With all the holiday stuff that's going on, I found it difficult to write over the last few days. In the short patches of time that I get, though, I've been catching up on my reading, and I thought I'd reflect today on what reading does for writers.

It creates the possibility of writing. From your first attempts at reading you've been building your writing skills: vocabulary, turn of phrase, style, genre preference, and plot-building. If you don't read, both in your genre and outside it, you're robbing yourself of the food that sustains writing.

It inspires. Bad or good, the reading that a writer does helps her write better. I notice wording that I'd have done differently, even in books by the big names. I see places that make me think, "Wow, that was amazing. Wonder where he came up with that?"

It refreshes. Unlike writing (at least for me) reading can be done in small bites. I can read a chapter at breakfast or before going to sleep at night, but I can't write that way. Even mini-sessions with a good book take me away from problems, responsibilities, even plot knots in my own work for a while.

It defines. What I enjoy reading is wide open: I can devour a cozy, a police procedural and THE DANCING WU LI MASTERS all in the same week (actually, that last one took a bit longer than a week to digest). I recognize, though, that I don't want to write in every genre that I read. I have no desire to write a police procedural, no matter how much I enjoy them.

It challenges. I never finish a book without being re-energized in my own writing. It's a double-edged sword: I don't read as much as I used to because I usually prefer to write instead. Still, I find reading essential to the process. The time you spend reading is not wasted: if done with an eye for the good and the bad, it will make you a better writer.

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Comment by Dana King on December 25, 2007 at 1:12am
I agree completely on all accounts. Movies and (more rarely) television shows can do the same for me, though not nearly as often as reading. I've been catching up on Season 4 of The Wire over the weekend, and it has me jazzed to keep hacking away at the current project, and spinning off ideas of how I can handle projects in the future.

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