The Consequences of Not Reading

31 Aug

By Savannah J. Foley

~~~

Where writing is concerned, I didn’t make a good transition from teenager to adult. When I was in high school, I read two books a day and spent all evening entertaining myself with writing. After I graduated, the mix of a full-time job and occasional night classes left me with no access to free books, and little budget to purchase them. (True, I could have gotten a library pass, but for some reason public libraries freak me out. I know, it’s totally unbecoming a writer, but I can’t help it.)

As a result, I’ve read very few books over the past three years, but I didn’t understand the consequences of this until recently.

A few months ago, I was gifted with an e-reader (I blogged about it here). E-books are fairly cheap, and I thought that this was my opportunity to get back on the reading bandwagon, but I slacked off. Then, a few weeks ago, I had to fly to New York for a family reunion, and brought my trusty Nook along with me so I could read on the plane. There, with a newly-purchased, digital copy of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (which I highly recommend), I came to a horrifying realization: I had forgotten how to teleport.

Words on the virtual page weren’t translating directly into images. I wasn’t immersing in the world, or story. Instead, I was very conscious of how individual words looked, and kept getting distracted by noises around me, or the feel of my seatbelt or armrest. I thought, ‘this must be how people who don’t like to read feel!’ I could never understand before why people in my English classes would complain about hating to read. Not being able to mentally teleport into the book was surprisingly un-fun. I just wasn’t getting into it.

So, I buckled down and made myself keep reading. I was so thankful when my mental teleportation device came back. I resolved that whatever else, I must keep reading.

Since then, I’ve kept my Nook with me everywhere. I read on my lunchbreak, at stoplights, while cooking dinner, etc. I got through the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, and read Stephen King’s It, which was a life-long goal of mine.

And I noticed a change in my mental behavior. I found myself daydreaming more, going off in tangents inside my head that had to do with stories. I composed poetry to myself as I was going to sleep. When I sat down to write, I felt like I had ideas in me ready to pluck, instead of being an empty container. In short, my creative juices were flowing again.

This was a hard-learned lesson, but a valuable one: As a writer, you MUST keep reading in order to stay inspired. Your mind is like a lake; you must have inspiration flowing through in order to not go stagnant.

I thought I could survive as a writer without reading, but I was wrong. Don’t make my same mistake.

~~~

“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” – Joseph Addison

~~~

Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Antebellum (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress. She has written five novels, owns her own freelance writing company, and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency. Antebellum is currently out on submissions. Her website is www.savannahjfoley.com, but she updates more frequently on her livejournal.

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39 Responses to “The Consequences of Not Reading”

  1. Cassie August 31, 2010 at 1:47 AM #

    This post definitely made me think. What with it being summer and all, I really haven’t been reading as much as I used to during the school year…which is pretty much the opposite of what happened to you. But I just figured my lack of desire to read was just due to the season. Then after you mentioned how your whole mental demeanor changed, I realized that I may be suffering from this ailment, too! I recently went to the beach with my family and brought The Great Gatsby (one of my favorite books) with me…and found I couldn’t get into it like I used to. And it’s taken me forever to write – as of late I’ve just been re-reading my old stuff or staring angrily at a blank page. So thank you for posting this; I now see the error of my ways =] And now, I’m off to steal some books from my grandpa’s library!

    • svonnah August 31, 2010 at 7:59 AM #

      Good, I’m glad you were able to figure out what’s been ailing you. Happy writing!

  2. lepipette August 31, 2010 at 1:47 AM #

    I agree completely! And am definitely suffering the same thing right now.

    Though, I’ve also been trying to make myself read too many literary pieces – I’ve gotten so immersed in school books, and ‘worthwhile’ reading, that I’ve completely misplaced the fun of getting involved with something that’s a story. Just a story. Just for the imagination, not the mentality.

    It’s awful.
    Sigh.

    • svonnah August 31, 2010 at 7:59 AM #

      That’s another good point; you have to have a little fun with your reading otherwise you might dread doing it 😦

  3. Di W. August 31, 2010 at 2:17 AM #

    OMG I completely understand the feeling!
    About three months ago, I was in exactly the same position: hyper-aware of random words and certain turn of phrases (and sometimes even editing them in my head! sacrilege!!), getting distracted by every tiny thing, like a passing dragonfly or even the font size / typeface, and worse, falling asleep in the middle of chapters! I thought perhaps whichever book I was reading at the time wasn’t interesting enough, so I’d abandon it and start another book. Thing was, the same thing happened again!
