10

Back in the mists of time, I would put a lot of time into reading, and would read pretty much anything I could lay my hands on.

Then I started writing, and it is very very rare that I read any fiction now.

Yet whenever I look at any forum, writing advice etc, it always suggests that you read lots.

The problem, for me, is that if I read a piece of writing that I particularly like, I will unconsciously allow the style, grammar, flow of that piece to seep into whatever I'm writing.

Being well read makes me more likely to write in facsimiles of other's and I'd rather create my own style

Is this something that other's tend to experience also?

So, how important is being well read, for a writer...

Edit to clarify

In all aspects of life I enjoy figuring problems out, without relying too much on what has gone before. Often I find I have reinvented the wheel, I enjoy exploring the reasoning behind a problem, and the nuances of why it is a problem in the first place.

To my mind, if I am struggling with some mechanism in a story, I could read other authors' work, and use their methods to solve the problem I've got, or I can explore the problem for myself and build my own mechanism to achieve the goal.

I am reasonably content in my approach to my own writing, and can't imagine that changing any time soon, but I saw another question and thought this would make an interesting question for anyone else who might have a similar approach.

  • “If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” - Stephen King – CLockeWork Jun 1 '15 at 8:16
  • Perhaps a better aproach is to target what you read; read books that are similar in style to what you're writing, for inspiration if nothing else. – CLockeWork Jun 1 '15 at 8:17
  • While I've nothing but respect for Stephen King - back when I did read fiction, I read a lot of his - I imagine my motives for writing are somewhat different than his. I may not have the tools to write, my enjoyment comes from learning to make those tools from scratch. My point being that people get different things from what they write, and have different motivations for doing so. – Michael B Jun 1 '15 at 9:29
  • My purpose for writing this was for those people who might be concerned that they don't read enough to be able to write, because there is such a plethora of advice that advocates that reading is absolutely necessary - As such I know there isn't a right or wrong answer, but it might help someone to be more comfortable in their approach. – Michael B Jun 1 '15 at 9:31
  • I believe being well read is very important. I also believe that every writer is different, and that being well read may not be as much of a requirement as I think it is. That being said - my education spent nearly half its time reading - history, historical fiction, science, you name it. Mostly historical fiction. Without that fiction, I would not have the vocabulary, passion, or knowledge I needed to begin writing. Whether novels are required to keep me writing, I do not know, since my writing is still young. I would guess that they can't hurt, though. – Thomas Myron Jun 1 '15 at 21:06
6

I may have a very unpopular view on the subject but would say that I find myself more able to write in my preferred style by not reading a bunch of other people's work. I'd say that it's more important to be a good researcher, planner, and editor. The most important skills I practice to write at a level that I enjoy are:

  1. Self Editing
  2. Automatic Writing - this one is hard because it means I have to turn off the internal censor when I write but this is a practice in doing just that. This helps my words flow directly from thought to keyboard though, with little if any intervention.

To me, writing is about doing. The best way to get better is to keep doing it, and then reflect on your work at intervals while you create it, and after you've finished.

EDIT - I can't reasonably answer the part of your question about how important is it to be well read for an author because I'm not a known or paid author. I do write and other people enjoy what I write but I am not an author by vocation. 2nd - I prefer to write instead of read because, and in addition to the reasons stated above, reading takes time, and I don't always like what another author writes. So, I choose to spend the time writing - or researching for writing - instead of reading. -- my thanks to commenters noting that I had not specifically answered OPs question. I hope this does do with satisfaction.

Thanks for asking this question!

  • +1 for recommending Automatic Writing. Even though we are offering opposite advice to the OP's question, I agree with you that allowing words to flow freely is a powerful pool that every write should learn to use. – Henry Taylor Jun 1 '15 at 5:56
  • A well-known English crime writer once said that while he writes he does not read anything in his genre. +1 from me, too. – user5645 Jun 1 '15 at 10:45
  • There probably isn't a right or wrong answer for this, I do acknowledge it is largely a matter of style and what your priorities are, but this got the most votes and mostly matches my outlook - so why not ;) – Michael B Jun 2 '15 at 21:55
  • I can dig it. Thanks for asking the question. It's something I've wrestled with as well. I like writing much more than reading, partly because I'm picky about what I read, partly because I just enjoy writing more. I recently joined a writing group on one of the chat rooms here, it's called the Overlook Hotel. This group has a 10 minute writing exercise every Tuesday. It's loose, informal and keeps the creative juices flowing, which keeps the inertia to write. So, it's a useful and fun practice to stay productive as a writer. – Andrew Jun 3 '15 at 0:10
7

Congratulations on being a natural mimic! That is a marvelous skill to have as a fiction writer. Now all you have to do is learn how to leverage it. I'll give you a few clues here.

Unconscious mimicry is incredibly useful when your plot demands a dramatic diversion from your comfort zone. For example, you may be very skilled at high-speed, high-action fight scenes. You might have a gift for keeping your reader's heartrate accelerated and making the pages flash by. This is your natural style that you are trying so hard to defend. ...and you are absolutely right, it deserves to be defended because it makes your writing your own.

But stories aren't all action and adreneline. Eventually your characters need to do something else; maybe some dialog or an lurid love scene. Eventually, in your quest to write a complete story, you'll have to write some scenes that aren't in your comfort zone.

