What You’re Reading REALLY Matters

Irish writer and politician Richard Steele once remarked, “Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.”

His point? If you want your mind to get stronger, you have to read. And as a writer, reading is one of the most important tools to help you infuse your writing with more creativity.

Welcome back to day three of The Writer’s Life and keys to developing infinite creativity.

I’ve always been an avid reader. But recently, I had to face an ugly truth – I discovered I was a “reading snob.” I used to pride myself on reading fiction only occasionally. Most of what I read until my revelation was on personal development or something that would aid my career. I simply didn’t have time to read stories.

That was until I heard Brian Clark (serial entrepreneur and founder of Copyblogger) speak at AWAI’s Bootcamp last October. He emphasized the importance of reading, reading a lot, and reading everything, including fiction!

What you read does matter. So, read everything, even the copy on the kids’ cereal boxes! Read junk mail, snail mail and fundraising letters. Read books on copywriting and works of fiction, because it all matters. It all becomes “grist for the mill.”

Reading is key to keeping the well full and the ideas flowing. Here’s how to get the most out of everything you read:

First, when you read something important, capture it. This could be as easy as simply writing it down on an index card or in a journal. When I’m reading on one of my apps (Kindle, Nook or iBooks), I’ll take a screenshot and then transfer it later over to Evernote. This allows me to index what I read, so I can more easily locate it in the future. The next time I’m doing research for an article, book chapter, blog posting or a myriad of other things, I can do a subject search.

Second, apply the 80/20 rule to reading. Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto developed the idea that 20% of our efforts will produce 80% of our results. You can read more about the Pareto principle here.

When I’m doing research, many times I’ll read the preface, which usually contains a summary of what the author is going to talk about, scan the table of contents and then speed read some chapters, taking time out to read others a bit more in depth. Do I miss some things? Sure, but I’m able to get 80% of the information that I need.

Third, balance your reading out. Make sure you’re reading a variety of things: fiction, how to, biography, history and even philosophy. While you’re at it, review the classics by Aristotle, Homer and Shakespeare.

Also, be sure to read things with which you disagree. Balancing out your reading will allow you to learn to think widely – to be more open-minded and see different points of view. As long as the subjects are different, you might keep several different books going at one time.

Be a great reader. The late Jim Rohn, one of the deans of personal development said, “Successful people have libraries. The rest have big screen TVs.” Reading is the key to developing non-stop creativity.

What do you like reading? What is your reading goal per week or month? What are you reading now? Let me know about it below.

Do you ever get distracted from your writing? Don’t despair, it’s good for you and your writing. Tomorrow, I’ll tell you why.

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Published: July 2, 2014

13 Responses to “What You’re Reading REALLY Matters”

  1. Couldn't agree more. You can search this site for "The Anti-Writing Secret..." -- an article I wrote a few years back on the subject or reading.

    Right now I read, or listen via the Audible app, to a bit of everything. I use magazines to cover varied info quickly and on a schedule. Harpers Magazine is a new favorite as is The Sun magazine and Mental Floss Magazine. I probably get 10 different magazine delivered to my house each month. It's fun when they come to just sit back and dive in.

    Sean McCool

  2. This is great advice. I have to admit that I read much less now than I use to, but need to make the time again.

    I hadn't heard of the Pareto principle - thanks for sharing.


  3. I don't want to write it...but I'm addicted to fiction! What a wonderful way to escape. Usually I concentrate on new authors because they are often less expensive. Try bookbub.com for wonderful low-cost reading.

    Guest (Julie McDowell)

  4. You asked what I'm reading:

    Middlemarch by George Eliot

    Shift Happens by Robert Holden

    Cry Me a River, by T. A. PearsonMary Blake

    Guest (Mary)

  5. Wonderful! Bob

    Quite valuable insights. Yes, reading habit not only help me to learn what other writes, but more importantly how they present. Reading diverse subjects helps improving own perspective. Thanks to Sean McCool also for his tips. I found his article on AWAI for May, 2011. Yes, as he mentioned I have also found after a good reading I also try to put my ideas on paper, like a free flow.


  6. Good stuff, Bob.

    I'm just about to finish my first reading of the "Concordant Literal New Testament."

    I also like reading newsletters from copywriters. Bob Bly is the writer I look forward to reading the most right now.

    The only reading goal I have is to start my day off in the Bible. It gives me hope, challenges me, and teaches me.

    Wes Fahlenkamp

  7. Thanks Bob,

    As for reading, I do read almost everything except things to do with chemistry and physics. My greatest interest is in self help, fiction, and christian literature. Nevertheless, I use my spare time to read almost everything.

    I have no goal though. I read only when I have spare time. I think I should start to have a goal.

    Christine Muleme

  8. My current goal in reading is 50 books this year. I'm on book #29 as of 7/3/2014. Michael Connelly, Stephen King, Janet Evanovich. Current Affairs - The Amateur, Our Final Invention, No Easy Day, and a Joel Osteen book are among the titles so far. I plan to include classics. Not sure which ones, but they'll come. I've an idea for a novel that will knock people out as Our Final Invention did with me. So reading fuels the creative juices and strengthens the mind!

    Guest (FrankC)

  9. Great article, and nice affirmation for me-a true reading geek. I've read many of the titles suggested in the Accelerated Program and am often in the middle of 3 at a time. Currently reading "Franklin on Franklin", "The 2014 Herbal Almanac" (for my niche), and a dozen different magazines including "Prevention", "Vogue", "Food and Wine" and "Flying" (for student pilots). Reading a lot DOES make you more creative and a far more interesting person. Please keep the good advice coming!

    Liz Illgen

  10. Reminds me of the story about the college lad who decides to major in Creative Writing so that he could “...write a blockbuster novel or screen play, get rich, become famous, go on Letterman.”

    But on the first day of writing class, the professor opened with a surprise announcement.

    “From this time on,” she said, “you must read everything you can: books, articles, newspapers, match covers… It doesn’t matter---just read, read, READ.”

    “Read?” thought the stunned student. "No one told me that writing would be that hard.”

    So, as he recounted, “I switched to Accounting.”

    Lawrence Mastri

  11. Who is the most successful published author currently? John Grisham? NO. Dan Brown? NO. It is Stephen King.

    He wrote a book called "On Writing". In the appendix, he lists the books that he has read in the year before publishing this book. There are over a hundred!! If Stephen King says read, we had better read people!

    Guest (Belle)

  12. I used to read 2 novels a week for decades. Got so bad I had to get a library card wherever I happened to be living. Then a few years ago for some reason I stopped. Nada. Nothing.

    Dec. 18 I had major spinal surgery. Something must have been "unblock". Who knows. Now I'm reading again. This week it's "Angels and Demons" by Dan Brown. And music. Lot's of it. EDM, house, classic rock, hip hop, pop. Life is weird.

    David Tomen

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