Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Writer's World - The Importance of Reading - Annie West

Welcome to my writer's world. My home is being gradually but inexorably taken over by books. Not just books I've read but books I want to read! Sound familiar? I know, some of you will already be shaking your heads over this crammed bookcase (the smallest in the house and one of the less full!). Ereader, I hear you saying. Well, maybe. But the fact remains I've got an enormous amount of reading to catch up on and it never ends.

Not that I'm complaining, mind. The reason I became a romance writer is that I was already an avid reader. What would life be without books? Reading is one of the great pleasures in my world. Reading makes me feel good!

But I've been thinking lately that reading is far more than that. It's actually an essential tool for a writer. Reading stimulates us, lets us rove the world of fictional characters and refresh ourselves with someone else's wonderful story. So often you hear writers talk of 'refilling the well' by taking time out to immerse themselves in a good book. Not because we want to copy a fantastic idea from someone else, but because that free time in their fictional world recharges our mental batteries and helps us get ready for re-entering our own.

Revisions and the finished product
In addition to the benefits of losing yourself in the enjoyment of a story, there's a lot to be said about the other sort of reading. Work reading. Usually it's me rereading what I've written and working out how it can be improved. Here's an example of what I mean. Though I reread my work on the computer I find the most benefit if I print a hard copy and read the whole thing with pen in hand (usually with a restorative coffee to help me along).

If I can have a bit of a break between finishing the draft and reading it - all the better. If there's a time lapse then I'm more likely to read what's actually there rather than what I think is there!

Lately I've been doing some other 'work' reading do. I've been reading some material written by other people - some in short contests and other longer pieces too. That's what inspired this post - thinking through the benefits of critiquing someone else's writing.

There's the obvious benefit that you feel you're helping another writer to get a better perspective on what they've done and some ways to make it shine. But there's also a personal benefit in critiquing. Seeing how another writer creates their story seems to get my own creative juices flowing. Reading a terrific piece of work makes me want to get back to my own project. For some reason too, it always seems easier to see how to improve the text when reading someone else's work rather than my own! I see writing habits I have too and resolve to focus on - perhaps the pacing of my current chapter, or the way I've portrayed a particular character, or the balance between dialogue and introspection.

Reading might be time apparently being indulgent rather than working. But for a writer, I'd say it's just about essential we keep up our reading - whether of someone else's finished story or works in progress that get our minds ticking over.

I remember the adage about never trusting the food of a skinny cook. I believe the same goes for writers. If we're not full to the brim with a love of reading, then why are we writing?

Do you read solely to relax, maybe for something to help you sleep? Or do you find reading also makes you feel refreshed? Does it ever change your outlook and make you think about things differently? What do you think are the benefits of reading?

Annie's thrilled to announce her next book is available to order.
DEFYING HER DESERT DUTY is scheduled for release in the UK in October and in Australia and New Zealand in November. You can snaffle a copy (free postage) from the Book Depository or from UK Amazon. Or go to Annie's website for more details.


  1. Hi Annie, I'm looking forward to the release of your latest book; two reasons, 1 you're one of my fave authors and 2, I love the Sheikh genre... it's so far removed from my life in Auckland lol.

    I too have book shelves filled with books I haven't read. My latest discovery was Faceless by Martina Cole. A work colleague had been telling me it was her favourite MC book (I hadn't read any) and that she had loaned it out and it'd never returned. I went home that night to continue sorting my spare room and hello! There it was. I read it and can tell you I couldn't put it down. I estimated I've had it for a couple of years haha... needless to say I've read it and sent it off to her... the gift that keeps giving.

    In answer to your question I read to relax. I've lived books all my life and was forever getting in trouble from my father because I would prefer to read than do chores. My early fave author to escape to was Enid Blyton, I'd dream of going to boarding school haha. I surround my kids with books but Miss 12 has had enough of them and isnt quite as passionate about books as I wish she was but the other morning when I went to chase her to get up for school I found her in bed reading a book... I couldnt believe it! It was like a Christmas Miracle hehe.

    I LOVE the Kindle. I dont have one yet but I have the Kindle app on my phone and my computer but the sight of a well organised bookcase still makes me smile :)))

    1. Tash, thanks for stopping by. It sounds like Martina Cole is an author I'd better keep my eyes open for. I'm sure your friend was pleased when her book turned up out of the blue!

      I think surrounding children with books is a fabulous idea. Once they learn to read they've got such a head start on life, and can dip into reading whenever they like. What a thrill to find your daughter reading again. My son doesn't read so much but every so often he immerses himself in something massive and 'heavy' and thoroughly enjoys himself.

      You're so right - something about a well organised bookcase makes me smile. Actually, any bookcase makes me smile. I don't think I'd like to live in a house without one - it wouldn't seem like home. Hm. Maybe I'd better schedule a tidy of the bookcases on my to do list...

      I'm so glad you're looking forward to 'Defying Her Desert Duty'. It's not your usual sheikh book, partly because most of it is set in France instead of a desert kingdom, but they get there in the end. And the love story is intense. Sigh.

  2. Annie said: remember the adage about never trusting the food of a skinny cook. I believe the same goes for writers. If we're not full to the brim with a love of reading, then why are we writing?

    Lynne says: Perfectly put!

    I thoroughly enjoyed this blog!

  3. Hi Lynne,

    I'm glad you agree. I'd worry about someone writing for a living who didn't actually like reading. And I love visiting people and seeing what they've got on their bookshelves - there's always something to find out and discuss, even when we have different reading tastes.

    Glad you enjoyed the blog.

  4. Annie, what a great blog. I 100% agree with you about writers reading. When I was first publishing, I didn't read nearly as much I used to in my unpublished days. There always seemed to be something else more important to do (if not more enjoyable!). I actually felt that my inspiration suffered a little and that really for a writer, nothing is more important than reading (well, maybe meeting deadline is up there too!). These days I make sure I put time aside to lose myself in someone else's stories and it really helps with my own work. My subconcious loves it when I'm head down in another person's book - gives the poor thing a chance to play without my prodding it, saying, "So, what happens next? Don't go quiet on me, you rotten thing!" Love the photo of the bookcase!

    1. Anna, I'm laughing at your tussle with your poor subconscious. I can imagine you there with a sharp stick, prodding!

      I still don't read as much as I used to before I was published, but then I write a lot more now too. Meeting those deadlines is important, as you say, but I've learnt that reading has to fit in there somewhere too. It's important for sustaining creativity. More than that, I think reading is an important ingredient for a happy life (for me at least). I feel so much more relaxed with a good book under my belt.

  5. I love reading and find I'm often inspired and "refreshed" after reading a good book!

    Great post and I loved the pic of the book case :)

    1. Joanne, to think I hesitated about including the bookcase pic! Then, of course, are the books that aren't on a case...

      Looks like there are several of us who feel refreshed and inspired after a good read. Isn't it a wonderful feeling?

  6. I love your picture of your bookcase. I do have bookcases full of book but there are also boxes and oh no more boxes.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts about reading. I couldn't go a day without at least an hour or two to read.