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Feed the Reader Within the Writer

May 14, 2014 by Fiction Editor Beth Hill
last modified May 14, 2014

Most visitors to The Editor’s Blog come for specifics on fiction writing, information for drafting and/or editing novel manuscripts. And so the articles on the blog often deal with specifics on craft.

Yet because writing is not only about rules and best practices, I also like to include articles to encourage writers and editors.

Today I want to remind you to feed the reader within. The reader within you. You spend hours upon hours with research and you write, rewrite, proofread, and edit day and night, sometimes around the clock and into the next day without a break. But are you remembering to feed yourself, to give yourself the nourishment you need to stay strong and alert at those tasks?

If you’ve gone more than a couple of weeks without reading for pleasure, pick up a book. Find a new novel from a favorite author or try an unfamiliar author. Whichever you choose, allow yourself to get lost in story and in the rhythms of good fiction.

Read a couple of mysteries without trying to figure out whodunit or how the author wove the plot threads together. Read a love story and allow yourself to cry. Read a horror or suspense novel and give in to the goose bumps.

Writers and editors who only work at the craft but don’t enjoy the offerings of that craft do not bring their best to their work. Yes, you can get by for a while; everyone can get by at their jobs. But when you’re not being fed, you’re definitely not able to do your best work.

Readers need to read. That’s true for writers and editors just as much as it is for anyone who slips into a fictional world for relief from stress and pressure and even from the monotony of repetition and habit in their lives. Life can be great—that doesn’t mean that relaxing with a book, diving into the lives of fascinating characters, can’t make it even better.

I know that I need to read. When I go too long without picking up a book—even when I’m editing every day—I get antsy. Or maybe just grouchy. I need my story fix.

Yet it’s not even just a fix that I need, as if I can get by on a book every now and then. I need a steady diet of fiction—I need story. I need to imagine. I need to explore and pretend and fantasize. I need to feed myself everything that good stories dish up—emotional upheaval and uncertainty, conflict, maybe even danger, adventure, and definitely the satisfaction of a solid resolution that neatly ties up dozens of story elements that have entertained me and held my attention for 400 pages.

If you’ve been working hard at a project—maybe even promising yourself that you’ll read something just as soon as you get through with this next section or problem—allow yourself the time to read and immerse yourself in someone else’s imagination.

Don’t keep putting it off.

Feed yourself great books that prove nutritious, that give you the stamina to keep working. Feed yourself something sweet, something that gets you excited about stories and what-ifs.

Ingest and digest food for the soul and mind and spirit. Food for dreaming. Food that will give you strength for the long haul.

Read, eating words and stories, to give your mind a break, to set it on a new path as a way to smash through blocks and problem areas. Read to remind yourself of the joy in fiction. Read because it gives you pleasure. Let reading both relax and energize you.

Take a new book—tonight or tomorrow or this weekend—and jump into its world, stretching your imagination as you become hero or sidekick or even villain. Use the mental stimulation and otherworldliness of unfamiliar places to draw you deep. Let a story you didn’t have to work on take over your thoughts so you can experience characters, their adventures, and their world from the inside, using your senses and emotions to project yourself into a life with no connections to your desk and computer and notes.

Fill yourself up with the good stuff so you can write and edit some good stuff of your own.

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My current not-so-guilty pleasure is Preston and Child novels; I don’t know how I never read them before. But now I’ve got a handful waiting for me. I hope you can find a new reading pleasure and make time to throw yourself into an unfamiliar and exhilarating world.

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Tags:     Posted in: A Writer's Life

10 Responses to “Feed the Reader Within the Writer”

  1. Donya Lynne says:

    I agree. I find that when I’m feeling stuck in a rut, if I read a good book, I’m unstuck by the time I finish. I just did that while working on my latest book. I found three books, one by Kyra Davis and two by Cecelia Tan, which not only to sink into reading for pleasure but also inspired me in such a way that I solved a few plot issues I was having with my latest WIP. So, yes…reading feeds writing.

    Thank you for a great post.

  2. Beth Mikell says:

    Thank you for such a great article. Even with reading, I find my mind racing as a writer, rather an enjoying the book as a reader. It’s nice to have gentle a reminder to enjoy what you read. I know I spend my days writing, rewriting, editing, and proofing until my eyes cross. Not only is this piece full of encouragement, but you also gave me new authors to enjoy, Preston and Child novels. Thank you again.

    • Beth, sometimes you have to read a couple of novels before your inner writer or editor is silenced, especially if you’ve been writing, editing, researching, or studying the craft for a long time without a reading break. Feed yourself a couple of books if you need to so you can relax with the stories.

      My pleasure for the article. Thank you for taking the time to let me know you enjoyed it.

  3. Frank says:

    I agree with the sage advice but for one problem: I constantly feel the inner-voice saying, …”jeez…I’m never gonna write something that will sustain like this.”

    I love reading, but it can be a confidence-basher, particularly if what you’re reading is really rather good. Having (slightly) given up on the idea of ever writing a novel I instead recently began a blog as a means of continued motivation to keep writing. Maybe this is a better suited direction for now.

    I really enjoy visiting this site; I probably don’t do so often enough.

    • Frank, I hope you don’t give up on your dream of writing novels. While I congratulate you on starting a blog, I can say that the two are very different types of writing. Don’t allow the skills of great writers to discourage you—they have their strengths and you have yours. You just may need to work more on those strengths. You may also need to do away with the weak places in your skill set.

      Your comment so touched me that I actually wrote an article in response. (It will go live today.) I hope it proves encouraging.

      I’m glad you enjoy the site. Come back any time.

  4. Frank says:

    Thank you Beth. I will no doubt revisit that post many times.

    Sometimes, an objective and reasoned analysis to help put things into perspective is what a creative pursuit really needs.

    Thanks for the encouragement.

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