Does reading damage your writing?

Finally, my new Writing Magazine has arrived

Finally, my new Writing Magazine has arrived

I’ve read a lot over the years.

I’m not trying to show off, but if libraries ran schemes encouraging adults to read like they do young children, I’d have earned all my certificates by now, I’d have gold stars and ‘I’m a Star Reader’ posters covering my walls. It’s something I’m good at.

My tastes are eclectic. I’ve read Classics – your Austens, your Hardys, your Dickenses, your Swifts. Though I have big, gaping holes in my reading arsenal too.

Okay, you’ve twisted my arm. I confess – I’ve never read Hemingway. Yeah, yeah, I know, I should be drummed out of the Aspiring-Writers Club for that omission, but I’m no masochist. Generally, I read what I want to and Hemingway’s muscular, masculine subject matter has always sent me running for cover behind a pile of plumped up, lacy cushions. He’s all war and fighting and bull runs and hunting, isn’t he? Please correct me if I’m wrong.

The only thing of his I’ve read is the famous six-word story:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

Which even I admit is the pinnacle of flash fiction.

So, I may not have read Hemingway, but I’ve read a lot of other stuff. Mainly fiction, but lots of non-fiction too. I went through a few years where I read little but historical autobiographies, from Henry VIII to Oliver Cromwell, from Mary Queen of Scots to Samuel Pepys by way of Dickens himself. (If you want a biography that reads like fiction, may I recommend Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser. In fact, send me the postage and I’ll pop my old copy in the post box for you.)

I’ve read a fair bit of YA in preparation for writing some myself. Some I loved (yes, I too want to be The Hunger Game’s Katniss Everdeen) some not so much (if I ever meet Twilight’s Isabella Swan, I’ll slap her soppy, self-obssessed, twinkly backside for her.)

I read fantasy, historical fiction (of course), a tiny bit of crime, though I confess to being squeamish when it comes to serial killers and extreme, sadistic violence. Firstly, I get truly fed up with the fact that much of the kidnapping/ torturing/ murdering in increasingly inventive ways is performed on females – Woman as eternal victim does none of us any favours. Secondly, there’s enough horror in the world. Turn on the TV and you’ll see worse acts being performed in real life.

A catch up with the news in the Middle East always takes the shine off torture-porn for me.

Just let me clamber down from my high horse. Hang on a minute. There I am, back on terra firma. Now where was I? Ah, yes.

I’m a sucker for magazines. Not the true confessional, ‘Aliens took my hamster for medical experiments and now he’s running my son’s PTA’ kind of mags, but history ones (well, BBC History Magazine) and Writing Magazine, the latter I read cover to cover every month, in hope of finding the magic ingredient that will turn me from Blogger-Babbling-Nonsense-Into-The-Ether to Multi-Million-Selling-Author-With-Lucrative-Film-And-TV-Deals-Under-Negotiation. I’ll let you know when that issue comes out.

But …

Does all this addiction to reading help my writing? To write we must … well, write – we all know that. And there is an argument that to be a good writer you must read  your genre – a lot. But is this valid? Doesn’t reading other writers just muddy your own voice, confound and confuse your way of telling a story?

The late, amazingly great Terry Pratchett’s  advice was:

If you are going to write, say, fantasy – stop reading fantasy. You’ve already read too much. Read other things; read westerns, read history, read anything that seems interesting, because if you only read fantasy and then you start to write fantasy, all you’re going to do is recycle the same old stuff and move it around a bit.

Sound advice?


Are you a writer who reads nothing but your own genre? Does it enrich your writing? Or do you abstain from reading altogether while you write?

19 thoughts on “Does reading damage your writing?

  1. I haven’t read as much as you but I love reading too. I am not sure if reading for writing is a good trend but I notice that if I have read a book and then I write, that writer’s writing style would invariably influence my writing. If not for my writing, at least my thoughts and my general disposition for the day.
    Have you read a book called The House at Thornton- this is one of the most depressing books I have read in a long time.
    Also Agatha Christie’s, Endless Nights- a book I haven’t read a second time because the influence of my first reading is with me, even today, more than 30 years later.
    And another – Of Human Bondage, by Somerset Maugham- awful- can’t believe someone like Maugham wrote this book- just goes to show, everyone has bad days and good days- even famous authors.
    Really love your series on books. Keep up the writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Susie. I think you make a good point. When I read The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, I kept coming up with spooky, haunting storylines. When I read the magic-centred 19th C set Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, I devised a lovely story all about Victorian magicians! Shame I haven’t read a genius like Dickens or Austen and produced a work of genius of my own. It seems I’m not so easily influenced after all 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    2. “just goes to show, everyone has bad days and good days- even famous authors” This is so true. Don’t let the bad days discourage you. Even best selling authors write bad books. And whether or not a book is good or bad depends on whose reading it.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Very true – I’ve read a few books (The Book Thief, The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro) that are thought of as amaxing and just didn’t engage me at all. Mind you, it’s a good thing we all like to read different books, or all us writers would be scribbling the same thing!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. You have hit a sticky wicket. Here is how I see it, if you watch Shark Tank this will be clear. Think of your book, for a moment, as a new product and your readers are potential investors. You need to know how your product compares to the other products in its shelf space. Why should investors put their money into your product? How is it similar and how is it different? You must be able to answer those questions.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oops! Hit that button again. On the other hand, you must be able to forget what you’ve read while you are writing. I have worked hard to perfect this skill, not all writer’s can. You must judge for your self how to strike this balance.

      Stephen King recommends just reading anything to keep words going in your brain.

      It boils down to what works best for you.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. True – just replied to Susie saying something similar. You have to make a conscious effort not to let what you’re reading influence your style. Tricky, though.

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    2. Also a very good point, Cyn. I do think you have to read some works in your genre, otherwise how are you going to know current styles and trends? As a YA writer, if I don’t read contemporary works, there’s a danger my own writing will be dated, a poor version of books I read as a kid. Valid argument 🙂

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    1. Sorry for the terminology – it means someone who writes Young Adult fiction. It’s a bit of a hazy definition, as the books often have adult themes and are read by adults as well as teens and – sometimes younger. The usually have a teen protagonist and are often fantasy, but not always. The Hunger Games is classed as YA as is Twilight and I guess some of the Harry Potters.

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  3. I’m an writer who reads from all genres and from many different authors. I read between editing phases to recharge my brain and give my eyes something different to look at for a while. Reading does several things for me as a writer. First it makes me realize how versatile the craft of writing is. There are so many different writing styles out there, and good writers don’t follow the sacred writing rules. They write what they want, how they want. They tell a good story using their voice. Secondly, reading relaxes me. It’s a recharge from stress and gives me a chance to escape into another world for a while (writing does this for me as well.) Third, it can sometimes get the creativity flowing and give me a new boost of writing energy. But mostly I just love a good book. Stephen King even said the two things a writer must do is write a lot and read a lot.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, L.M – what great comments. I confess to being totally undisciplined when it comes to reading whilst writing. I just read all the time – possibly shouldn’t as I know it occasionally colours my own writing, though I think that’s lessening the longer I write my own stuff. It’s definitely the best way to unwind – forget TV or computer games, grab a book I say!

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    1. I did have an ‘idea’ about a 19th C group of magicians after reading a book about – 19th C magicians. And I developed a story about ghosts and graveyards after reading The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman! I don’t think other writers’ styles creep into my work though – at least I hope not. 🙂

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