Should you read fiction while you’re writing?

    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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8 thoughts on “Should you read fiction while you’re writing?

  1. JO says:

    I can't imagine not reading – I, too, have read comments about not reading within your own genre while writing. But try to write what I most love to read. Besides what else am I to do when I'm sitting on buses, or when I wake up in the morning, or while I'm waiting for the pasta to cook?

  2. Susan Elliot Wright says:

    Yes, it would be so weird, wouldn't it? Sounds like you read at much the same times as I do. I like to read in the bath, too, and yes, I have dropped books! I've also been known to read while walking along the street!

  3. says:

    Great post Susan. You hear this a lot but I only know one writer who doesn't read. I find the idea absolutely inconceivable and a sacrifice I wouldn't be willing to make. My completed novel took two years to write (not unusual) and I'm someone who can't let a day pass without reading! Apart from the huge enjoyment I get from it, I find everything I read also teaches me or inspires me in some way – even if I don't like it. I do sit up straight when I read something that is in some way similar to what I have in mind (in which case I might modify what I'm doing if I think it's a problem) but I think the chances of me accidentally imitating someone else's writing style are negligible. That would require concerted effort, I reckon!
    Sorry to be predictable – as someone who writes a book blog, I'm sure this is what you would expect me to say!

  4. Claire King says:

    I do read when I'm writing, because I'm always writing, so otherwise I'd never read! And I'm inspired by great writing, it's energy for a first draft! I can't read when I'm editing a novel though, I find the process too all engulfing – reading becomes a distraction from the story I'm immersed in. Which is where I find myself right now. I'm hoping to be back reading fiction by Christmas!

  5. Susan Elliot Wright says:

    Thanks Isabel. I totally agree – I just don't see how you can accidentally pick up someone else's style. I sometimes wonder if writers who fear they will be influenced by what they read are being just a teeny bit precious. But maybe I'm being unfair.

  6. Susan Elliot Wright says:

    Yes, the distraction element is probably my biggest problem, and I think you're very wise to avoid reading while editing. I'm still not sure I could totally avoid reading, though, but perhaps I'll try non-fiction next time I'm editing.

  7. Louise says:

    I try to read every day, whatever else is happening. Like Isabel says, it can take about 2 years (in my case a little more) to write/edit a novel, so that would be a long time not reading! I find reading fiction really helps to motivate me and makes me want to write as well as I can. I try to read novels (and poetry) I really admire while I'm writing and editing my own novel (and poetry, occasionally).

  8. Susan Elliot Wright says:

    Reading poetry is a great idea. I was talking to a novelist and poet recently, and he said he always reads a little poetry before a session working on his novel. He said it sort of cleansed the palate and made him really think about the words he was using. Must try that myself!

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