I brushed it off, choosing instead to squeeze as much time and energy into critiquing, editing and drafting as I could. After all, these were the things that would lead me to get published, and if I didn’t work at my writing, how could I ever expect to succeed?
Now writing is important, so my aggressive stance of putting as much time into it wasn’t all wrong. But really, I think that something else was keeping me from reading like I used to, something I’d like to talk a little about here, if you’ll indulge me.
Simply put, guilt.
I have guilt issues. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a stay-at-home mom, or just because I’m a headcase. Probably both. But somewhere deep down inside I felt like because reading was an activity that I derived great satisfaction from, it was also frivolous. Putting the feet up and reading was unproductive. Lazy. I should be doing the million tasks I knew required completion, not flagrantly enjoying fiction!
Reading became a rare treat to enjoy, a reward. Then a few days ago, someone at Verla Kay’s posted a portion of a talk given by Stephen King, whereby he told his audience that if people wanted to become writers, they had to make time to read. Commitment to writing meant throwing all the pathetic excuses to the zombies and making time for what was important. (Well, he didn’t exactly use the word zombies, but I totally bet he wanted to.)
This simple advice resonated within me, because somewhere along the way I’d lost touch with this basic writing 101 fact. Reading isn’t only for pleasure. It’s just as important to do as writing if we want to succeed.
I’m really grateful for that video, and for the little virtual slap of sense it dealt me. A one-time voracious reader, I had let guilt put a stranglehold on my reading. Maximizing time for writing is always important, but reading is what fills the creative well.
I’ve ordered a ton of books that I’ve put off reading because I ‘had no time.’ Already I’m starting to see a shift in my creativity, and I’m enjoying my writing on a new level. Here’s to balance, and making time for all the important things!
Have you ever found yourself feeling guilt over the time you spent reading or writing?
Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling.
I definitely find myself forcing time to read. I can’t stop reading because that’ll get me out of touch with the market and that’s never a good thing.
I do have a tendency to feel a little guilty when reading because it does feel like I should be doing something “more productive” but when you train yourself to think that the reading your doing, while it is bring you pleasure, is educating you on what gets published and will have you wracking your brain as to why. If you start convincing yourself that you’re not just reading for pleasure but for work, you’ll feel less guilty about it. I know I have!
A year after college and for the first two years of college I didn’t read many books at all. In fact during uni I probably only read about 10 in total. That isn’t many at all.
I don’t know why. The urge to read kinda built up and even though I wanted to I couldn’t settle mentally for some reason even though I had the time. It was nothing to do with writing really.
During my third year of uni I made myself a promise after three YEARS of not reading much – and I have always, always considered myself a reader.
I promised myself that there would never again be a time in my life when I would not have a book on the go. I might not read it for a day or two. I might not read it for a week. But I will always be able to say “I am currently in the middle of reading ________”
Nowadays, a week is the longest I go when I don’t read – and that’s rare. I might take a week out maybe if I’m a little bored of the book and just need a break. But that’s it.
I always have a book on the go now. If I had to make a choice – to be a reader or a writer – I’d say a reader. Why write if I don’t like reading? One cannot simply be without the other at all.
Primarily, I’m a reader. I write because I love books and I would like to create one of my own.
People who write but then claim they don’t like reading at all, to me is like saying you hate children and then have a baby. Or you hate animals and then have a pet dog. Why?
Besides, if you’re not reading stuff, how do you know what’s out there? How do you know what’s old, what’s new, what makes you stand out? How do you know what good writing is or bad writing is?
I wasn’t very happy when I wasn’t reading… and then I started again in my final year of uni (which should have been the time when I didn’t waste time reading!) and suddenly I found I was at peace and happy.
Zoe: I know what you mean about a bad book sapping creativity. I sometimes need to ‘clear’ my head with a good read if I’ve read something disturbing or just wrong me for and my writing at a certain period of time.
Bish: I used to read before bed, but now I’m usually to exhausted to.
Creative: Ah, the reading binges. I love reading binges! I’m on one right now, but I figure I deserve it after my recent drought of good reading, lol.
Creative A says
Love the post Angela! Very funny, not to mention very true.
I think I’m too voracious to feel guilty about not reading. I may feel guilty *while* I’m reading, but by now I’ve gotten used to my cycles and I realize that if I just binge and read for a week, I’ll write like a mad person afterward. Who cares if the laundry never gets folded? No one’s allowed over when I’m reading, anyway.
That’s a little exaggerated. I do go on week-long reading binges, though.
Bish Denham says
No guilt here about spending time reading. I HAVE to read at night before I go to sleep. The routine is ingrained in me from the days when my mother read us bedtime stories. And, if I have a regret in life, it is that I will never be able to read all the books I want to read.
Many have been the times when an important assignment has languished, forgotten, while I have plunged into a new book and yes, I felt guilty as sin.
I fully agree that the is no better way to get the creative juices flowing than reading a good book, but recently I suffered the reverse from reading a dreadful one. It was a YA series that an obsessed friend had leant me, and I devoured it like the junk food that it was, only to finish feeling unclean and ill: it was as if my Muse had gone and binged on KFC and passion pop and I had to re-read one of my favourite books to purge my creative system.
