This question seems simple to answer – “you should read when you want to and write when you want to.” Great! Problem solved.
As writers, it is constantly reiterated the importance of nourishing our creativity with books written by other successful writers. It keeps our imagination from rotting and inspires us for our own writing. However, we are also encouraged to write every single day to keep the juices flowing and make it a habit to write (it’s so easy to avoid writing and get rusty). Obviously, it’s expected that both reading and writing be done on a daily basis, but as a busy bee that works two jobs and also tries to stay healthy with exercise, the chance of me finding time to do both in a single day seems iffy. On top of that, when you’re in the zone on either of these tasks, stopping simply because “you have to *insert read/write*” is just not cool.
I’m all about spontaneity to keep me from getting boring (to an extent, of course). I am also a lover of finishing tasks before beginning another because perfectionists just can’t move on until something is absolutely right. However, I tend to take things too far and easily forget that I must read or write depending on which one I’ve thrown myself into. I am a black hole, really. Or maybe I am like a kid alone in an amusement park with no self-control to know when to stop riding the rollercoaster.
When should you write?
I’ve come to figure out that I use reading as a form of procrastination. Sure, there is nothing wrong with not being able to put a book down (see Elena Ferrante’s book review). But there is something wrong when you can’t put the book down because you have self-doubt. I’ve written about this topic before, but it is something that doesn’t just goes away once you’ve dealt with it. Self-doubt lingers like the stench of burnt bread.
If you find yourself reading and reading with no end in sight, maybe you should stop and admit to yourself that you can also write great things. Practice makes perfect (sometimes) or at least lets you learn who you are as a writer.
There are also these rare moments when a piece of literature just sparks inspiration. You are reading furiously, intensely… intimately and you begin to wonder how you could use a similar voice for a short story or pick apart a scene for a poem. These moments are amazing, but sometimes they are fleeting that by the time you put your book down, they’ve vanished and you just don’t know what you were thinking.
If you find yourself with these magical thoughts, stop! If you’re anything like me, jotting down the ideas won’t cut it and you have to actually submerge yourself in your own creativity. Write like there’s no tomorrow. Write, write, write – don’t lose inspiration.
When should you read?
As I’ve said before, I’m a perfectionist who has a hard time stopping things without some form of closure i.e. finishing the task. I’ve tried to write through the dreaded Writer’s Block countless times until my eyelids drooped and my words were incoherent. I’ve struggled – like many of you – to really come up with something to write, but have failed repeatedly. It is the unfortunate journey of the writer: not everything you write is great.
If you find yourself in these situations repeatedly or that you’re actually struggling to finish something because every which way you phrase it, rearrange it, or describe it isn’t melding right, stop and read. They really don’t encourage reading as a key aspect to a writer’s life if it actually wasn’t useful. Maybe you haven’t given yourself enough reading time or material to nourish your creativity. Maybe you need to seek out different reading material and simply spend time in another writer’s world before you can complete your task. Reading is wonderful and a powerful tool to writers.
Reading is also something that should be done if you are trying to write about new topics. This may seem obvious, but I don’t know how many times I’ve met other writers who simply began a topic without actual knowledge of what they were trying to write. Find writers who have written on what you are interested in. Read other stories that are similar to your writing style, so that you get a general idea on how those writers have successfully written stories. These are our “Bibles,” our instruction manuals for how things get done. I’m not saying every published book is great, but if you really dig around, you’re bound to find a story that speaks to you and can help you out.
Ideally, as writers, we should be doing both as much as possible. Unfortunately, life demands that our attentions stay on other tasks (working and working because cash rules everything around me), so finding the time to do both is more difficult. Play around with a schedule to see what works best for your creative style. Read one day and write another. Take turns on a task (read a book, write a story).
Nevertheless, don’t let it stop you from reading/writing, if that’s what you need.
What are your thoughts for when you should read or write?
Images: Dustin Lee/Unsplash; Death to the Stock Photo; Green Chameleon, Cliff Johnson/Unsplash.