Only twenty percent of Americans regularly read for pleasure . That’s startling statistic if you’re a writer seeking an audience. It means, functionally, that your consumer market is a lot smaller than you might imagine; in a word: more competition and less opportunity. What’s even more troubling is that there is a negative trend in pleasure reading, with a smaller percentage of people participating every year. In the past 12 years alone, the number of daily readers has declined by a startling thirty percent, on average. Damn you Netflix!
So why do I bring this up? As a writer, should you abandon your hopes and dreams of literary stardom? Shall you break all the pens in your house, and resign yourself to a life of internet television and substance abuse? Of course not (or probably not. I haven’t started with the substance abuse at least, and nor should you). Quite the opposite, in fact. I bring this up because if you’re an aspiring writer, you better damn well be an avid reader.
There are plenty of reasons anyone should read, let alone writers: it helps prevent altzheimers , can assist in managing mood disorders , improves vocabulary and IQ [4, 5], and can even enhance empathy by refining your “theory of mind” . So we should be championing this pass time—partly for selfish purposes, granted, but also for the good of humanity! We also better be contributing to it by reading ourselves, on principle, for a hypothetical deity’s sake, if not for our betterment. Frankly, these days, in our internet culture of speaking and never listening, I don’t think enough writers are actually readers, and this troubles me.
If you’re trying to improve as a writer, consider how much you are reading. If it’s less than an hour a day, you may want to consider upping your dose. Reading alone, especially long-form fiction, is the single most powerful thing you can do for your writing. If you read less than thirty minutes a day, well… being a writer who doesn’t read frequently is like being a pastry chef who never eats pastries. You haven’t developed a pallet for good food. How do you even know your pastries are decent? Do you even know what they taste like to your customers? You probably don’t, frankly.
So, good writers read, and if you’re trying to improve, that’s where you should start. I know that in my quest to be a better writer, increasing my consumption of books has been the greatest proscription. But don’t take my word for it. In the words of the prolific Stephen King:
“If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
Well put, Mr. King… And now for the shameless plug: if you’re in the mood for some new reading material, perhaps you’ll check out some of mine here. If not, that’s perfectly fine, I understand; I’m wary of the internet too. In that case, go get yourself a proper book from a proper bookstore, while they’re still around.
Until next Wednesday,