The Rehabilitated Reader

I used to say I hated reading to anyone who would listen. Since I’m a writer, they of course didn’t understand– as they had every right to. Reading is an integral part of becoming a great writer. To not read and be a writer is like saying, “I’m going to be a gymnast but never stretch” or “I’m going to be a  neurosurgeon but never go to medical school.”

It’s not that I didn’t read. I read a LOT. As I was pursuing a career in the magazine industry, I eventually had subscriptions to over 20 magazines which I did, in fact, read each month and actually took notes on. I also read blogs, newspapers, articles– I read a lot.

But books? Not really. And honestly, it’s not that I didn’t like reading or had trouble with it. I just had some crazy defining moments that kind of squashed that spirit in me.

First, when I was in elementary school, a classmate who was peer editing my historical fiction piece that I wrote at age 11 turned me in to the teacher for plagiarism. We had just read the book Johnny Tremain (still one of my all time favorites), and this kid somehow thought I copied whole sections of the book when really, there was nothing at all copied. The story was very different. But this kid was CONVINCED. Fortunately, me teacher didn’t believe it. The short story later went on to win the Young Author Award landing me a spot at a super cool conference where I got to read my story out loud (which some parents seemed rather disturbed since I killed off my Main Character, but oh well), but after that, I tried to make it a point  not to read outside of school too much because I didn’t want people claiming I copied anyone. I mean, how can you plagiarize if you don’t read, right?

Then in high school, I was a part of the International Baccalaureate program, and on top of the ridiculous amounts of homework (so there wasn’t much free time to read, especially since I worked for the Florida Today semi-part time), there was one year where we literally had only one week to read each pretty thick/classic novels. That wouldn’t be so hard if I didn’t already have copious amounts of work to do, and no matter how hard I tried to get it done on time, come Friday afternoon, me teacher would reveal the ending just as I was about to read the last chapter.

Talk about enjoyment sucked out of reading.

OH and don’t even get me started in college. I tested out of Freshman English classes so I only needed to take one literary class. My advisor told me that “Modern Lit” was about books by authors who weren’t dead yet, and I was so on board to sign up. Turns out, I got stuck with a teacher from Russia so all the books were by Russians who weren’t dead.

But boy, did I wish I was. Man, I was so sick of the Kremlin by the time I got out of there.

Given, there was one Russian sci-fi book in the lot that made it to my favorite books of all time list (Omon Ra), but overwhelmingly, the class was a terrible joy suck as well.

And so, I didn’t really read.

Fortunately when I moved back to my hometown after graduation while working my first adult job as a social media specialist, I reconnected with a  high school friend who is super smart (seriously, she’s just about to get her CPA) and we found that we both had a mutual love of movies. We literally went nearly every weekend or at least a couple times a month to the theater to catch a new flick (ah, the joys of your first adult job and having cash). Well, when The Hunger Games came out, she got all excited and brought it up. When I mentioned I hadn’t even heard of it, let alone read the book, she stared blankly at me like I had five heads.

“I won’t let you go with me unless you read the book,” she said. “But seriously, it’s a YA and you’re used to reading fast (our shared IB past). You’ll be done in a couple of days.”

Afraid I’d lose my movie-going buddy, I rushed out and bought it. Just as she predicted, I finished that novel in like two days. By the time we made it to the theater, I had already read the second book and was looking to buy the third. Man, did I LOVE The Hunger Games.

And just like that, it was like my love for reading came back. When I finally got settled in my new home in North Carolina post-wedding and started working with my editor Katelyn, I caught the bug even more. Apparently good editors encourage writers to be good readers.

Now that I have a tablet, I can’t put books down. And just like my old magazine-studying days, I find myself looking into these books– not just for enjoyment– but for research, taking in the way authors phrase or describe things, looking for things I love or don’t love, relishing in those plot twists and constructed worlds you just wish were real.

Sure, I don’t love them all. While Divergent’s story is cool, I really didn’t connect with it at all. In fact, I think Tris tastes bile way too much and should probably get that checked out by a doctor. But I still have a sincere appreciation for it and enjoy delving into the character development, plot pacing, and more. And now that I’m halfway through the Under the Never Sky series, I feel like if I don’t get a couple of moments to read chapters before bed, my head will surly explode.

I…dare I say… LOVE reading.

Maybe you had bad experiences with reading growing up or just think you don’t have time. But reading is so very important, especially as a writer. Start small. Maybe read blogs (thanks for reading mine, by the way) or some short stories online. Then pick up a novel you’ve been wanting to see the movie for (seriously, it’s great motivation). Eventually you’ll be back to that childlike wonderment you thought you lost because, seriously, there are some great stories out there. You don’t know what you’re missing.

And if that doesn’t work, at least read my novels, because I’m sure you’ll like those ;-).

What are you all reading right now? Any writers out there who find reading helps them with their craft? COMMENT BELOW!


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