Vijaya, no worries. Guilt is a hang up of mine, but I also refuse to live with regret. So, whenever I question what I’m doing because of guilt (my writing, my career choice, the time/energy I dedicate to publication) I ask myself, If I stop writing, change careers, whatever, will I regret it? And if the answer is yes, then I know I’m still on the right path. I can keep moving forward, releasing the guilt.
Courtney–thanks for stopping by!
PJ–I think time for reading is something that often can get set aside, so reminders are always important.
Marcia–preach it! Woot!
Amy, lol. I’m lettin’ the guilt go, I swear!
Becca–a paperback in CHURCH? You’re pretty brave…
Rachel–You’re right. Sometimes all we need is to give ourselves permission, that’s it’s okay to make time for something we enjoy. In that spirit, I have a huge pile of books i’ve given myself the A-OK to read!
Thanks everyone for the great discussion and sharing!
Rachel Burton says
Great post. It’s nice to have “permission” to read, even when the other stuff of life gets pressing and distracting!
No readers’ guilt here, although there are plenty of times I SHOULD have felt guilty: reading instead of studying for that very important exam; my paperback held within the pew Bible at church…
And I’m reading now, but it’s so much slower with an infant in the house. Takes me forever to finish a book, but I’m hanging in there.
Thanks for the reminder, Angela!
Read, read, read. It’s part of your JOB as a writer. Really. I swear.
Let go your guilt and pick up those books!
Besides, while lounging with a book you can say, “Shhh, be quiet. Mommy’s working.”
No, I’ve never had reader’s guilt. What I tell my students is that as writers they can read and call it work! Because it really is part and parcel of writing.
PJ Hoover says
I so need to make more time to read! Thanks for the (gentle) reminder!
Here’s to balance, and making time for all the important things!
Cheers to that!
Oh, Angela … I’m so sorry that guilt prevented you from reading. Call it research from now on — it sounds very scholarly and anytime you’re *caught* with a book, you simply say that you’re doing research 🙂
Moi — I have no guilt (about anything really but I probably should). Aren’t I terrible?
Kim, some days, there is little time for writing, that’s for sure. Thanks for visiting!
Inky–we have to get past our guilt! We can do it!!
Laurie–carrying a book with you is a great idea. I’m doing this now for when I have to pick up my kids from their schools–amazing how ten minutes here and there really gets those pages turning.
Terra–I too find great inspiration through the varied talents of other writers. Whenever I’m editing, I only read books that are the same genre/type of book I’m working on, to keep the mood. Likewise, when I draft, I pick books that are not like what I’m writing, to make sure I don’t start ‘channelling’ another writer when I shouldn’t.
House 6–good for you! We have to be confident in our choises to succeed.
Sharon–LOL, I look forward to sick days. Hopefully your surgery isn’t anything major, and I wish you a quick recovery (but long enough to get a few books read, at least!)
Bill–I used to belong to Book-of-the-month. Now I have a library just minutes away. I love being able to put holds on books online and pick them up when they come in.
Kim Kasch says
I couldn’t find time to read or write when the kids were little – don’t know how people do it. My kids have grown up – you can see them on my blog – all over the place. I still don’t have much of a life without them. But, now, I spend a lot of time reading and writing ’cause they’re college kids now.
Bill Fullerton says
Take two Book-Of-The-Month-Club alternative selections and get back to work in the morning. 🙂
Good article. You are not alone.
There just aren’t enough of those little stolen moments in the day! Besides, my husband *always* comes out of the home improvement store at the most exciting part :::sigh::: Still, I keep a book in my purse and one by my bed. Is it crazy to look forward to needing surgery so I can have the recovery time for reading?
House 6 says
I wouldn’t be sane without writing or reading. My family knows this and they love me anyway.
Terra Chandler says
I don’t ever feel guilty reading, primarily because I can’t seem to stop, I think. Still, this video was a great reminder not to stop. I know there will be a time in my “hopefully” writing career when I may forget to stop, breath, and read…and maybe I will think back on what Stephen King has said and pick up an author I can get inspired by. (That last part shouldn’t be too hard, there are few authors I don’t enjoy.) Anywayas, thanks for the great post!!
Ah, yes, the constant tug-of-war with time.
No, I’ve never felt guilty about reading or writing, but I’ve often felt guilty about not reading enough. I’ve found reading really jumpstarts my muse, but… *dramatic hand to forehead gesture* Oh where to fit it in?
I finally got wise and learned to carry a book with me at all times so I can take advantage of those doctor and dentist office waits, interstate traffic jam parking lots and husband-turned-loose-at-home-improvement-store moments. I was amazed how much reading time I found stuck in these little pockets of life.
Oh BOY do I understand this one. Especially the guilt factor :S
Last Friday the DH left town for the weekend, the house was a mess, I had assignments to do… But I curled up in bed and read for the first time in MONTHS. It was heavenly.
‘Reading is important for writing. Reading is important for writing.’ Must repeat this to myself til I believe it 😉
Great post. Thank you 🙂