Monday, January 28, 2013

Reading and Writing: Finding the Balance

Hey all! Today I have the amazing C.M. Keller on MFB. Not only is she one of this month's amazing award sponsors, but she's a kick-ass writer. I hope you all enjoy her tips on how to balance your reading and writing lives. Take it away, Connie.



“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time 
(or the tools) to write.” 
Stephen King 

All writers have heard that quote or one like it. And we all know it’s true. But balancing the two is like herding cats. You can try, but you end up getting scratched. 

I know I tried. I’d begin writing and I get so involved with the story that I’d forget to read and I’d write and write until my creativity dried up and blew away. Then, I’d read until my eyes bled. I tried thrillers, devouring them (which helped me learn to craft tight plots) until I couldn’t stand another gun shot. So I focused on the classics (where I saw the power of understatement, metaphor, etc.) until I was ready to strangle yet another indecisive heroine. 

The only good thing was that when I finished the reading cycle, my creativity was recharged until I drained it dry. The cycle was not a good thing. Maybe a little OCD as well, but we won’t go there. 

I had to find a better, a more sane way of balancing my writer/reader issues. A way that would sustain me as a reader and a writer. I tried lots of things. They all failed. 

I’d like to say that I analyzed the situation and came up with a solution. But I found it by accident—I sort of fell into it. And it wasn’t until I realized the writing-reading was working, that I even wondered what I was doing differently. 

It started years ago, when a health problem made me commit to running, which I hate with a passion. So I bribed myself to run a treadmill. While I ran I could read “fun” books, thrillers, mysteries, and YA, but I could only read them when I ran. 

Then this fall, I decided that I’d devote all before-bedtime-reading to a classic or literary/upmarket novel. To make it even more fun, I asked/begged a writer friend to read the “classics” too—so we can exchange emails about what we’ve read. “Hey, did you finish chapter four last night? Did you notice how the author changed the mood, foreshadowing the end of the chapter?” 

The one final change I made was that any other free time belonged to writing. Even if a novel was calling out, “Read me, read me!” 

How did it work out? I’m reading more than I have in years. And writing…I finished a first draft in three months. (I’ve never written a novel in less than six months before.) 

So if you find yourself alternating between bleeding eyes and shriveled creativity, you could try what I’ve done. Either that, or give the Muse a call. I’ve tried, but I’m pretty sure she’s blocked my number. 



Thanks so much for this lovely post, Connie. I've been struggling with maintaining a sane balance, and now you made it sound so easy. :-)

So, lovely people, how do you strike a balance between reading and writing? Do you suck at it like me? 

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24 comments:

Camille Picott said...

Great post! I've struggled with the same issue you described, and stangely enough, I too have made excercise my reading time. :) Great minds think alike, I guess!

E.J. Wesley said...

It is such a challenge. Especially when I'm editing. It's like the last thing I want to do is read for fun during that time. (Just makes me think about my own work!) Great tips. :-)

Laura Marcella said...

I always read before I go to bed, while eating breakfast and lunch, and sometimes when I'm on the elliptical. It adds up to a satisfying amount of great reading each day!

Yvonnes Poetry Corner said...

Most enjoyable post, you wrote much sense which taught me a thing or two.

Yvonne.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

My reading is slow and in spurts and my writing only in bursts long enough to complete and edit a manuscript. Of course, my creativity is constant with my music.

Mrs. Jones said...

I think so many people struggle with this issue. Not only the issue of not having enough time, but deciding what to do with the little time you have!
I try very hard to fit writing and reading in to my schedule.
Usually i go in waves. For example, i may read 2-3 books for a few days, then write for a week or so. Then go back to reading more often than writing.
sometimes its a few days before the switch, sometimes its a few weeks, and sometimes i wont read a book until i finish my WIP, (even if its 2 months away)

Great post!!
-Theresa Jones

Al Diaz said...

This is an interesting suggestions. I have a hard time balancing anything. Usually jumping from one extreme to the other. I will give this a serious try.

Jolie du Pre said...

I read for a half hour every morning while I eat my breakfast. So reading is part of my daily schedule. That's how I do it in my busy life. (P.S. You hate to run, but I don't. I love to run! I run outdoors three miles a day, five days a week. When it's cold, I hit the gym.)

Karen Jones Gowen said...

Exactly why I set myself the challenge to read 100 books before writing my next novel! I felt like I needed to get in some high-powered reading before I could do any more fiction.

Em-Musing said...

Stephen King eeks out a time in the afternoon for just reading. He also takes naps. Me? I've dedicated Sunday mornings to reading. I also read in the loo, but I can only get a page or two in then.

Miranda Hardy said...

Great balance you were able to find. I go in spurts like you used to. I'm either reading a lot or writing. I may need to try this.

Beth said...

Sometimes, I won't let myself read until I've written X number of words or scenes, but if the book is really hard that can be difficult. I'm on a production schedule now, so when I get close to a deadline I finish the book I'm reading as quickly as possible and won't let myself start anything new until the writing project is complete. Motivation ;).

Lydia Kang said...

I googled, and I found this post. :)

I try to read in bed every night, which is a new thing in the last year. IT helps me finally get my TBR pile under control!

nutschell said...

great post! Lovely to meet you Connie. Finding a balance between the two really is tough, but it has to be done.
Nutschell
www.thewritingnut.com

Nicole said...

Cool idea with the bedtime reading...though I think I'd rather do genre than the classics. ;)

Fred said...

I usually read in between classes or at work when we're not busy...but for me, it's hard to find time for writing. XD

The Golden Eagle said...

Glad you could find a balance!

I'm trying not to suck at it so badly this year. I feel like I barely read anything in 2012.

Melissa said...

Great post. I save reading for times I'm too tired or too blocked to write. (And doctors waiting rooms, etc.) It works for me, and I usually get in at least a little reading most every day.

Cynthia said...

Thanks for hosting Connie, Misha.

Connie, that's wonderful you finished a draft in such a short amount of time. For many people, their first drafts take much longer than three months to put together.

I try to read whenever I can---sometimes it's my "break-time" treat from writing.

Nick Wilford said...

Sounds good to have some sort of system to it. I get annoyed if I have a day when I didn't have time to read - but on the whole I just read in bite-sized chunks, while cooking dinner etc. I've got used to doing it that way because I don't get large amounts of time to read.

Adina West said...

Wow! This is something I've always struggled with and you do make it sound simple. Hmmm, did you allocate time for the less upmarket books thought? When do you get to read your genre fiction?? :-)

What a great suggestion though Connie, and thanks for hosting her, Misha!

Ciara said...

I've struggled with this for a long time. As a matter of fact, I was reading a GREAT book and I had to put it aside to finish my edits. It stinks, but I can't wait to get back to it.

Bethie said...

I've struggled with this as well. Not a treadmill or gym kind of girl, but audiobooks while walking? Might be more inspiring than music. I will have to try it.

Connie Keller said...

Wow! All these comments are wonderful!! Thanks, everyone.