What do you read while writing?

images-1Inspired 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?


8 thoughts on “What do you read while writing?

  1. I like to read literary fiction while I’m writing…so that examples of great writing are floating around in my head.

    Then I read thrillers, my genre, when I’m relaxing.

    I work part-time and read aloud to a 98-year-old blind man as part of my responsibilities. He likes to read THE NEW YORKER and the NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS. We always read the “funny” story in the NYer first, where “funny” means strange because those stories rarely have a beginning, middle and end, one of the reasons a friend of mine who teaches short story writing doesn’t use them as examples these days.

    As for procrastinating? I tend to procrastinate more when I’m really struggling with a particular scene…like right now.

  2. I like to have some of my favorite literary ‘friends’ around me, in case I need to clear my head and read some decent writing while in the throes of my own first draft:) The New Yorker, I confess, tends to be my first port of call for the cartoons – it takes me a while to actually digest the real content:)

  3. I read while writing — thrillers, traditional mysteries — they energize me. I go back to Agatha Christie, master of the traditional mystery, for her excellent descriptions of even minor characters.

  4. The hard part of writing on a computer is that I hear and see every little ping of incoming emails and other messages. Sometimes I can ignore them, but if I’m stuck on a passage or searching for the right word, I am easily distracted by the shiny.
    This morning, all I managed was the sticky notes of ideas. Tomorrow, I hope to make them into paragraphs.

  5. I do read while I’m writing, because I’m always writing, and if I did not read while I was writing I would not read. I let the bookmarks fall where they may.

    I take Sundays off from writing, unless I’m in a jam, and try to use at least half that day for whittling down the old TBR pile. (What do you call it when it’s on an e-reader?)

  6. Like others, if I didn’t read while writing, I’d never read. I do try to avoid a couple of authors whose voices I think are similar to mine, though. I’m writing a romantic suspense and reading Laurie R. King’s newest, plus a mystery by a new-to-me author about an ex-priest investigator, which isn’t something that could ever bleed into my own work. I have the two newest JD Robb books that I’ve set aside–not because I think I’d be influenced, but because I know when I start one, I don’t stop until I finish.

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