Now that I have an adult novel in the works (The Light Keeper’s Daughters – HarperCollins 2017), there is a new audience interested in my process and my road to “success” -- writers. Everyone seems to want to know the secret to landing that elusive agent and first novel contract, whether I get up at 5:00 am to write? (hell no…), if I outline or free flow the plot? (a little of both), how I stay inspired (that’s another blog post.)
I often end my sessions in classrooms with a question for the kids: if you want to be a good writer, what is the most important thing that you need to be doing? I get all kinds of answers, like keeping a journal, learning grammar, writing stories – but not the one I’m looking for. If it’s taking too long for the students to figure it out, I toss it to the teachers. I’m surprised how many don’t know.
Now I'm asking that same question of fellow writers. What is the most important thing you need to be doing in order to be a good writer? The answer is quite simple.
Oh sure, you need to write. But you could have the best writing routine; up at dawn, a thousand word goal met every day, plot outlined on flash cards arranged on your dining room table; follow the best writing blogs, master social media, attend conferences, go on retreats, and belong to critique groups, but you cannot call yourself a good writer if you’re not a reader. You cannot write well if you are not reading well. It’s that simple.
I’m not surprised when people tell me they don’t have time to read. I used to feel the same. Reading was not “productive” but rather an indulgence; an idling in a world where our lives are tightly scheduled and activities results-driven.
I now have a few days a week that I devote to my work as a writer. Lately, that work has been reading. I have learned to put aside any feelings of guilt about the groceries that need buying or the emails I should be answering. I have recognized that spending time pursing the art of reading is a necessary and integral part of advancing my art as a writer.
And when my husband finds me sitting in front of the fireplace, teacup in hand, lost in the pages of a book, I look at him and tell him quite simply, “I’m working.”