    I used to read a minimum of 10 books a week, so obviously I felt very out of sorts.
    Then I just buckled down and forced myself to finish book after book. It took me something like a whole month to finish that first book. And then 2 weeks to finish the next book. But slowly, I was re-learning how to enjoy books, and more importantly, how to step into the world the author has built and grow attached to the characters.
    I’ve been reading up a storm again. I just bought 15 books online 2 weeks ago (including Mockingjay! oh, and You Wish!) and I only have 5 more to go. I have more friends than I can carry in my heart and more worlds than I can fit in my head. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
    So here’s to finding our reading mojo back, Savannah! *clinks imaginary champagne flutes*

    p/s: Have you read anything by Ayn Rand? I loved Fountainhead, but Anthem remains my favourite of hers!

    • svonnah August 31, 2010 at 8:01 AM #

      *clink!* No, I haven’t confronted Ms. Rand yet… I do intend to read both one day but just… haven’t gotten around to it *sigh*. I really want to see what all the fuss is about, and why people hate her so much.

  4. Ereza August 31, 2010 at 4:26 AM #

    I had a similar experience with not reading for a while – mostly due to the stress of final highschool exams and other things that happened that year. Had a serious reading slump for a year and 6 months. It scared me that I hadn’t been immersed in another world through words for so long – and that I might not fully experience it again. Though, its been getting better the last few months – I’ve replaced tv shows with books 🙂 Reading used to be my whole world – it would stabilise my perspective of things and now I’m between worlds lol.

    Even my friends that aren’t writers complain they haven’t read anything for fun since making the transition to university.

    • svonnah August 31, 2010 at 8:02 AM #

      I know that feeling of being between worlds. I hope you and I both find our way back firmly into the reading one.

  5. Theresa Milstein August 31, 2010 at 8:45 AM #

    I can relate to this post. As a child and teen, I was a voracious reader. All my life, bookstores are my favorite places to go. But graduate school, with its emphasis on nonfiction and my assignments to read many books a week, burned me out. I had my first child around that time, and hardly read for years. When I began reading longer books to my son, it got me back in the habit. It’s probably no coincidence that I didn’t decide to write seriously until I rediscovered my love of books.

    • Savannah J. Foley August 31, 2010 at 9:18 AM #

      I’m glad you’re back on the reading train 🙂

  6. Jill Jones August 31, 2010 at 9:13 AM #

    I just read StephenKing’s book, On Writing. He says that in order to be an excellent writer, you must read. And you must do both every day. Great book, if you haven’t read it.

    • Savannah J. Foley September 2, 2010 at 9:47 AM #

      I was lucky enough to have read that in high school… a lot of what he said has stuck with me over the years. It is definitely a must-read.

  7. Brittany Landgrebe August 31, 2010 at 9:20 AM #

    I sometimes fall into the trap of not reading as much as I should. I have ADHD, so sometimes I can’t concentrate on anything – reading or writing. But I try to keep up with it!

    I take a book with me everywhere, but I’m considering getting an eReader too – lighter, and more choices. Problem is, I LURV hardcopy books! If I could get a discount on an eCopy because I bought a hardcopy, I would become so much more poor from books, lol.

    Still debating. I do really need to read more, and an eReader would probably help me with the crits I need to do but HATE reading on the computer 😛

    ^_^

    • svonnah August 31, 2010 at 9:22 AM #

      I actually wrote an article yesterday about how I feel about my e-reader now that I’ve had it for a few months (spoilers: I love it!). I take my e-reader everywhere, and it has really helped me read more.

      • Brittany Landgrebe August 31, 2010 at 9:26 AM #

        LOL! Can’t wait to read the article, I’d love to flash it in my husbands face to prove I must have. 😛

  8. Vanessa August 31, 2010 at 11:10 AM #

    Great article Sav! Whenever I find myself starving for inspiration, I always pick up a book!

  9. Marina August 31, 2010 at 12:53 PM #

    This is a problem I’m facing right now. I’ve haven’t been reading consistently at all. During school it was because I had to much reading to do for classes, and literally didn’t have the energy to look at any more pages with words on them. And when I tried to read during the summer I couldn’t focus on the book, at all, my attention wonders and I constantly find distractions. I think I maybe read two or three books this summer. Which is shameful since I haven’t done much of anything else. 😦 I don’t know how to make myself snap back to my old “eat” books for breakfast, lunch, and dinner mode.

