Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Read! Just read!

I never understand people who say they don't read while they're writing (or at all?)  because they don't want to be influenced. Oh hell, influence me! Please! Remind me that I know more words than the ones I hear every day from my friends. Show me remarkable ways of observing, so I'll remember what that feels like to choose an unlikely, unexpected phrase instead of just another synonym for "slender". If I start feeling like the prose is plodding, just clocking in and doing a job but without joy or style, I find that's the best cure.

In some cases, I even break down and read a novel set in the same period I'm writing in, just to refresh my sense of the era, and see it through someone else's eyes. My mind is not such a blank slate that I'll immediately start writing like that or any other author. My voice is my own, and I'm happy with it. I don't fear a fine writer, I revel in it. And then snap! I move on.

See also: 
Dorothy Dunnett, Queen's Play
Bernard Cornwell, The Last Kingdom
Rosemary Sutcliff, Sword at Sunset


  1. Well said. I think the fear of inferiority gets in the way of learning. I know it has for me in the past. But there's a reason these writers are published! Writing can be such a solitary activity that reading helps you remember you're not in it alone.

  2. That's true, too! My friend Scott Perkins points out here
    that reading crap can also be edifying, if only n the "if this drek got published, I surely can1" scale. :-) I don't quite have the patience for that, but a good, especially a complex book makes me feel smarter, and that revs me up!

  3. I love reading while I'm writing, although I tend to "read as a writer." I look at sentence structure, word choice and so on. But it's still fun!

  4. Oh, I suspect I do that a lot, too, but I notice awkward choices more than good ones. The best ones don't draw attention to themselves. Do you ever find yourself re-writing a sentence for the author, to make it read more smoothly? Or wondering that's really the right word for what they mean?

  5. Actually, I don't read novels while I'm writing. Partly because I spend so much time reading nonfiction as research for what I'm writing. Not because I don't want to be influenced, necessarily, but because I read voraciously between projects and then carry forward on the inertia.

    That post by Lev Grossman "Soloists & Thieves" by the way, is a good read on this topic. He's definitely on the "Read as you write" bus.

  6. I don't know that one, Scott. Do you have a link?

  7. Oh. Sorry, the link was on the blog you mentioned, but you had to click on Lev's name to notice it. The Thief & the Soloist: A very Brief Taxonomy of Writers

  8. You can subconsciously absorb the language and overall mood of a novel that you are involved in reading. If it meshes with what you are writing about, it can help. If it doesn't, it can be a poor influence & distracting.

    Novels are so much like people ;)

  9. While I understand the fear of unknowingly mimicking a writer, I agree with you. I read all the time. Not only to help inspire but sometimes (I hate to say this) as examples of "bad fiction". I think everyone is influenced on some level but that's different than purposely copying.