Tuesday, February 16, 2016

No Writer is an Island...Or Even a Peninsula


When you’re elbow deep in a first draft, can you read other fiction, or does it mess with your own writing?

Ever seen the Canadian horror movie Cube? It's about people trapped in an endless, blank, limbo-like space. I would love to live in such a world with only my work-in-progress. No distractions, no teaching, no wordly concerns...

The fact is, though, I don't have that luxury. While I'm working on my draft, I'm also proofing the galleys for Invisible Dead, which comes out in June. A friend also asked me to look at her manuscript. And since I read on the Skytrain during my commute...and I'm learning French and need to read for practice...and I have student essays to mark...

My point is, contamination is inevitable. When you're starting out, your writing is going to echo the writers you like. Hopefully as you go on, your words pull together into a style that's your own.

I do think that it can be beneficial to read outside your genre while you're working on a project. For instance, if you're writing a private eye novel, it's probably best not to be reading Chandler and Mosely and Grafton. Part of what kicks a genre forward are writers bringing other influences to that genre--personal, stylistic, literary. Maybe that's a good time to read Virgil's The Aeniad. Or Marilynne Robinson's Gilead? Hemingway, for instance, read Simenon's Maigret novels when he finished writing for the day. Is there a Simenon influence to A Farewell To Arms? Possibly. But the better question is, if there were, would that be a bad thing?

3 comments:

Meredith Cole said...

I'm always horrified when I hear writers say that they don't have time to read anymore... Not read?!! That's like not breathing.... But you're right, it's probably best to stay away from books that are too similar--but there are so many other wonderful books to read (non fiction, etc.).

Sam said...

Yeah, I just plain enjoy reading. And I feel like if there were proof that not reading improved one's writing, I'd consider it. But everything seems to point to the opposite being true.

Susan C Shea said...

Read always. It's just what to choose from the world's vast selection while you're sweating over your own creation that's at issue!