KEEP READING!

I’ve been seeing this weird thing again lately:

I stop reading when I’m writing because I don’t want to be influenced by another author’s writing, and don’t want to accidentally plagiarize them.

This, like “all prologues are bad, no one reads prologues,” comes and goes from time to time, and largely without challenge. Well, just as I did with prologue haters, I hereby challenge this assertion, which I think can do significant damage to any author, writing anything, in any genre. William Faulkner said, “Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it.”

Reading is an essential act for any writer before, during, and after their own writing process. First of all, your writing process should be ongoing. You should always be writing. If so, then, if you’re always writing (something, in any case) how can you read anything if you can’t or won’t read while you’re writing?

And if you’re worried that reading will exert undue influence on your writing, well… great! be influenced then! In fact, Rachael Tulipano made this one of her “10 Reasons Why Every Writer Needs To Be a Reader”:

When you read often, you become more and more exposed to raw talent in other authors’ writing. This is valuable experience to improve your own writing and grow your craft. Think about the books you’ve read that left you in absolute awe. How about the stories that made you experience a spectrum of emotions? Or, the one liners that gave you pause. All of this stems from good writing and reading is a valuable tool in mimicking this in your own work.

And if you’re worried about accidentally plagiarizing another author… really? Are you really worried that as you’re working on your YA fantasy novel you might accidentally type in a chapter of The Man in the High Castle or Enlightenment Now? Or even Harry Potter? And then not notice it in your edit? And no one else notices it until it’s published and the lawsuit comes through?

That’s just absurd.

Jeff Goins sums this all up nicely in “Why Writers Need to Read if They Want to Be Good”:

Writers need to read.  A lot.  Magazines. Books. Periodicals.  And so on.  They need to grasp the art of language, to appreciate the finer points of words. As they read, they should jot down ideas and capture thoughts as they come.

Nothing inspires a writer like reading someone else’s words.

I’ve kept reading and writing in 2019, and for the second year in a row made it to my fifty-two books GoodReads challenge. In 2019 I read all of these books:

 

2,000 to 10,000 by Rachel Aaron

The Red Dancer by Richard Skinner

A Mirror for Observers by Edgar Pangborn

At the Booth Memorial Home for Unwed Mothers, 1966 by Patti Sullivan

The Status Civilization by Robert Sheckley

Essential Dr. Strange, Volume 3

The Worlds of Frank Herbert

Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer

Quantum Lyrics from Atlantic by William Holman

Social Media Just for Writers by Frances Caballo

The Empty Trap by John D. MacDonald

Astounding by Alec Nevala-Lee

Norman Conquest, 2066 by J.T. McIntosh

The Upward Spiral by Alex Korb

Dune: House Harkonnen by Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson

Here They Come by Yannick Murphy

Regiments of Night by Brian M. Ball

American Heiress by Jeffrey Toobin

First Step Outward, edited by Robert Hoskins

The Monk by Matthew Lewis

Essential Killraven, Volume 1

Those Across the River by Christopher Buehlman

Making Shapely Fiction by Jerome Stern

City by Clifford D. Simak

Starry Speculative Corpse by Eugene Thacker

Selected Poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay

The Seedling Stars by James Blish

The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things by J.T. LeRoy

Dune: House Corrino by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold

Codex Seraphianus by Luigi Serafini

Can & Can’tankerous by Harlan Ellison

Star Trek: The Starless World by Gordon Eklund

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

Pieces of Map, Pieces of Music by Robert Bringhurst

The Essential Neruda by Pablo Neruda

Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze by Kenneth Roberson

1984 by George Orwell

Not Pounded by Self-Doubt Because I Can Do Anything I Put My Mind To by Chuck Tingle

Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker

The Fury Out of Time by Lloyd Biggle, Jr.

Tentacles Longer Than Night by Eugene Thacker

Forest of Memory by Mary Robinette Kowal

Showcase Presents: Aquaman, Volume 1

The Prisoner: Shattered Village by Dean Motter

Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland

Selected Poems of Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Endgame & Act Without Words by Samuel Beckett

Search the Sky by Frederick Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth

The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark

Shakespeare’s Sonnets

 

So you absolutely have to continue reading while you’re writing. Read in your genre of choice and outside it. Read fiction of all genres, non-fiction of all categories, poetry, plays… anything and everything that interests you at all. “I believe that reading and writing are the most nourishing forms of meditation anyone has so far found,” said Kurt Vonnegut. “By reading the writings of the most interesting minds in history, we meditate with our own minds and theirs as well. This to me is a miracle.”

Bring that miracle to your writing.

 

 

—Philip Athans

 

 

And maybe take a break from reading just long enough to participate in…

My four-week Writers Digest University course Worldbuilding in Science Fiction and Fantasy, starts Thursday January 9!

 

About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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5 Responses to KEEP READING!

  1. JM Williams says:

    I agree, reading is important, and fun. I just wish I had more time for it. What time I do have is split between professional reading/podcasts and SFF-related stuff.

  2. missimontana says:

    Well said. Reading is so important. You must learn from the masters before you can become one yourself.

  3. Dawn Ross says:

    I totally agree with this. When I took up the challenge to write a sci-fi rather than my usual fantasy, it really helped to read other sci-fi novels. Even reading outside of my genre is helpful. One way reading doesn’t help, though, is I keep second-guessing my writing ability because I keep seeing great work and wondering whether mine will measure up.

    • Philip Athans says:

      I have always felt the same way–that I couldn’t possibly measure up to my favorite authors. But that’s also a good thing. It gives you something to strive for, to try to measure up to. When you read something you don’t really like it can get you thinking: Hell, I could do better than that! When you read something you love it should get you thinking: I need to try to be that good!

  4. Pingback: No Wasted Ink Writers Links | No Wasted Ink

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