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Backlist: Reading as immersion
Republishing thoughts on why writers should never feel guilty about reading
This was originally written and published on my blog in August, 2018. I wrote this several months after finishing my first draft of my first middle grade story. Since then, I’ve written three more complete novels and have two drafts in progress (all middle grade and YA). I’m still holding out hope for something to be published someday… and these thoughts still ring true for me.
This year (2018) when I set a reading goal on GoodReads*, I aimed lower than last year. I told myself it was going to be a year of more writing and less reading. I was going to discipline myself to read less because I was under the impression that it was somehow taking away from my creative productivity, that it was just for fun.
In 2017, I read sixty-six books, so for 2018, I set a goal of just fifty-five books.**
As July closed, I had read fifty-seven books already this year. Oops! So much for reading less! (insert shrugging girl emoji) I didn't intentionally blow my goal out of the water; there are just so many good books out there, and, well, I want to read them all!
And guess what, a couple of months ago, I stopped feeling guilty about all the reading I do. I stopped seeing reading as an antagonist to writing productivity. All it took was one piece of advice from one of my favorite writers, Jeanne Birdsall (author of The Penderwicks series), to convince me of this.
My academic background is in foreign languages, so I'm very aware of the importance of language immersion for successful acquisition. I studied abroad in Chile in college, and have first-hand experience of how critical immersion is for really being able to get a complete grasp on a language.
All that to preface why Ms. Birdsall's advice hit me like a ton of genius bricks. Her number one piece of advice for writers, when asked by Sarah Mackenzie on the beloved Read Aloud Revival podcast was this:
“...to just read voraciously. The written language, the way that you tell a story in written language, is different than oral language. Some things are longer, some things are shorter, there’s a different rhythm, there are different words you use; you have to learn that language before you can start creating in it, and the only way to do that is to read lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of books, and language will seep into you.
It’s almost like if you want to speak French, the easiest way is to go over to France and listen to everybody, but then the clue is, as you’re reading, reading, lots and lots and lots of books is to, at some point, start paying attention to the one you like the best, even if you’re reading the ones you’ll go back and re-read, and just by doing that, but then at some point, think, ‘Well, what is it that I like about these books? Why am I re-reading this book? Why did I read that other book only once? Why couldn’t I get past the first chapter of that other book?’ And, at that point you’ll already be making decisions about how you’re going to write. It’s a discipline, like anything else. Like music, like dance, like anything else. People think because they can speak they can write a book and that’s just not true. But, the good thing about my method is that you get to read lots of books.”
Ms. Birdsall's advice convinced me that not only is it okay to read voraciously if you want to be a writer, it's a requirement to do so to keep improving. How freeing!
Now I see reading as not only a pleasure (which it is), but I also see it as a vital part of my work as a writer.
In the last year and a half alone, I've read seventy YA novels, which I know has been great for immersing me more in the "language" I want to be writing, and hopefully, I'm a better writer for it. (It's also been really fun.)
On a slightly unrelated note, as of this July (2018), I have officially been writing on this blog, in one way or another, for 10 YEARS.***
So I just want to say a huge thank you to any of you who have been reading since the early Gidget Goes Home days (hi, Mom!) , and to the rest of you (and maybe you don't even know that that was the original name for my blog!), thank you for joining me along the way somewhere, and for still reading my words.
I may be writing less online now, but the truth is I'm writing more than ever, and feeling more like I'm doing what I was meant to do than ever before, too, and hopefully someday you'll get to read my words bound up in paper (wouldn't that be amazing??).
Until then, you'll find me with at least one, if not several, books on my person at all times. You never know when you'll have a minute to read!
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Plain and simple: Writers should be, above all else, readers.
*I still casually use GoodReads, but I’m more of a StoryGraph girl now. 😉
**These days I usually read 80-100 books a year which is a comfortable pace for me in the season that I’m in.
***It’s now been 14+ years of writing online (!!). As ever, I’m thankful for each of you who takes the time to read my words. 🥰