Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Writer as Reader


“There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.”

Joseph Brodsky

 

The first advice given to would-be writers is to ‘read-read-read.’ Unless we’re James Joyce, we are not reinventing the wheel. There is more to learn from those who came before than any instruction book could offer.

But I discovered a curious thing about the relationship between reading fiction and writing it. At least for me, I must stop reading when I’m about to write a first draft. I need a few days to ‘clear the air’ and calm the other writers’ voices, so mine can emerge.

The practical ramification is that I must alternate between reading and writing. This is easy to do when writing picture story books. It takes a stronger discipline when it comes to tackling longer stories.

My to-be-read pile grows ominously tall in those times. You wouldn’t want to brush against it accidentally, or you may get buried as the precarious stack collapses. My guilt at ‘not reading’ would grow also, but I know what I have to do, in order to do what I do.

Yes, it’s one of these times. I just cleared my pile, or almost. For the next few weeks it’ll have to start growing again.

10 comments:

  1. I try to read books that are not similar to what I'm writing at the time, so that they will not intrude on my WIP.

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  2. I like reading books similar to what I'm going to write. My ideas are usually so different anyway that it doesn't hurt me. Instead it gets me in the right frame of mind.

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  3. My mind seems to be organized in compartments. Good in cases like this, because once I move from the reading compartment to the writing compartment, everything else is shut off.

    Bad in the case of kids asking for things like dinner while I'm in the writing compartment. I blink at them as if I don't even know who they are let alone know how or what to feed them.

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  4. I was convinced that authors who said they had to stop reading whenever they were deep into a project were crazy. But I've realized that I actually use reading as a crutch to avoid writing (probably Freud would find something about fear of success and fear of rejection in there).

    Also, getting a degree in literature means I a) can't read things for sheer fun much anymore without also delineating everything problematic on all sociological levels and also tearing its grammar apart and also thinking about the panopticon or something, and b) when I do sit down to write, I think of the essays people would write about it or about the theory I've had to read for school and wonder where my piece would fit in.

    But I do think you're right. I'm going to have to take a break from reading (or at least only do my reading for school) once I get back into my novel seriously.

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  5. I find I can read without any trouble, but I don't have the time! I've just finished handing in a revision to my editor, so now I'm going to dive back into books that I've been missing.

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  6. I love reading too but my stack is enormous as well. It's hard fitting it all in and sometimes the things that I love the most have to be put to the side. Very sad.

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  7. I do find it hard to balance all the aspects of being a writer: reading, writing, blogging, promoting. When I'm deep in a story, I'm too exhausted at the end of the day to even consider reading what anyone else has published.

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  8. I don't find that reading interferes, but for the first time in my life I'm struggling to find the time. I find writing, especially the draft, very full-immersion, and now that it has aspects that it once did't have, there's only so much time in a day.

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  9. I'm the same way. Sometimes when I'm reading, I get impatient with the story and can't stop thinking about a WIP. That's when it's time to put reading aside and really focus on writing. I can read, though, if the book is completely different from what I'm working on.

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  10. You must be very disciplined, Mirka. Even in the middle of a first draft, when I'm in the groove, I read. I noticed a pattern now that I've written a few books. I read almost exclusively NF while writing a first draft, and after that both F and NF. There simply isn't enough time to read all the book I want to read ... because I'd rather be writing.

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