Stephen King famously said, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” I have to admit, I struggle with the busyness of life to do both at the same time! Work takes up a huge chunk of the day, then of course I want to spend time with my family, time to cook meals and eat together, bedtime routine… So all in all, there isn’t much left by the time all that’s done. I know from my Twitter feed that most writers struggle with exactly the same problem. We’re all squishing our writing time in – it’s like precious gold, and you only find small nuggets amongst a lot of dross.
This being said, I’m a great believer in the phrase ‘You make time for what’s important to you.’ As much as life gets busy, there is always some space – however small- for doing what you love. I find I go through cycles of reading and writing, and this is how reading helps me.
Firstly, reading helps me ‘place’ what I’m trying to write. When I finished my first draft of ‘Bell Time’, a contemporary rom-com, I binge-read a couple of other contemporary rom-coms, so that I could see what was working, what was similar, and what was different. Reading Sophie Kinsella’s ‘I Owe You One’, Mhairi McFarlane’s ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ and Beth O’Leary’s ‘The Flatshare’ in quick succession really helped me to piece together the ‘feel’ of this genre at the moment. The kind of language, the ‘voice’, use of POV, and plot point markers – I definitely found rom-coms didn’t quite fit as easily into the structure models I had used before. Reading other people’s work doesn’t make me want to change stuff just to copy, but it does help me see my own work in a different perspective, and how readers will receive it compared to the other books they’ve enjoyed.
Secondly, reading inspires me. Since reading ‘The Hurting’ by Lucy Van Smit, I’ve been a bit obsessed with the idea of Wuthering Heights turned into a YA thriller (‘The Hurting’ was reviewed as a Nordic noir version of Wuthering Heights, which totally captured my imagination). This is my new idea I’m outlining and bashing out at the moment, but writing a thriller is new territory for me. Cue ‘TBR’ list of YA thrillers – any recommendations?
Thirdly, reading is just so therapeutic. I just feel so much better in myself when I can really relax and lose myself in the world of Non Pratt or Rainbow Rowell or (insert YA contemporary writer here). This gives me the ‘head space’ that I need sometimes to refresh, then go back to writing with a sense of renewal and energy.
So I’ll be honest: I don’t read every day, and I don’t write every day. But most days, I manage to do one of them. And I’m happy with that.