In his classic memoir On Writing, Stephen King writes, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
The latter is, of course, what this blog is all about (writing a lot). But I’m convinced that most writers ignore the former: reading a lot. (Or at the very least, they don’t read thoughtfully.)
If you’re like most people, you bounce from book to book haphazardly. What you read from month to month and year to year is simply not something you carefully consider.
Or maybe you’ve gone through a season without reading any books at all. If that’s the case, you’re definitely not alone. In 2014, the Pew Research Center reported that nearly a quarter of American adults had not read a single book in the past year.
But if you call yourself a writer and your goal is to become a better one, you do yourself a great disservice by not reading voraciously and thoughtfully.
No one puts it more bluntly than King himself:
So what’s the answer? As writers, how can we become better readers?
4 Reasons to Plan Your Reading in 2017
Here’s my solution: plan your reading. And just in case you’re skeptical, let me give you four quick reasons why you should make a book list and map out your reading:
1. You’ll Read More Books
If you plan your reading, you’re pretty much guaranteed to read more than you did last year. Why? Because if you take the time to pick out twenty to fifty books you really want to read, it’ll create excitement and anticipation. As a result, you’ll spend more time reading!
2. You’ll Read Better Books
Sometimes when I’m picking out my next book to read, I’ll look around the house and see what’s available. This isn’t always a bad strategy, but unless you own a library like the one from Beauty and the Beast, you probably don’t have a huge store of books at your disposal. Planning your reading will help you think of books beyond your limited collection.
3. You’ll Be a Better Steward of Your Reading Time
Often when we think about stewardship, we think about financial resources. But we forget that time is one of our greatest resources. (Not convinced? Let this post give you a little perspective.)
Truth is, there’s simply not enough time in this life to read all the books in the world. So choose your books wisely! Planning your reading will help.
4. You’ll Become a Better Writer
This, of course, is one of the biggest reasons why writers should read: the more (and better) books we read, the better writers we’ll become.
Don’t believe me? Let’s consult a few of the greats.
“[Reading] good writing . . . teaches the learning writer about style, graceful narration, plot development, the creation of believable characters, and truth-telling.”
“Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it.”
And just in case you’re still not convinced, don’t forget this fun fact: Jonathon Franzen learned to write by reading, not through an MFA program.
A Killer Reading Strategy that Will Make You a Better Writer
Convinced you need to plan your reading but not sure where to begin? Here’s a simple reading strategy to get you started.
Pick 24 books to read this year.
That’s two per month—a very doable goal.
Read widely in your genre.
As a writer, you should know the ins and outs of your chosen genre. Shawn Coyne, author of The Story Grid, says that every genre has conventions and obligatory scenes. If you don’t know and use them, your story won’t work. And even if you want write the next The Sound and the Fury, you should probably start by grasping the basics of your genre first.
Read widely outside your genre.
Who wants to read the same stuff all the time? Mix it up! If you write children’s books, read classic literature. If you write business books, read comic books. By reading a wide range of books, you’ll dig a deeper creative well to pull from.
Read old books as well as new ones.
I started alternating between old books and newer books after hearing this quote from C.S. Lewis:
“It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.”
It’s easy to get caught up in what’s hot or in at the time, but we cannot ignore the books that have stood the test of time.
Try not to read more than a few books at a time.
I typically try to keep it between two to four books, each in a different category (fiction, narrative nonfiction, business, etc.). Some days I find myself in the mood for a good story, other days for a solid nonfiction book. It’s good to have options—just not too many or you’ll never finish any of them.
The Best Time to Start Planning Your Reading
If you don’t consider yourself much of a planner, I get it. I HATE planning things. But mapping out my reading for the year has become one of my favorite annual traditions.
If you make your book list and plan your reading, I promise you’ll read more books, better books, and most importantly—you’ll be a better writer for it. And the best time to start planning your reading is right now.
What books are you reading right now? What books are you planning on reading in 2017? Let us know in the comments.
Take fifteen minutes to plan out your reading for the year. Remember to choose all different types of books—in your genre and outside your genre, old and new, fiction and nonfiction. Share your book list in the comments below, and let's all help each other develop some killer reading plans!