It's rare to find a how-to-write book or blog that doesn't have this advice: "Read. Voraciously. In all genres, especially your genre of choice, books both good and bad. You won't develop as a Writer unless you are a Reader."

I'd like to spend more time reading fiction. It seems like a less paralyzing way of gaining know-how than the how-to-books (which I think tap straight into my critical side). I'm never more inspired to write than when I read, and my memories of the times I wanted to write most come from when I volunteered in libraries and was surrounded by book covers.

Nowadays, though, I come home from work, play with my dog a few minutes, and head for the computer to write. I can usually come up with six or seven hundred words before I bog down (can't wait until I'm far enough into my novel to know where I'm going), then I give in and pull up Google to search for solutions to whatever problem I perceive is blocking me. Usually I spend hours getting caught in the web and never find whatever nugget I'm searching for. Every so often, I'll come across that bit of reading advice and say, "Yeah, that'll happen. It's hard enough to find time to write." On the other hand, if I could manage my time better, I'd probably find the time to read.

My question is, how do I find a good balance between reading and writing? I'm often reluctant to pull away from the computer when I feel the writing is becoming a grind because I don't want to teach myself to abandon the project. (I know how to do that well enough already.) I suspect even if I did use my time more effectively, I'd keep churning away at my project until the day ran out. Not quite the main question, but I suspect tangent to it, is there a guideline for when to stop writing to make time for other ways to develop my skills?

  • 3
    Let me suggest something to sharpen the question. Why does "reading time" need more balancing effort than anything else in your life - housework, non-writing hobbies, sleeping? It seems to me your basic question has a bit of "How can I manage my time better?" (which is too broad on its own), but mostly "When is it OK for me to stop writing in order for me to do something else?". Except you've chosen the specific activity, reading, rather than the generic "something else. It seems like any other important activity would be pretty much the same question and get the same answers. Is that correct?
    – Standback
    Feb 23, 2012 at 13:15
  • @Standback, thank you for the comment. Sorry I didn’t get to it sooner. I chose reading since it's the only "important" task I know of that isn't the same priority as or higher than writing for me now. I class "reading" as a non-writing hobby. The only other one, a particular video game, I don’t do until I'm certain there is no more writing in me. Surfing is "writing" because I surf for info that will help me continue, so I do that before reading or video games. While I would be interested in responses to “When should I stop?” I do want to write, so I singled out reading.
    – Sheelawolf
    Feb 24, 2012 at 1:24
  • Lauren’s comments about using a book instead of the Internet are interesting. They imply I should switch my categories, which would also raise my priority for reading.
    – Sheelawolf
    Feb 24, 2012 at 1:25

5 Answers 5


You mentioned that you have felt most like writing when you were in a library surrounded by books. So go to the library to write! I know a couple of folks who do just that, and they have been extremely productive. They also are inspired by being surrounded by books, and they find that it is much easier to get a lot done without any distractions - which is another benefit of the library. However, a lot of libraries now have wireless service, so turn off your wireless access to keep yourself from once again allowing the web to become a distraction and a time consumer.

You also mentioned that you can't wait until you get far enough to know where you are going. It sounds to me like you need to do a little more organizing or perhaps even outlining of your story. It doesn't have to be anything fancy like you had to do in high school English. Just jot down some notes on who your characters are, what scenes they will find themselves in, and what type(s) of interaction(s) they will have. Note cards work really well for this so that you can rearrange the order easily and overlay character cards onto scenes. A timeline might be even more beneficial.

Don't worry so much about how to write. Just get in there and write until you finish your story. You can worry about cleaning it up and making it more concise when you finish the first draft and start your editing process. You may very well find yourself going through two, three, or more drafts before you feel it is finally right.

As far as making time to read, just schedule it. You know when you have to be at work, you know what time you have available, you know what household chores need to be done, and you know you want to write. Work up a schedule for all of those things and if reading is that important, then block out time to do it. You may find that you want to spend more time writing anyway!


Let me get this straight. Your "schedule" is:

  1. Coming home

  2. Cuddling dog

  3. Write 600 words

  4. Give in

  5. Surfing for hours

You want more time for reading? Cut your internet connection! I mean it. You also get more time for writing.

When you sit down for writing, unplug your internet connection. Make it a big hassle for yourself plugging it in again. Like hiding the router in a hole in your garden. Give it the dog to play with. Best: use two computers, one exclusively for writing.

If you hit stage 4 then do not surf, pick a book and read. Don't tell it's not that easy, because it is that easy.


Your problem is not making time for reading. You have two other problems:

  1. You're giving up too quickly on writing.
  2. You surf too much.

First, as John Smithers wisely says, disconnect your internet connection. The web will still be here when you come back, I promise.

Second, you say "I'm never more inspired to write than when I read." So: pick a book which is inspiring you, and put it next to your computer. When you hit 601 words and start to get bogged down, turn off the monitor (so you can't be distracted) and read, until you're inspired again. Put the book down, turn the monitor back on, and start writing again.

The answer to "whatever is bogging you down" is, 98% of the time, not found on the web, unless it's a particular word or fact. In that case, put in a placeholder and go back to it later. The answer is usually in your head, and you're good at finding reasons not to work through it. You are, as you correctly note, paralyzed.

As a third suggestion, I might add that if writing feels like a grind or a chore, set a timer. Do the writing-reading-writing for a specific amount of time: start with 30 minutes, and work up. When the time is up, turn off the computer (no fair surfing) and go do something else. Something physical. Play with the dog, make dinner, weed, clean the house, something not involving electronics. This will let your mind go but keep your hands busy, which is when I get many of my best ideas (sometimes full scenes). Keep a notebook in your pocket, jot down anything cool, and go back to your activity.

You are using the web as an excuse for procrastinating and not working through your issues (what's "bogging you down"). Reading isn't going to solve your problems, so there's no particular point in making special time for it.


Unlike writing, reading time is something that you can sneak into the rest of your day. All you really need is a book and a bit of free time. If you can sneak in four fifteen minute reading sessions a day, you've got an hour of reading done and seven hours of reading a week. If you are a reasonably fast reader, that is easily a novel a week.

You can bring a book/ebook reader with you:

  • in the bathroom
  • over your lunch hour or during a work break
  • in your car before or after work
  • before you go to bed
  • while waiting for someone

and you'll get some reading done each day, probably a couple of chapters.

  • This is a good option - almost all of my reading is done at night before I go to bed, or evenings when there is nothing on TV (which can also be inspiring for writing ideas). I get through a lot of material that way - more if I also read on the train (currently on a car commute, not a good place to read). It can prove very productive to give you a little prod and inspiration, several times a day. Jun 28, 2012 at 13:03

Dedicate two days a week to read instead of writing. If you get ideas that you want to start working on immediately, let writing distract you, but let it be the only thing that distracts you.

Also, make sure you have an outline of some sort. Part of your problem is that you're going slowly and getting discouraged, so you'll want to speed that up. Here's an article that might help.


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