I made up my mind a few months ago to get serious about reading. Why?
Because if you want to write, you have to read.
It's not that I wasn't reading anything at all. I read the scriptures. I read the newspaper. (I also write for a newspaper, but that's another story.) I read my emails. I'm a regular blog reader. I read my work-in-progress (and usually get depressed by my lack of progress).
The problem? I wasn't reading in the genre I write.
I wasn't reading children's books.
Lin Oliver, the executive director of SCBWI, gave the keynote address at our regional conference in September. She shared several ways writers and illustrators could improve their work, and reading more children's books was high on her list of things to do.
I am much better at creating excuses than I am fine works of literature. Sadly, I had convinced myself I didn't have time to read because I had a book to revise, and my time was so limited that I needed to spend it producing work, rather than reading the work of others. The problem is, I want to read in the same way I want to write -- all at once, from start to finish.
I've just about convinced myself that desire is not practical as far as writing is concerned. Though I still wish for blocks of uninterrupted time, I regularly tell myself one page is better than nothing and at least brings me closer to the end. But when it comes to reading, I'd still prefer to pick up a book and not put it down until I've reached the last page.
After the conference, I decided to develop the reading habit, even if it was just a few pages a day. I was already reading the morning paper while using my exercise bike. I set a goal to use the last few minutes of my workout to read a book -- even if I only finished one chapter.
I'm pleased to say that since September, I've read six books -- and I understand why it's so important now to read in the genre I'm writing, especially since I spend my days stringing words journalism-style. I need to remember the pleasure of escaping to another world, as I have while reading Anna of Byzantium. I need to revel in the beauty and simplicity of a scene formed in free verse, as in Out of the Dust. I need to be reminded of the tough decisions children have to make as they form and sever friendships, like in the story True Friends. And I need to be reminded that in children's books anything is possible, as in Whittington.
Best of all, the more I read, the more I want to write, and the happier I am knowing I have chosen to spend my free time writing for children -- the best, most imaginative, and most inquisitive audience of all.