In the March 2008 issue of my favorite writer’s magazine, The Writer, two writers “slugged” it out in a point/counterpoint article regarding the question: Does reading while writing help or hurt your work? The concern expressed in this article: reading another writer’s work might influence one’s thinking and writing in a negative way, i.e. diminishing one’s original voice, style, etc. Or inspire.
A good question and interesting concern. I tend to not have the time to read novels or short stories when I’m working on my fiction. Writing consumes my time as well as research and the business side of writing activities. And I fall terribly behind in all my other reading such as news magazines, writing magazines, literary journals, etc. So, my problem is not that other novels might hurt my writing but that I miss reading novels and crave them. I have five piles almost 2-feet high each of books that I would like to read now but it’ll probably be “someday” before I get to them.
Now that I’m on a “leave of absence” from work on the novel in order to deal with life stuff (frustrating that these things seem to take much longer than originally expected) I’d thought maybe I could catch up with my fiction reading. So far, that hasn’t happened. I haven’t even been able to catch up with my magazine and literary journal reading. This would be the time that I’d read novels and short stories, though.
I’m not certain that reading fiction while I’m writing hurts my writing. I tend to think it helps. I know that when I’m reading fiction at any time, I’m aware of the writer’s voice, style, dialogue, suspense creation, etc. I learn from other writers and enjoy seeing how they deal with the challenges of story-telling. I think it’s also accurate to say they inspire me to write. Do I wish I could write like someone who’s particularly brilliant? Of course. That’s normal and human. But aren’t each of us brilliant at what we do each in our own way?
Ideally, I’d read novels and short stories the hour before sleep every night. Right now, I’m falling asleep before I read very far. I used to set aside time every afternoon to read. Now I’m thinking of doing that again. After all, reading is an essential part of being a writer.