“I can’t imagine anyone becoming a writer who wasn’t a voracious reader as an adolescent.”—Paul Auster, The Paris Review Interviews, Vol. IV
I mean, of course. In order to write well, you need to read well, and in order to read well, you must read. A lot.
“You should read the entire canon of literature that precedes you, back to the Greeks, up to the current issue of The Paris Review,” William Kennedy said in The New York Times back in 1990. But that seems a pretty tall order while dashing out a first draft during a one-month marathon. Maybe we can just agree that you shouldn’t skimp on reading while you’re writing your novel.
Why? Because reading refills the well. It replenishes you. Reading primes your brain with words, sure—but also style, and syntax, and clever approaches to scene and story. The more you read, the more models you have arrayed in your head to help orient you when considering your own work. And keeping up with your reading reminds you of why you are undertaking NaNoWriMo in the first place: You love to read. (You may also love to write, and you may love storytelling, but I’d be willing to wager real money that a love of reading came first.)
When writing a new project, Ursula K. Le Guin read only books that were unlike the work at hand—so only nonfiction and poetry while writing a novel, for example. She was concerned that someone else’s strong style might affect her own. On the other hand, Ray Bradbury advocated taking fifteen to twenty minutes every night to read a poem, a short story, and a short essay. The first keeps your ear alive to the lyric possibilities of a few well-chosen words and how, strangely enough, less can suggest so much more. The second provides you a complete tale, start to finish, and keeps your head in the game of fiction. And the third forces you to consider ideas and viewpoints you might never have encountered otherwise, and thus strengthens a sort of intellectual empathy.
In the end, it doesn’t matter what you choose to read, only that you read something. That way, when you write, your subconscious will make that small shift from being in the midst of books and writing as a reader, to creating one among many as a writer. Which, of course, is the ultimate goal.
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