Reading While Writing

I know I’ve posted on this topic before, and I always thought I knew exactly where I stood on the issue, but I find myself kind of moving to the other side a little bit now.

The argument: should a writer read in the area they’re working in? For example, should a novelist read novels while trying to write one? Many writers say NO. I’ve always heard that this is because they don’t want their voice to be influenced, but maybe there’s more to the story. Maybe they don’t want to unconsciously steal plot points or character elements.  

This is where I’m stuck right now. Traveling Girl, like Gypsy, is a fantasy novel. There are some supernatural elements. And I am not a person who reads those kinds of books. I just never got into them at all, not even the vampire stuff. I loved Buffy, and adore sci-fi films, but to read the stuff? Unless it’s something by this guy, I’m Just Not Interested. 

I think I like to watch that sci-fi and fantasy because envisioning the complex worlds created is just too much work for my lazy brain. Film does all the envisioning for for me.

For pleasure, I like to read novels about women pretty much like me. Of a certain age. Dealing with some kind of mid-life transformation. Boring and a bit self-involved, I know. I like to read memoirs, too, and biographies, especially biographies of writers. Again, a little insular. But my book group gets me to read heavier stuff outside my normal scope like Three Cups of Tea.

Now that I’m writing my third fantasy story (I’m including Octoberland, the novella that sparked the wriitng of Gypsy.) I’m starting to wonder if I should be reading in the genre. I can’t decide. In some ways, I think it keeps me honest and fresh if I don’t. I’m not ripping anybody off. But shouldn’t I know what’s out there? The other thing I can’t decide about is whether to watch any sci-fi stuff or if that will also dilute my own fantasy-world vision.

It might not be my thing to read it, but it is really fun to just make all this stuff up. I can’t decide if it would be better to know that everything I’m writing A. has been done before B. is completely original or C. a little of both.

For now, the only sci-fi show I’m watching on television is Lost. And that’s so different from what I’m writing, I feel safe tuning in. However, I remain slightly superstitious about putting the first season of Heroes , which just from the summary sounds A LOT like my books, into my Netflix queue.


  1. Good topic, Cindy. As you know, I write and publish essays. I often read other writers’ essay collections — really inspires and teaches me about structure. I don’t read as much fiction these days — but am working to change that. There’s a pile of new novels on my nightstand. Wish I had more time for them now.

    Another practice that truly informs and inspires me is reading poetry. It helps the cadence of my sentences, and shows me how to boil down the truth to a few short sentences, which is similar to the task given the writer of short essays.


  2. I didn’t know you were (or at least starting) to get into Science Fiction. But for me, no, I do avoid stories similar to the one I’m writing, just because, I begin to subconsciously steal that authors characters and plot points.


  3. I think my last couple of manuscripts are more accurately described as fantasy. I don’t have a firm enough grasp on science to do sci-fi right. Although I do have other dimensions, which I loosely base on superstring theory. Very loosely.


  4. I am a constant reader, an addicted reader, reading anything put in front of me on nearly any subject, nearly anytime, so I can’t avoid reading….must….read….now.

    As for characters and plot lines and descriptions leaking into my writing, I will claim it is inevitable.

    We used to say that in computer programming, there was really only one program written completely from scratch; that was the very first one ever written. Everything after that was ripped off what came before to some extent.

    I suspect it is the same with writing. Like someone said Tuesday night, there are two main topics: Love and Death. And their follow-ons: Love of Death and Death of Love. We’re up to four now…..



  5. Superstring theory…hum…interesting! Don’t know about it yet, but will look it up.

    Anther interesting theory I know one published author deals with in her writings is Nanotechnology.

    Sometimes, just writing Science Fiction without really knowing the science or the theories is scientific by itself; a writer may not know much about science to write Science Fiction.


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