At the same time, I've been reading books. You know, ones that were already published. I just finished Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon [ Powell's | Amazon ], and have now started The Cater Street Hangman by Anne Perry [ Powell's | Amazon ].
I've always done a lot of reading of unpublished work throughout my writing career. That's what workshopping is, after all. Plus co-editing Polyphony under mme_publisher, and my other editing projects. Plus courtesy reads and manuscript swaps and convention workshopping and all that. It's been a long time since I've been able to read more published work than unpublished work.
For me, being a writer (more to the point, being a busy, committed working writer) comes out of almost exactly the same time budget as being reader. When I am committing novel, it all goes by — that's why I took up the habit of reading on the exercise bike: to ensure some reading time even in those portions of my life.
Because it's dangerous not to read. And unpublished work just isn't the same. The qualitative experience is different, first off — I'm almost always reading with a pencil in my hand (or the Word comments feature turned on). Which is to say, I'm reading critically, and not staying inside the flow of the story much, if at all. The expectations are different, too. A sheaf of printouts, or .doc file, are simply not the same physical or mental experience as a book.
A book is a finished artifact. (Yes, I know better, but you know what I mean.) My experience of a book is conditioned by a childhood of loitering in libraries and among my parents' substantial shelves. This is why electronic readers are not ever likely to displace dead trees for me — print on paper is practically hard wired into me. I cannot influence the book's outcome (unlike manuscript feedback), I can only experience it.
A book is also something which has already been acquired, edited, copy edited, printed, bound, distributed, and sold. It's done, the end product of the pipeline that the manuscript is the beginning of. Rather like the difference between looking at a cow and eating a hamburger. I'm in the cow business, really, I need to look at a lot of cows, but all my cows become hamburgers. If I don't eat a lot of hamburgers, I lose touch with the other end of the process.
So I'm trying to read more books. In spec fic, out of spec fic. Mystery, because I'd maybe like to go there in a few years. Non-fiction to feed my head. Random genres just to learn new stuff. I can't spend all my time in the grazing meadows of science fiction and fantasy, talking to cows.
More better hamburgers, that's the ticket for me. And it takes a lot of discipline to find that time.