Is it Possible to Read Too Much as a Writer?

Last year, I read 167 books according to Goodreads. Granted, this is a mixture of everything under the publishing sun: adult fiction, YA, MG, graphic novels, and, yes, even picture books. My job at the library has definitely broadened my reading sphere, for which I’m super grateful. (I never knew picture books could be so extensive—and gorgeous! When I was a little, I feel like we had two options: Dr. Seuss and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. But that’s beside the point.)

I read a lot, and lately I’ve wondered if I read too much.

Is that even possible? (Especially for a writer.)

I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not. I don’t think this question has a simple answer, as it depends on the writer’s life: how much free time they have, their access to books, how reading affects them, their writing goals etc. If, for instance, you are on a serious deadline, you probably need to put writing ahead of reading in order to meet that. In contrast, if you’re a new writer, it’s recommended you spend more time reading in order to understand storytelling, the market’s needs, etc. As Stephen King famously said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or tools) to write. Simple as that.”

But what happens when you spend all your time reading and not writing?

When I look back on 2018, I know I read a lot more than I wrote, which is fine. Between starting two new jobs and having to move, writing often felt like too much. But I could handle reading. It was my reprieve from everything else. Writing usually is as well, but almost every time I sat down to write, I felt way too weighed down by everything else. Now that I’m more adjusted to my new life, though, I feel a bit burnt out on reading—and yet, I’ve struggled to tune down my reading time to make more room for writing. Why? Maybe I got used to reading more and writing less, and now I have to readjust again. Who knows. One thing that’s helped me is taking my laptop to work and writing during my lunch break; then, when I come home, reading. It’s still a lot more reading time and less writing time, but I’m hoping the slow adjustment helps my writer’s brain turn back on.

It’s such an isolating feeling watching your fellow writers crank out chapter after chapter when you’re only reading them. But reading is definitely good for writers too. That being said, I have a goal of reading less this year. I spent so little time writing I feel like I need to re-fill that well in my life. So far, writing during my lunch breaks has helped me write more than when I was trying to sit down at home. Even if it’s only a couple hundred words a week, it’s enough. I can see my word count moving again, and I can feel myself getting into the motion of writing more. I’m being more critical about the books I take home, and putting down ones that I don’t want to finish (instead of forcing myself through them).

In the end, I don’t think I spent too much time reading this year, because of my circumstances. It was right for me at the time. But I definitely can see how reading can take over a writer’s life if they aren’t careful. (I mean, most of us started writing out of a love for reading, right?)

In the end, I think a writer can spend too much time reading. But they can also spend too much time writing, or querying, or editing, etc. It’s all about balance and figuring out what works for you.

So what do you think? Can a writer spend too much time reading?


P.S. I’m blogging again. Thanks for your patience! To be honest, I have a very small goal of posting once a month (on the first Saturday), but I hope you enjoy them regardless!

P.P.S I’m also posting TAKE ME TOMORROW on Wattpad again, with the plan to follow up with the sequel. I plan on blogging about the decision, but you can read more about that on Wattpad by clicking here. A new chapter goes up every Saturday! I hope you’ll stop by and support me.

15 thoughts on “Is it Possible to Read Too Much as a Writer?

  1. I had so many inspirations last year, but I was dedicating so much of my time and energy to certain people and activities, I wrote nothing of any consequence. I always read. I believe you are right that at least in part we write out of a love for reading. So here’s an idea I’ve been thinking about: because sometimes it’s hard to want to sit down at my desk (where my laptop resides and sometimes laments from neglect) , so pack it up, and go to different locations and write, random places. What do you think?

    1. I think that’s an awesome idea! I used to write in coffee houses all the time (and the library before I worked in it), and I always found a fresh sense of place helped me concentrate on writing rather than, say, the laundry. (There is always some house chore to be done, right?)

  2. Reading is learning which could lead to inspirational writing. Even non-reading activities like taking a stroll downtown or at the park or even watch a movie or the news on TV could draw inspirational writing. An idea could turn into a story plot ,etc. Personally, i do not count how many books I have had read in my lifetime. I’d go with the flow. Happy New Year to you!

  3. On one level, I don’t read as much as I’ve read in the past. One of the reasons is that I used to be able to read for an hour or two before bed time. Now, I can barely make it 15 minutes before my eyelids start drooping.

    On another level, I know that reading provides me with a crutch — a place to go when I’m struggling with writing, which I have done a lot of in the last few years. Particularly on weekends, I read more during the day when I really should be writing. But it’s easier to read than it is to write.

  4. I think “reading too much” is a different problem from “writing too little” even if it contributes.
    I wrote on my lunch breaks for a decade. It’s effective.

  5. Reading, to me, is a way of “refilling the well.” Especially when I am between projects.

    What I felt like was taking too much time was video games. I got into Dragon Age at the start of school in 2017 and it sucked me in completely. I stopped even trying to write that November, and every inch of my writing mind was jammed until the middle of May 2018. I was afraid that my writing career was over!

    But guess what? At the end of May, I started a novella that wasn’t Dragon Age fan fiction but inspired by the situations in the games. I’m about to finish a second, linked novella and have hopes for a third. Between them all, it should be about 90,000 words — and that’s a novel!

    I would urge you not to write more because you feel guilty. You won’t create your best work. (Unless you have a contractual obligation — that’s different.) Look at some of the books that are absorbing you. See what elements you can bring into a new project. Reading time or video game time doesn’t have to be time wasted.

  6. I think it’s all about balance. I do agree with Mr. King there, that if you want to be a good writer, you have to read, but it can go too far. I know that when I feel like I can’t write or I’m just not in the mood to write, I tend to justify reading as an alternative, as though that is the same amount of work. While it is, in a way, helping with the writing process, I know I also use it to hide from it too, which certainly isn’t helpful.

    Happy New Year and Good Luck with your lunch time writing!

  7. I think so as it’s something that affects me as well. But it’s similar to watching a lot of movies when you want to work on creating movies. Yes, you need to watch to gain ideas and learn techniques and stuff, but if you spend too much time on that, you don’t get time to create. And I think we need to learn to balance both.

    1. Shannon: Just loved your dilemma; moreover, the detail and openness to share your problem. As for me, I think everyone, to a degree, can be caught in the quagmire of too much versus too little. I think my grand total for last year was 104 books according to Goodreads; however, much of the reading involved research in as much as I was finishing my own work (my published book).
      Again, if my reading cuts into my normal day to day activities then it is time to cut back. I especially have this problem when actively reading The Bible. Then again I find I must prioritize my reading. Most reading that is educational (subject area first, teaching areas or experiences can definitely wait).
      I believe that The Animation Commendation has a very good point with balance. Are you able to write about what your reading? That point may indeed hold a quiet mystery to your dilemma.

  8. I cut back my reading severely last year to make room to finish my novel. The good news is, the novel is in revision. the bad news is, I have a growing stack of books in my to be read basket.

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