In his essay, Why Literature, Mario Vargas Llosa talks about how it’s a bit disgusting that reading is regarded as an indulgent pass-time. Literature is important, says Llosa, not just as a means of escape or relaxation (though these are still some of the many great functions of reading), but as a tool which promotes an engaged and lively society. And for writers, reading is especially important – how can we expect to be great writers if we aren’t also great readers?
As at the start of every year, there’s been a lot of goal-setting happening over the last few days. My online writing group has seen everyone’s goals updated, and one person’s goals in particular really interested me. It involved adding more structure to their writing day – something I’m always trying to do. I was inspired by the fact that a full writing day for them involved three hours of reading and four hours of writing on any given day. This struck me as similar to the “Writer’s Diet” (which I saw attributed to John Birmingham, but now can’t find anywhere) – this involved four hours’ reading and four hours’ writing daily. Ambitious, yes, but a totally worthy goal. I’m not saying that to be a good writer you need to read for x hours, and write for x hours, or you’re falling short. I’m just saying that for me, and for a lot of people I know, these kind of goals usually result in tangible improvements in our work.
So part of my writing goal this year is to make reading a priority again. Toward the end of 2012 it became something I did in spare time, on public transport or lunch breaks, or to unwind before bed. While all these things are still optional and will probably still be good reading time for me, I’m making reading an important part of my writing day.
Having read about 60 pages this morning in two hours (slow reader, yes), 100+ Books seems more achievable than ever, my “to be read” pile is cowering in terror, and I will be the most informed writer I can possibly be. Without understanding writing from both perspectives (reader and writer), I can hardly expect to get any better.