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My father died over twenty years ago. One of my strongest memories of him is of him reading.

Writers Read: You Should Read More. Here's How

He was a surgeon and a teacher. Most nights, after dinner, he would sit down at the end of the table with a stack of medical journals on his right. He would then read through them one at a time. When he finished one, he would stack it on his left.

He was a brilliant man who invented surgical techniques, wrote articles, and published a few books; yet still, every night he was reading. As writers we spend so much time with words, we forget how important it is that we are also reading and learning. The truth is, we writers must be readers, too — writers read.

My Excuses Aren’t Helpful

I don’t read as much as I should. I can offer up a thousand excuses to you: “I’ve got five kids,” or “I work a full-time job,” or “I have to finish my next novel,” or “by the end of the day I’m too tired to read.”

But all those excuses fall away when I think of my dad, who worked at the hospital training students and seeing patients from sun up to sun down, and still spent hours most nights reading through journals.

Then I think, “Who exactly am I making these excuses to? The writer police?” The excuses I make are for me.

No one else knows or cares how much I read or don’t read. I use excuses to justify not being the type of writer I want to be.

So I do my best (and often fail) to put the excuses aside, remind myself that reading is important, and give myself grace when I can’t reach my goals.

How Much Should I Read?

There was a season in my life when I tried to keep up with my father’s pace, but I don’t have the same mind he did; so I’ve set goals for myself. I try to read for at least thirty minutes to an hour every night.

Sometimes I get more time to read. Then other nights (like last night, when I was knee-deep in finishing a chapter that I just couldn’t quit) I only last a few minutes before falling asleep. Usually, I can get through one or two books a month. If a book is really long, it may take two months on its own.

This is nowhere near enough reading to keep up with what is happening in the publishing industry and in the genres I write it. In the past, I would feel bad about that. I’ve come to terms with the fact that it is all I can give for now. Yes, writers read, but we can also set achievable goals for ourselves.

If you are like me and writing is your side-hustle, it’s important you set goals, try to meet them, and then forgive yourself when you can’t. Burnout comes when we beat down the fire in our guts with the wet blanket of self-doubt and self-imposed shame.

Try, then give yourself a trophy for trying, put it on the mantle of honor in your mind in celebration, and come back to try again tomorrow. Sometimes, that’s all we can give, and we need to be okay with that.

What Should I Read?

I would like to vary my reading between fiction and tradecraft. I’d like to say I’m disciplined enough to read a book about publishing and then a book in the genre I write in, but when it comes to books I’m like a little kid in a toy store.

Everything looks so amazing, I can’t help but grab at the next one I see. I find my reading drifting all over the map.

If you’d like to strategize your reading, this is an amazing way to plan out your year of books. But remember, any reading is better than no reading. If you’ve picked up a book and are sticking with it, that’s a win right there.

What About You?

Reading is an important part of my author life. It brings me in contact with amazing books that shape my stories and my approach to writing and publishing. But what about you? How important is reading to your evolution as a writer?

Writers read. What’s your reading habit? Let us know in the comments.

PRACTICE

Spend fifteen minutes today writing about reading. If you write fiction, tackle a short story about a character who is trying to read but can’t find the time. If you are a nonfiction writer, sell us on why writing is important or a waste of time.

Once you are done, post your work in the comments below. Remember to read your fellow writers’ pieces as well and leave feedback!

Jeff Elkins
Jeff Elkins
Jeff Elkins is a writer who lives Baltimore with his wife and five kids. If you enjoy his writing, he'd be honored if you would subscribe to his free monthly newsletter. All subscribers receive a free copy of Jeff's urban fantasy novella "The Window Washing Boy."
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