Are You Reading Too Much?

BY CHELSEA ENNEN • May 3, 2024

Are You Reading Too Much?

Is there such a thing as too much reading? 

It’s a question that most writers can’t even wrap their brains around. Too much reading?! You might as well ask if it’s possible to breathe too much! 

However, it is possible to have too much of a good thing, even reading. While it’s true that the vast majority of problems with writing can be improved with more reading, there are actually moments when it might be a better choice to put the book down. 

Are You Retaining the Information? 

In the age of Goodreads, BookTok, and book influencers, it’s becoming more and more common to consume books like you might consume fast fashion. But unlike consuming fast fashion, incentivizing more reading is fantastic for the environment and individuals alike. In a world where having read the next hot debut is as culturally important as wearing the latest trend, we’d have a lot more published authors and a lot fewer talented writers languishing in obscurity. 

But if you’re reading a book just to say you’ve read it, and if you’re more interested in reading a certain number of books in a year than in the books themselves, you might need to pump the brakes. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a fast reader—cozy mystery and romance lovers, in particular, habitually inhale a book in a single sitting. 

But stop and think for a moment. Do you remember what happened in any of the books you read, say, a month ago? Can you identify anything about the particular style of any particular author? 

If you aren’t actually absorbing anything from the books you’re reading, then you aren’t getting any of the many wonderful benefits reading has to offer. Maybe you need to embrace being a slower reader, or maybe you need to give yourself permission to choose those doorstopper fantasy tomes you’ve been skipping over. Either way, look for quality over quantity in your reading life. 

Are You Losing Your Voice? 

Rare is the writer who doesn’t feel the shadow of their authorial heroes looming over their keyboard as they go to write. In our darkest moments, we might even accuse ourselves of simply being a knock-off of whatever bestselling author dominates our genre. 

That’s normal to a certain extent; it’s impossible to feel fully confident all the time. 

But take a look at your manuscript. No one creates in a vacuum—you’ll be working with the same set of genre tools and tricks of the trade as everyone else—but what is it that makes your writing purely yours? What’s your style? What interests you? What is the empty space on the bookshelf that only your book is going to fill? 

It’s only natural for the writing that’s swirling around in your head to make its way onto the page; it’s not uncommon for writers to need to stop reading, or at least stop reading in their genre, when they’re deep in the drafting process because of this. If you can’t seem to stop yourself from writing like your favorite authors, you might want to put a pause on your reading until you finish your current draft. 

Do You Have Time to Write? 

The bar for being a writer is pretty low—all you have to essentially do is write. You don’t have to write as much or in the same way as anyone else, and it’s perfectly reasonable to take some time off after finishing a manuscript, but you do have to write. It’s a wonderful thing to fill every spare moment with reading. But if you also want to be a writer, you do need to take at least a few of those moments back. 

Much like the issue of reading comprehension, this is an issue that often comes up for those of us who like to gamify, or add an element of competition to, our reading. It’s important to remember that there is nothing inherently wrong with that. Any way you like to read is the way you like to read, and that’s that. But if writing is also important to you, then you might want to tweak your reading goals a little. You certainly wouldn’t neglect duties at your day job in order to read; your writing time deserves to be protected and prioritized in the same way. 

Too Much of a Good Thing

Reading is one of the best, most enjoyable, and most fulfilling ways to spend your time, and there is simply no way to replace the importance of reading when you’re a writer. But if you find that your reading habits are getting in the way of your writing, remember that your reading can’t help your writing if you can’t write. You can go to the fanciest MFA program there is, you can have all the quiet, interruption-free writing time in the world, but if you don’t write, it won’t make much of a difference. 

So take a break from reading while you’re drafting (or be mindful to let yourself savor every page when you are reading), and remind yourself that hitting your word count goals is just as important as completing a reading challenge. 

Chelsea Ennen is a writer living in Brooklyn with her husband and her dog. When not writing or reading, she is a fiber and textile artist who sews, knits, crochets, weaves, and spins. 


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