Here’s what I know: When I read, it sparks something for me as a writer. New ideas arise that do not seem to have anything to do with what I’ve read. Just the act of reading jump starts my creative process.
Other times, reading does not spark ideas but unearths richer vocabulary that has been lying dormant.
And of course, there are non-writerly benefits to reading—it can be an emotional release or boost insight and empathy. Sometimes I just feel smarter afterwards, recharged intellectually.
So it’s all good, right? Yes, it is… except that I am not reading as much as I should, other than scanning the news obsessively for forecasts of imminent doom. It is not that I don’t have time to read, though time is tight. It is more that I have been feeling anxious about reading. I think I fear that 1) I will be unable to prevent myself from being influenced by the other person’s writing in some way, that it will seep in and emerge in the form of subtle plagiarism despite my best efforts, or 2) I will be so amazed at what another writer accomplishes that I will realize the futility of what I am undertaking and it will discourage me from writing. I would like to avoid either of those outcomes.
It’s not logical. Reason suggests that I can dismiss my concerns as low risk, in that I already accept the futility of writing and I want to do it anyway and that I can make good faith efforts to avoid unconscious plagiarism without missing out on the joys of reading. Perhaps if I can recognize this anxiety as a stumbling block, I can re-commit myself to the words, not just as a writer but also as a reader.
I may even blog about some of what I find.
(In case you are curious, pictured are three books I read as part of my research for my historical fiction novel set during the violent coup in Wilmington, NC, in 1898).
2 thoughts on “Reading as a writer.”
That’s why I tend to read stories that aren’t in the genre I’m currently writing in. But everything we read changes us, whether we know it or not. I can certainly relate to how you feel. I’ve also felt that pang of inadequacy when reading a book that blows me away. It’s hard not to compare ourselves. But I think it’s still important to read.
Oh, yes, I’ve done that, too, sometimes, avoiding a specific genre or just a type of book when it feels too close in some way to what I’m working on. I sometimes think I should just read poetry when I write fiction so I get the boost of the language without the tensions… though I think the tensions may be more imagined than real. Reading almost always helps.
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