    • svonnah September 1, 2010 at 12:17 AM #

      Plain, hard, forcing yourself to do it. Just dedicate some time and don’t get up until you’ve teleported.

  10. Jules August 31, 2010 at 2:04 PM #

    I loved this post! And I completely agree. Since I’ve been focusing on my writing, I’ve been reading and re-reading like crazy. Now, I can’t imagine a day without reading something. And I do find time, even if it’s when I blow my hair dry. 🙂

    I really do believe there is a link between my reading and my ability to sit down at a computer and effortlessly disappear into a fantasy world. And let’s just say, I’d be an unhappy person without a daily dose of both. 🙂

    • svonnah September 1, 2010 at 12:18 AM #

      Remembering how to teleport did trigger my memory of how to teleport myself while writing. I don’t blow my hair dry usually, but the next time I do I’ll try to sneak some reading in, thanks!

  11. Kat Zhang August 31, 2010 at 2:29 PM #

    Reading a really great book always gets me all hyped up and eager to write!

  12. Susan August 31, 2010 at 4:28 PM #

    I’ve (sort of) done the same thing recently! Except mine was that, in the three (!!) years since I entered college, I’ve not read for pleasure. I just haven’t. Reading textbooks and disgustingly dull books for class sucked the joy of reading from my life, and during vacations I was so busy with jobs and catching up with old friends I didn’t find time to go to the public library.

    Huge mistake.

    This past summer, I found myself realizing how long it had been since I read a fiction novel when my sisters kept talking about books they’d been reading to potentially put in their classrooms and I had nothing to contribute. It was heartbreaking.

    Since then, I’ve read at least 5 books in the past two months (mildly depressingly small amount, but hey, textbooks do still need to take some sort of rank in the scheme of things), and I’ve found the same thing happening! I’m dreaming up new characters more often, and I get the urge to write much, much more than I had in ages. Granted, the fines that keep racking up on my library card are a little devastating, but I will take them over my non-reading state any day!

    • Savannah J. Foley August 31, 2010 at 4:32 PM #

      Ugh, I hate that feeling of knowing you should be right there with them but having nothing to say. I’m so glad that you’re reading again and you’ve got new ideas coming to you!

  13. Gabriela Da Silva August 31, 2010 at 7:21 PM #

    My reason for not reading as much as I should is, ironically, choosing to take English Lit. at university.

    First of all, there was too much to read. One-long-novel each week + several poems + articles on criticism + history books + research for essays.
    When I got home, the last thing I wanted was a book. I’d rather get the computer or the DS and rest away.

    Then, some of the books we had to read for school… well, since I loved Savannah’s wording, made me forget how to teleport.
    Yeah, it was wonderful! I read and suddenly I wasn’t in this world anymore. I was there in Middle Earth, or King Arthur’s court, or Someone Else’s earth. Good times.

    But in univeristy, for each wonderful book that would just suck me in, I had two Tristam Shandys, or Madame Bouvary. Not saying those are bad books – they are both incredibly well-written… but I just couldn’t like them. They bored me or repelled me.

    And after a while, I kinda forgot how nice reading can be. I’m trying my best now, and I’ve read so much more this year… I’ve found that the key is (duuuh) reading stuff I like, not stuff I’m “supposed” to read 🙂

    • svonnah September 1, 2010 at 12:19 AM #

      Ugh, Madame Bouvary. I tried to read it once because I’d seen a non-fiction book called Madame Bouvary’s Ovaries, and I wanted to know what all that was about, lol.

      • Gabriela Da Silva September 1, 2010 at 5:13 PM #

        OH YES someone else who doesn’t like it!! At school it was pretty much a sin not to adore it. I get that it’s well-written, but…. seriously? Ugh.

  14. priscillashay August 31, 2010 at 9:34 PM #

    the quote at the end is kind of like what my playwriting prof said today. He said that he thinks about writing as a sport. If you think about writing it doesn’t get you anywhere. You need to actually write and keep writing in order to improve and be able to say you’re a writer.

    I guess it’s kind of the same with reading 🙂

    • svonnah September 1, 2010 at 12:20 AM #

      I saw someone on Oprah once say ‘A writer is someone who has written TODAY’ I alternatively love and hate that saying, depending on if I’ve written that day or not, lol.

