Can you read a lot AND write a lot?

A few years ago I decided I needed to read more, and this turned out to be a huge mistake for me as a writer.

So many prolific authors stress the importance of reading every day, but I’ve really struggled to get the balance right. I blame booktubers to some degree. I used to read mostly 1950-1970s sci-fi and classics, thinking that this was the ‘best’ form of literature, but booktubers introduced me to the joy of contemporary novels. They also introduced me to book trends, TBR lists and yearly book challenges. In an attempt to read more and branch out into more genres, I found myself participating in some strange online competitiveness.

The thing with reading is (much like writing) the more you do it, the more you want to do it. While the gamification of reading with platforms such as Goodreads certainly consumed me, I also built up a reading tolerance. I went from struggling to read for thirty minutes to spending hours doing it. I felt I had finally cracked some sort of code and was now at my peak form: Rory Gilmore. Only less breathy.

But then I realised my urge to write had gone. I stopped writing daily and obsessively. Instead, I scoured the internet for reading suggestions, carrying a novel around with me instead of a notepad and pen. Rather than resenting social occasions for bleeding into my writing time, I started wishing I was reading a book instead.

Is this a particularly negative thing? For the most part, no. I love reading, and it has definitely helped me to grow not only as a writer, but as a person. That being said, there is now a quiet panic within me – what if I’ve lost my drive? What if I was always supposed to consume instead of produce fiction, I just hadn’t read the right books before?

That being said, many filmmakers stop watching movies while on set for fear it will impact their work. Some musicians are similar, listening only to very specific artists to influence their sound. To write, would one not need room in their head for their own voice, and so would need to block out others?

As I said, writing is a muscle that needs to be exercised, and I haven’t been using it much lately. Perhaps writing is like exercise and reading is like eating – you can’t do one without the other, but you can’t do both to excess.

I’m scared of losing this newfound love of reading, but I think I need to go from devouring a couple of books a week to a couple a month. I’m itching to write, but that itch is being soothed by too many good stories.

Are you a creator who finds it difficult to juggle creating and consuming? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

E.J. Babb created Dystopic in 2012 after requiring an outlet for her love of dystopian and apocalyptic fiction. She is the author of These Unnatural Men, FOREGROUND and The Festivities of Morkwood.

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