When reading counts as work

Ah, summer!  The garden is so inviting today, the sun so warm on the cushions.  It's so tempting to stop writing, come away from the screen and bring a book out to enjoy the grass and the birdsong.
A green bench in a green shade...

And why not?  I just need to think of a good excuse.  Reading can count as work, can't it?  Writers hone their craft by reading, it's well known.  It's how we refresh the wells of ink that we're pouring out onto our thirsty blank pages.  If I were writing a novel, then reading would count as research: very necessary to find out what's already on the market, to get the tone right for the audience, even just to start thinking in polished paragraphs and perfectly edited dialogues.  And that's just reading other novels, never mind the historical, geographical background research that can go into getting a setting or character just right.

There's something about this season that makes my reading more intense and purposeful.  Perhaps it's the call of the weather, perhaps it's a conditioned response to sunshine after years of exam revision, which always took place as the spring gave way to heat.

I have fond memories of lying in the Fellow's Garden at university, surrounded by coloured pens, record cards of notes and books, books, books.  Am I the only one who loved revising and looked forward to exam days the way other people look forward to a day at the beach?  Probably.
A storyteller's revision reading list

This year, with no exams to revise for and no big project to research, I've decided to give myself a refresher course reading list.  I've gone back through old journals and ordered titles recommended by speakers but never bought: Telling the Truth by Frederick Buechner, The Hero With A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell, The Art Of Fiction by David Lodge.  I've allowed my eye to be caught by fat textbooks and Oxford Companions.  I've dusted off some books of poetry from my why-do-I-keep-this-anyway-I-never-get-to-read-it shelf.  I've booked myself into a few retreat days and workshops, always grateful for events that happen while the children are at school.  And I'm allowing reading to count as work.  It's not even a poor excuse.

What sort of reading counts as work for you?  Do you read about the craft of writing, or about the project you're working on?

Shall we escape to the garden with a book?

Amy Robinson is a writer, performance storyteller and ventriloquist, and the children’s worker in her benefice.  She is publicity officer for ACW. She has written three books about puppetry and storytelling, published by Kevin Mayhew, and provides scripts and materials for GenR8, a Cambridgeshire charity running Christian assemblies and events in schools.  She co-founded the storytelling company Snail Tales, with which she still writes and performs.  In her spare time, she writes poetry and makes attempts at novels.  She lives in a rectory in Suffolk with the rector, two children, two guinea pigs and too many puppets to count.


  1. Great post, Amy. It took me back to my own English degree days (I was nearly 40!) and I too looked forward to exams and loved all the revision. I was just saying to Deborah Jenkins the other day how I think I change the way I write with every book I read and she agreed that she did the same. You learn something new every book, I guess you could say.

  2. While working on my novel, I enjoy reading fiction books in a similar genre, as well as all the non-fiction research. You're not alone in enjoying studying, Amy, and feeling the excitement of the adrenaline rush in preparing for exams. I've always been like that too and remember getting up in the middle of the night, as a child, to read history books, which I loved. Yes, I totally agree ... reading definitely counts as work. :D

  3. Oh yes please! But I'm currently reading in the house because our garden is such a tip - can I borrow yours for a bit? And yes, I enjoyed exams too - though not so much the revision.

  4. Reading makes me want to write so I think that justifies it completely. Enjoy your reading /writing retreat days Amy!


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