“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” – Stephen King
Oh Mr. King, I still believe you, but so much has changed since 1999.
Reading for pleasure is one of my favorite hobbies. I’ve always loved books, and in our hyper-paced, media-obsessed culture, I look to them for quiet solace and entertainment even more than I used to. They are also a source of inspiration to study of the craft or writing, particularly in my chosen genre.
So imagine how my reading life changed when I got a Kindle as a gift way back in 2012.
The thing was a revelation. So many books all at my fingertips, and so much easier to bring on vacation! Plus, that Kindle Owner’s Lending Library, and the untapped gold mine of authors giving away their books for FREE! What could be better?
Fast forward to 2017, and I’m totally burnt out on reading. My gusto to read has waned across all genres, but especially horror, and when I do pick up the Kindle, everything on it feels “same-y”. Yes, I am a writer and have mastered powerful descriptive techniques.
…And Then What Happened
After spending a few months with my Playstation in lieu of books, I got the hankering to read something new. Rather than immediately charge up the Kindle, I perused Reddit looking for book recommendations. I stumbled upon The Fisherman by John Langan, which ultimately became my 2017 Book of The Year (read it!)
It charted me on a new path with a huge revelation in the rear-view mirror. Moving forward, I would be extremely picky about which books I actually read, and consider each one as a valuable time investment.
Reading less books is the last thing Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Goodreads want you to do. Right? They pummel you with nearly unlimited choices in an effort to get you just the right book to suit your fancy.
The fact is, they want your money. Quality (outside the measures of their algorithms) is fairly inconsequential to them. In fact, once you’ve bought the book, they don’t care if you read it or not.
I burned myself out reading too many crappy cheap and free books that were set up as “marketing funnels” (gross) or just tossed into the Amazon ebook digital sludge heap, and forgot what good stories were.
Aside: Yeah, I know there is this “anti-criticism” mentality in a lot of internet writing communities that masquerades as “only giving constructive criticism and support”. But lets get real, there are some BAD self-published and small-press books on Amazon. Ones with little thought or care put in before they got slapped up in the marketplace. I reserve my right to levy harsh criticism against anyone who is obviously just phoning it in. They hurt the rest of us who are legitimately trying.
I’m still refining my own system, but here are the key points I now read by:
- I pay for books. Even if it’s a dollar. Print or ebook. Paying for the book creates a tangible relationship of value in my mind, and drives me to read what I purchase, no matter what I ultimately think about the book when I finish it.
- I research before I buy. I’ve cut down on impulse purchases. They are almost exclusively limited to great sales on my various “Wish Lists”. Less books means a lower signal-to-noise ratio. Less choice equals greater happiness. I heard that in a TED Talk or something…
- I won’t finish what I don’t like. I am a horrible completionist. I used to keep reading books I didn’t like just to give myself closure, or under the pretense of “giving it a chance to get good”. No longer. Even my carefully chosen books must keep me interested, lest they be banished to the Forbidden Zone (a bottom bookshelf where my DNF pile goes to await library donation).
- I study and contemplate what I read. I read much slower, and try to fully consume (mentally) what I read. Prose, theme, subtext. I give myself a few days in between books to really absorb and contemplate what I read. This is where I’m “reading like a writer” and gaining the takeaways to use in my own stories.
Not only have I re-discovered the pleasure of reading by reducing the number of books I pick up, but I’m also retaining far more of what I DO read, than when I was marathon’ing a bunch of stuff that just congealed into a Goodreads Annual Goal bar.
It came down to treating my reading time, and the books I choose, as a valuable commodities. Quality trumps quantity, always. There are now enough books on Earth to fill multiple human lifetimes, with more published every day. You should definitely be picky about the ones you choose to read in your own.
So here is Stephen’s quote again, updated for 2018.
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot of carefully selected, high quality books, and write a lot.” – Stephen King & B.L. Daniels