We all know we mustn’t drink and drive, but is reading fiction while writing as risky for the well-being of our novels as drinking while driving is for the well-being of our fellow man?
Some writers think so. Some writers claim that they never pick up a novel while they’re writing for fear of being influenced by whoever it is they’re reading. What do they mean by ‘being influenced’? Does it mean there is a danger that we might start writing like those authors? If so, quick! Bring me a pile of books by authors I admire and respect and would give my eye teeth to emulate. I’ll give anything a go. Would that it were that easy!
Or do they mean that reading novels might cause the words of other authors to somehow seep through into their own writing and sully the masterpiece they’re currently creating? Again, I’ll risk it.
I have mixed feelings about reading while writing. On the one hand, reading something within my genre can give me a kick-start when I’m floundering. When it’s a writer I admire, the rhythm of the prose and cadence of the dialogue can really inspire me and make me itch to get back to my own work.
But on the other hand, becoming engaged with a wonderfully written novel can be counter-productive in that I often find myself reading when really I should be writing. Also, I can end up losing myself in the novel I’m reading to the extent that I find I’m spending my spare time thinking about those characters and that author’s fictional world rather than thinking about my characters and my own fictional world.
If I’m honest, I know that I’m better able to throw myself into my own novel when I’m not reading somebody else’s. The absolute best thing that can happen to me is when I’m trying to read a novel but find I can’t concentrate because my own characters are dominating my thoughts.
Having said all that, how can we not read? The idea of living life without a novel ‘on the go’ is completely alien to me. So somehow, I’m just going to have to find the right balance.
What about you? Do you find reading fiction while you’re writing is a help or a hindrance?
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