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Fear of Reading

I read an interesting discussion about whether writers read published fiction while writing works of their own over at Absolute Write.

Some writers avoid reading other writers like the plague at different points along their own creative process. They mention a fear of unconsciously copying another author’s style in their own work. Other writers say they don’t know how not to read, whether they’re writing or not.

My full-time job involves a lot of writing, and I often dinf that I don’t have a lot of spare time to do much else other than “veg” at home. The internet is a big distraction for me, unfortunately. So is television. So is my DVD collection. So is anxiety.

I could go on and on.

As I proved to myself this past weekend, given the right situation, I can easily produce ten pages I’m pleased with in a single day. But there are many days when I feel I only have time to do writing or to read other people’s writing. On those days, when it isn’t a distraction, writing usually wins out.

I try to make time when I can read other novels, but it can be difficult. That’s one reason why I am a big fan of audiobooks. I almost always have one playing, and my mind is better able to absorb the story when I’m a “captive” audience in the car. Sometimes I listen to the audio version of the same book I’m reading at home, because I think it’s interesting to experience the spoken word of someone else’s performance as well as the mind’s own interpretive performance when you read the same material yourself. I see different images sometimes in what I read than in what is read to me, and that is a fascinating proposition to me.

Unfortunately, when I’m home and trying to read, there is this inner voice that lays a lot of guilt on me about why I’m not trying to work on my WIP. Also, after 14 years in TV, my attention span makes it difficult to sit for long periods of time to read.

I do try to read a lot of non-fiction writing books and I try to visit other writers’ blogs and resources like this one to see how other writers do what they do. And I try to read fiction that is within the genre I’m interested in, just to see how my published colleagues handle the genre.

I’ve never honestly even considered being influenced by another writer’s style when reading while I’m writing something of my own. That is an interesting fear that some writers have. For me, if another novelist did influence me directly, I’d like to think it would be short-term because I think that my own writing style — whatever it is — would come back through eventually. That is to say, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered an author whose style overwhelmed me so completely that I would have read his work then suddenly began writing exactly that way from then on.

If I do pick up rhythm tricks or subtle style techniques from other writers, I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all. The writers I’m reading are published, after all, so obviously they know what they’re doing. (I do not count self-published authors in that category, for obvious reasons.) I don’t see any difference between learning to write through reading other novelists’ finished products and learning to write through reading a lot of non-fiction books that each promise that their way is the only way to write.

It would be nice to think that some day some struggling writer might pick up a book of mine and see something inspirational on my pages.

3 Comments

  1. It is easy to be influenced by another writer’s style, but without reading other peoples work, one can never learn what works and what doesn’t.

  2. I think by reading others you learn what your style is.
    There are some authors I would never write like and others I could only hope to write like.
    You also learn what’s cliche and formulaic so you can avoid it.
    I think reading is the most valuable tool anyone can have.

  3. In order to learn to write well by reading other’s writing, you must also know how to analyze the writing. You have to pick it to pieces to see how the words work. I don’t think you can learn writing by some osmotic process, anymore than you can develop good singing abilities by listening to recordings.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 29 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.