Inspired in part by this week’s New York Times ‘Bookends’ article (What do you read while you write?) I thought I’d venture to assess my own reading habits (both good and bad) while in the midst of writing my current WIP. As both Zoe Heller and Anna Holmes acknowledge, the act of ‘reading’ while supposedly engaged in the writing process encompasses a range of motivations – from seeking inspiration to procrastination to sheer ‘writing avoidance’.
Many writers I know avoid reading anything in the genre they are currently writing for fear that their own voice or plot might be unduly influenced, but as Zoe points out this might involve forswearing off a vast array of fiction for years (given how long it can take to finish a WIP). When I was writing my first book, I borrowed countless historical mysteries from the library, all of which I read, examined and dissected in the name of understanding the genre I was attempting. When in the thick of actually writing the final manuscript though I admit I hesitated continuing to read too many of these same books lest my own work feel derivative or a horribly cheap imitation. Sometimes the worse thing you can do is read an amazing book when you’re feeling particularly vulnerable about your own writing standards!
We can’t forget the important adage, however, that in order to be a good writer you need to read and read widely. I am ever thankful for my book group for ensuring that at least guilt alone will drive me to read outside the research I usually have to do for my novels. That research is, unfortunately, also a great excuse to do ‘writing avoidance’ reading and many an extra hour (or four!) has been spent on obscure historical research that ended up as one line (if I’m lucky) in one of my novels.
I was comforted at least to read that both Zoe Heller and Anna Holmes suffered the same weakness for ‘reading’ online when they really should be writing. Facebook status updates, trashy headlines on the The Daily Mail or ‘TV scoop’ on E-online are all traps I easily fall into when I think I’ll just ‘take a break’ and before I know it 5 minutes has turned into 20 and my brain has turned to mush.
So what about you TKZers, what do you ‘read while you write’?
- Do you have books you turn to for inspiration?
- Do you read or avoid books in the same genre as your current WIP?
- How much of your ‘reading’ ends up as procrastination or writing avoidance?