13 January 2010

Reading while Writing - yes or no

I don't mean at the same time, though multitasking is part of every writer's existence. I mean reading books during the same time period one is writing one. I've heard different takes on this practice, from "Always", to "I just can't, it'll mess up my work," to "I'll read, just not anything like what I'm writing.

Personally I'm in the first camp. I don't understand those that don't. That's not to say it's incorrect, I just don't understand it. I've heard from some that they're afraid what they are reading will creep into their work. Okay, that's a reasonable explanation. I can see that. For myself, reading while in the midst of my own work is the acquifer that fills the well of my muse. I am always scouting for a well-turned phrase or an interesting word that I haven't used recently. I also like to dig through the layers of the books, to see what's working and what doesn't, and where I might be making the same mistakes.

And I usually read books LIKE the one I'm writing. Not exactly like, obviously, but there is some connection. Recently I've been reading books set in the Victorian period or something like it, for example. I have a whole lineup ready in my TBR pile. While the fear of accidental thievery is in the back of my mind (but I have a pretty good memory, so it's very unlikely), reading similar material keeps me in the frame of mind I need to be in to stay "in character" for my own book.

But it's hard sometimes not to compare my work to that of the published, polished books I have in my hand. I shouldn't, I know, but there are occasions I just can't help myself. Especially with really good books. I look at them in wonder. Why can't I write like that? What makes these books so much better than mine (since I STILL don't have an agent and while I've got five publishing contracts to my credit, no NY publisher has come knocking on my door)? There are moments of despair.

So why do I still do it? Because in the end, a really good story inspires me to write, keeps me going when I'm slacking off. I've managed to put down 45,000 words of a planned 80,000 in the last five months, and it's because I've had time to read voraciously. I've read more books in my semester off than all of the previous months combined.

I'm in trouble when Grad School starts later this month, so I'd better get moving!
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