Creativity's Workshop

Taming and Training Your Creativity to Write Abundantly


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How Healthy is Your Reading Diet?

Someone heading to bed with a good book and a bowl of cereal

“Good Night” by Leo Hidalgo via Flickr

Last week I mentioned this quote by Ray Bradbury:

“Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.”

Now if you’re a writer it’s understandable that you must write (we covered the writing diet in last week’s post), but must you read?

Ray Bradbury and many other successful authors say you do. Why? Because the words you take in as you read affect the words you write.

The reading diet isn’t just about picking up a good book and flicking through the pages. Notice Bradbury said, “Read intensely.” What does that mean?

It means savouring what you read, chewing it over in the mind and noticing the details from word choice to character development. Do you see why it’s called a diet?

Today we’ll cover the three aspects of a reading diet:

  • How often we read,
  • How much we read, and
  • What kind of books we’re reading.

Remember, everyone is different. The books and reading methods that appeal to me might not appeal to you, and vice versa. I’ve tried to keep the suggestions here as general as possible so you can tailor them to your own personal tastes.

Shall we get started?

How Often?

So how often should you read? Well, remember your reading diet depends on your personal needs. Some writers read every morning before they write. Others read on the weekends or just before they go to bed.

Once again, regularity is key. It is very easy for the creative well to run dry if you are not topping it up with regular input.

How do you know if you’re not reading enough? Here are some signs:

  • Difficulty finding the word you’re looking for. Reading provides you with a continual stream of words and often enlarges your vocabulary. If the words you use are shrinking, then you need to top yourself up with some reading.
  • Reoccurring cliches in your writing. Reading widely shows you what has already been done in your genre and demonstrates the inventive and unique places stories can go.
  • Lack of new ideas. If your Creativity’s excitement and output are starting to wane, it’s likely you’re not providing enough ‘idea juice’ for her/him. Keep the creative will filled.

If any of the above signs are sounding familiar, then the solution is to increase your reading time.

How Much?

What about how much you read? To determine this you need to take into consideration how long you read for and how fast you read.

When it comes to reading intensely, you want to read less and read it slowly. Too often we find ourselves pulled into a good book, turning the pages faster and faster as the plot progresses. That’s great if the aim of the reading is to enjoy the story, but as a writer you need to see more than just the scenery whizzing by.

Sometimes all you need is a single paragraph and ten minutes to pick it apart. Read slowly, deliberately, questioning each word you come to. Why did the writer choose that word? How is the writer directing the reader’s attention? What is the writer building towards?

You may even choose to read the passage out loud, listening to the lilt of the words so you can absorb the music inherent in the sentences.

What Kind?

Now, what kind of books should you be reading? The choices before you are countless. Does it matter what you pick up to read? Well, if your purpose is the “read intensely” and slowly, then you want to make sure you’re reading the right stuff.

First and foremost you want to make sure you’re reading quality work. Think back to the diet analogy. Whole foods are recommended over fast food. Why? Because they provide your body with the high-quality fuel it needs to operate efficiently. So while your favourite comic book might have some great one liners, for this diet you want to be sinking your reading teeth into something more filling.

Now this doesn’t mean you should go out and find yourself a dry and dense tome of a book and spend years poring over every single sentence of it. Look for books you enjoy reading but books that will challenge you.

Find books that you can learn from, whether it be new subjects, new words, new genres, new writing forms or just new perspectives. But don’t think that means you can only grab the latest book hot off the presses. These are things that are new to you. There are plenty of classic books, reaching back hundreds of years, that contain fresh and interesting writing for you to experience.

So, to recap, the reading diet is as follows:

  • Read regularly.
  • Read slowly.
  • Read good quality books you enjoy and that will teach you something new.

Now it’s your turn. Tell me what’s on your reading list? What are your reading diet tips?