      • priscillashay September 1, 2010 at 12:41 AM #

        lol well…then the prof also went on to say..but I hate people telling me to write. If I don’t want to write you can’t make me.

        • svonnah September 1, 2010 at 8:41 AM #

          “Neither God nor man is going to tell me what to write!”

  15. Sam at Read Sam, Read August 31, 2010 at 9:40 PM #

    Awesome post and this does bring up a interesting idea – people who don’t read often don’t have that thing where you click, where everything around you just falls away and the only action is that which is happening in the book. I’ve had little reading ‘slumps’, but never anything like three years of not reading much. Yay for getting back on the bandwagon! Book inspire you, especially as a writer. I could never get away from them. 🙂

    • svonnah September 1, 2010 at 12:20 AM #

      That’s what I thought too, and then life caught up to me. Sigh. I’ll try not to forget the lesson I learned.

  16. Caitlin September 1, 2010 at 1:06 AM #

    I barely have time to read for fun (not class) during the semester, but I’ve always made time during breaks to read for pleasure, and I try to excnahge sleep for reading blogs like this and FP stories I’ve followed forever when I can. Something that might help all of you who’ve had trouble visualizing is to mix up your genre a little.

    I try to read a few comic books every quarter because I love them and because they give you some of the visuals while still making you fill in the spaces between yourself. If you want to try a comic book and aren’t sure where to start Maus by Art Spieglman is universally regarded as awesome and the MG Smile by Raina Telgeleier is delightful as well (there are a ton of excellent comic books but these are pretty universally enjoyed.)

    I also love love love non-fiction and try to trade off every other book Fiction/non-fiction when I can. This might not help with visualizing or anything but it adds a ton of variety to what I read and increases my enjoyment.

    • Savannah J. Foley September 1, 2010 at 5:03 PM #

      I’m trying to get more into non-fiction, but I’ve never gotten into comics. I can’t follow what’s happening, and the panels confuse me 😦

      • Caitlin September 1, 2010 at 11:02 PM #

        I’ve always been a visual learner, so maybe comics come more easily to me? That being said, I’d like to know which ones you’ve tried to read if possible because some comics are easier to follow than others. It’s kind of like crossword puzzles, some comics are Monday puzzles that anyone could do, some are Wednesdays that get easier with background in solving other puzzles, and some are Mondays and thus crazy.

        What kind of non-fiction have you been trying to read/do you prefer? I might be able to make some recommendations (I read a wider variety of non-fiction than fiction.)

        Also Kristen Lamb totally talked about why writers should read at her blog as well: http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/

        I thought it was kind of awesome to read two articles on basically the same topic, but with such different takes on why. I liked how you mentioned not being able to visualize as well and being stuck in the “real world” when out of reading practice. It was very Savannah of you :-).

        • Savannah J. Foley September 2, 2010 at 9:46 AM #

          Lol yeah, I get stuck in my head a lot.

          I’m a visual learner as well, but I guess I’m the type that needs to take it into my brain and rearrange it there… what I love about reading is we get a general description but it’s up to me to fill in the details. I do read a lot of internet comics, like daily comic strips, but comic books themselves just confuse me.

          I really like to read autobiographies; I learn so much from them!

  17. e6n1 September 1, 2010 at 4:26 AM #

    A good writer is a good reader. Really no two ways about it.

  18. Savannah J. Foley September 1, 2010 at 5:03 PM #

    I agree.

  19. Lea September 12, 2010 at 9:45 PM #

    I know that it’s been a while since this post was written, but as I’m catching up on all the LTWF posts that I’ve missed over the last few weeks, I find that I’m finally – finally! – motivated to reply to a post.

    Really, I just want to say that I completely agree. I spent my four undergrad years only reading fiction for fun over the summer, because during the school year, I only read for school. Now, with my grad program, I commute – that is, I spend a half an hour on a subway instead of fifteen minutes driving. Though I hate the commute, I do love the time I get to spend reading.

    Just a thought, though, for your situation – it might have been the book you chose to get back into the swing of things. When I started The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, I was heading into my fourth week of an internship. The internship came with a 45-minute train drive of a commute, and I always read. But even I, with all the reading I had done, had some trouble starting Larsson’s book. It is a tough book to get into. So you’re forgiven. [: And at least you’re back.

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