If you're reading, you're not writing

Face it. Reading gets in the way of writing. You may choose to think of it as whetting your appetite or even “research”, but if you are reading, you are not writing.

I know what they say about all writers needing to be good readers. That is one hundred percent true. But here is something even truer — all writers need to write. There are people who read a lot and don’t write at all. But there are no writers who do not write. If you are in the middle of a book that you “can’t put down” even as a blinking cursor waits for you on your word processor, you are in trouble.

We associate less procrastination-guilt with reading than we do to other activities because books are the closest thing to the world writers inhabit. When we read, we are essentially wandering around in the same worlds we want to create. So it seems like the same thing.

But it’s not. And you know it. You aren’t creating. You are spending time inside something that someone else created.

Even if what you are reading is not the kind of thing you write, it is still not writing. When it keeps you from your word processor, reading is no different from any of the things you do to squander time away.

Far too many writers speak fondly of books as the reason they are writers. But the reason I am writing this is not because they are wrong. I am writing this because at least something needs to be said about militant writing — where writing is the be-all and end-all of a writer’s lifestyle and nothing — not even reading — gets in the way.

Reading is not the enemy. But we should not, for one moment, think that it cannot be the enemy. Writing is many things to many people. But if you are a professional writer — someone whose life and living depends on them producing words every single day, you need to be able to see books as just another distraction.