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 Atlantis 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
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.
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!