The Art of Reading While Writing

Winter Wolf by RJ Blain - Cover ArtThere has been an ongoing debate about whether or not it is good for an author to read a lot of books while drafting a project. There's also a great deal of debate about whether or not it is wise for an author to read a lot of books, period.

I've always supported people reading a lot of books if they want to write. But I also acknowledge that it is very easy to set a tone and style based on what is read and loved. Authors are touchy about their ‘style,' and I'm not really sure why.

Who cares if your story has a similar style to someone else? It is your story, and even if you write in a similar style to another person, no one will tell your story like you will. Two authors can take the exact same premise and come up with two totally different novels as a result.

I understand the worry, but I also understand the benefit to reading while drafting.

When I was a lot less confident about myself, I was afraid to read books while actively drafting. Would people know what I was reading by what I was writing? I didn't want that–I feared that. So I avoided reading.

And I hated it. I love to read. I especially love when a book so absorbs me that I forget to go to sleep, and I'm bleary-eyed the next day because I stayed up till five in the morning, unable to put the book away.

I really shouldn't do that, but sometimes I just can't help myself.

I love to read.

I also love to write.

And there is room for both in my life, though I spend a great deal more of my time writing instead of reading.

It feels good to have found a balance, where I can really enjoy both reading and writing.

But reaching that balance was difficult. I used to abandon reading for months at a time, eventually reaching the point where I would snap and be forced to read every book I could get my hands on so I wouldn't go insane. (Insaner? Insaner!)

It wasn't healthy–not for my sanity, and not for my writing, either. It's not about seeing what is viable on the market, although it is important for knowing what a lot of readers want to read. It's all about stoking creativity–books open the gateways in the mind. When you're reading, you're exercising your imagination, and honing writing skills without realizing it. I do that. I do that a lot. And then I start daydreaming and thinking about the stories that I want to tell.

And from the books I read, I'll learn something new. Oh, you can kill someone like that? Maybe I'll use that inspiration to have an interesting death in one of my books. Oh, that's a really interesting twist–can I apply that concept to parts of my books, or twist that concept to fit what I'm doing?

And there's nothing wrong with that, either. Now, this isn't saying I approve of stealing for authors. I do not, under no circumstances–but there's nothing wrong with being inspired by another's work, or nodding to a creative idea… so long as you make efforts to make it unique to you, and not just directly copying some other author's idea. That's not fair to you, or to them.

There are billions of people on this planet. Nothing is unique or original; they're unique or original to you as an individual. My way of defenestrating someone in a novel will differ from how someone else does it. And that's okay!! It really is.

Worry less about a unique story or idea, worry less about being original. Worry more about spinning good yarn and capturing the imagination and love of your readers. Find out what they love to read. Find out what you love to write.

Find out where the two meet. Write that.

You'll be glad that you did.

Just remember, you can't write the story where the two meet if you don't read. Reading is how you learn what others love to read–and what you love to read.

Ultimately, it is how you learn what you love to write, too.

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