That is when being a mimic is a blessing. There are a lot of great writers out there, but each and every one of them is BEST at only one or two types of scenes. Start cataloging your favorite authors' strong points then use their writing to inject those skills into your writing at the moment when you need that kind of help. Eventually, you will have a library of earmarked books waiting to help you write every kind of scene imaginable. And because of your skill at mimicry, you can use that library to enrich everything that you write. Reading the right 5-10 pages from an expert in a particular type of scene, can elevate you into a master of that scene type as well. Mimicry! Embrace it!

That leaves you with one issue, the original issue from your question. Outside of the scenarios described above, how do you keep what you read from effecting what you write? The answer should come naturally to a mimic...

Right before you start writing, read 5-10 pages of what you have recently written. This will reset your mimicry, making you into a mimic of yourself. It will also serve to get you back into the mood and flow of your current writing, and remind you of plot elements which you might have forgotten since the last time you wrote.

  • 1
    +1 for genius advice. I am a mimic as well (just a 'c' there), but it had never occurred to me to read your own writing to get back into the feel of your own style. Thank you! – Thomas Myron Jun 1 '15 at 21:01
  • Thx for catching my spelling error! You are welcome! – Henry Taylor Jun 2 '15 at 4:16
2

Be well read in the genre in which you wish to write.

Every genre has its clichés. A writer could produce the best-written story imaginable and still have it rejected by editors and readers if they say, "oh, not that old chestnut again." Conversely, there is nothing wrong with building on the work of the greatest past authors in your chosen genre. Obviously by "building on" I do not mean plagiarism; I mean letting the virtues of the fiction that you have most liked reading be filtered and transformed by your own imagination into the fiction that you write. You say you are happy to reinvent the wheel - so why not invent a better wheel?

As an example, many, many authors have done "locked room" mysteries in detective fiction. If you haven't read much detective fiction then your locked room mystery is likely to be rejected as just another one in the same old style. But if you are familiar with the past of this sub-genre and manage to pull off a new twist on an old idea, then people will love it.

I, too, suffer from the style of what I have just read infecting what I write so that it can come across as a parody of the other author. The solution is not to stop reading but to put the "infected" piece of writing away for a while, then come back to it later when the passage of time lets you view it more objectively and re-write it.

  • But doesn't attempting to invent a better wheel, simply end up with another wheel. Your starting point is a wheel, you look at it and think 'how can I make this wheel move this cart from a to b' - whereas if you purposely don't learn about the existence of a wheel you might realise that the best way of getting the cart from a to b is a teleport.- personally I'd rather be thinking about teleports than wheels. – Michael B May 31 '15 at 19:21
  • You have a point. Despite what I said above, once or twice I have purposely not read stories that judging from the blurbs were very similar to what I'm trying to write. There's also one book that, despite enjoying it very much, I wish I had not read until my story was done. It described a wheel so well that my teleport looked boring in comparison. Nonetheless, I stand by what I said in general terms. When I pick up a book (whether literally or online) by an author unfamiliar to me and read the first few pages to see if I want to buy it, I usually make my decision to buy or not in less than... – Lostinfrance Jun 1 '15 at 9:10
  • ...one minute. And, sadly, there is no quicker turn-off than the perception that this book will be boring because it's yet another Type X story where Type X is a cliche. Yes, it's possible that I'm wrong and that this author has the outstanding talent to make what was old seem new again. But given that there are more books than anyone can read in a lifetime, I must select somehow. I think that there are a lot of readers - and editors - who think this way. So my general advice is, still, be well read enough in your chosen genre to avoid obviously over-used tropes. Or be a genius. – Lostinfrance Jun 1 '15 at 9:21
  • The best genre fiction I read was written by "outside" authors. One of my favourite SF writers despises SF. Tolkien did not read High Fantasy, because he invented that genre. The most dreary genre fiction is created by fans. So, I must say I disagree. – user5645 Jun 1 '15 at 10:47
  • @what, "Tolkien did not read High Fantasy, because he invented that genre." - I believe I covered that point in the last four words of my previous comment. :-) – Lostinfrance Jun 1 '15 at 17:14
0

You have already read a lot. Now is the time to write. Don't worry about forums full of virgins explaining sex to married men.

-4

Whatever you write about, it must be interesting to you. Thus it depends on what you are writing about.

If you are writing about fiction, then reading fictional books can give you a greater understanding of how an author sets the scene, or motivates the reader to carry on.

As you describe you don't seem to read many fictional books, so therefore you show little interest. The author of a book must put good time and effort into writing, but more importantly it must be something they can stick too.

Whatever genre of book shows you interest, why don't you write about that.

  • I'm not sure there is an automatic connection between not doing a thing and not having an interest. I have an interest in pizza, but don't tend to eat that much of it because of the adverse effect on my jean size. Equally I don't read a lot of fiction because I feel it adversely affects my ability to write in my own style. – Michael B May 31 '15 at 14:31
  • Agreed, this answer, while interesting, doesn't answer the question. Burning Flame, I'm sorry that your introduction to Writers is so negative! This isn't a discussion forum, where posts can ramble a bit and lead to interesting tangents, but a question and answer site. Answers here have to directly answer the question. You might consider having a look at our site tour for more information. – Neil Fein Jun 1 '15 at 3:28

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.