Monday, August 10, 2009

On reading while writing....

I have yet to meet a writer who isn't an avid reader. Even more so, one of the first pieces of advice any budding writer will hear is "READ. LOTS." This is good advice. One of the best ways to learn how to tell a story is to examine how others do it.

The problem comes when one begins to tell stories of one's own. If, say, you read work you'd like to emulate, you run the risk of your own story becoming derivative or (possibly worse) of the mid-draft-my-work-will-never-be-that-good freakout. If you read things that are very, very different from your own work, you may find it hard to stay within the confines of your own style/genre (for better or worse).

Unfortunately for most of us, this is sort of a trial and error process. What reading will help you stay in the right headspace to write your story?

I've learned that reading YA while writing is a Really Bad Idea. My (very adult, rather dark) work becomes peppered with slang, and the vocabulary shrinks by about 150%. If I read similar (very adult, rather dark) work, insecurity sets in with a vengeance.

It was a really good day when I figured out that reading things with similar "mouth feel" - vocabulary, style, tone - to what I am aiming for is perfect, as long as they're in different genres. This means my nightstand is peppered with some rather diverse folks (Charles Stross has been keeping company with Margaret Atwood, and John Scalzi is hanging out with Toni Morrison), but I can write, and my writing is better for it.


Laura Bradley Rede said...

What I read does affect what and how I write, and I am a victim of the I'll-never-write-this-well freakout, so I agree that one should be aware of how your reading and your writing mesh. For maybe a decade after college I read a TON of non-fiction (which I found made for great fodder for my own creative projects) and almost no fiction because it influenced me too strongly or because I became so caught up in the world of that book, I had a hard time going into the world of my own writing.
I do want to make the point that not all YA novels have limited vocabulary. There is a huge range of vocabulary, mainly depending on the voice of the protag. (I just want to make sure that we avoid the misconception that YA is somehow "dumbed-down" adult.)

Norma Boe said...

When I'm writing I tend to re-read my favorites: Lois McMaster Bujold, Diana Wynne Jones, Terry Pratchett. I can concentrate on the prose or characterization or structure or just lose myself in the story for a minute.

Kelly McCullough said...

I mostly read non-fiction and fiction that I already knew well when I was forming my voice. Now that I've got a pretty solid grasp on the process I tend to read whatever takes my fancy with the sole exception of not reading something very close in topic to what I'm currently working on so that I don't get an bleed over, i.e. no Rick Riordan whilst I was writing the WebMage books---looking forward to getting a look at them now that the series is done.