Every writer on writing says that the most important thing a writer can do is to read. I was a voracious reader before I took up writing with such single-minded passion. For several years I stopped reading altogether and spent all my spare time writing. This summer, when I took a break from writing, I started reading again.
To my amazement, I discovered that I read in a totally different way now. I do not read as critically as I did when I was a literature major in college, and every book had to be parsed in seventeen different ways for meaning, symbolism, character, language, etc. etc. I do, however, notice the writing more than I ever did before. When I find myself either being captured by the story and transported to the story world or being turned off and wanting to quit, I loop back and pay attention to what is was in the narrative that caused me to react in such a manner. What can an author do to make me laugh or make me cry? What is it that the author does that makes me completely lose myself in a story?
The answers to those questions has changed the way I view my own writing. I've started asking myself: what would a reader think of this? How would a reader react to that?
I suppose in the past I wrote stories primarily for myself, with no real expectation that anyone would ever read them. Now that other people are actually reading my stories, I have to take their expectations into consideration in a whole new way.
Reading other writers' work does take away some of my writing time, but it is time well spent because it allows me the opportunity to experience as a reader what works and does not work, and to bring that back to my own writing.
Um ... duh.