Reading while writing?

I’m plotting my plot. Tracking conflicts, crisis, and resolution. Monitoring character and relationship changes and growth. I’m going through each section of my novel, and writing down a paragraph or so about it. The events, and what the motivation is within each section, ultimately the purpose of the scene.

On my very tight time-frame, I gave myself one week for this work. Well, I’ve added a week and I am hoping this will be enough. It’s a slow process, much much slower than I anticipated. I thought it would be a matter of formula, instead I find myself pondering. So many questions are arising…it’s very interesting. Every step I take with this novel brings me further into it’s world, and just when I think I know all I can, I learn more.

My current WIP has been compared to Girl with a Pearl Earring, and Birth House. I have decided that now, when I am not writing but analyzing, is the perfect time to re-read them. I began with Girl with a Pearl Earring, and see some similarities, most so in the atmosphere of the book. I am a reader, and so when I read I tend to turn off the writer in me, yet this time I am trying to leave that part of me open. Especially in the opening scene of the book (my greatest difficulties with writing is openings…), and I see how Tracey Chevalier uses her language with description to define the setting:

“I was chopping vegetables in the kitchen when I heard voices outside our front door – a woman’s , bright as polished brass, and a man’s low and dark like the wood of the table I was working on. They were the kind of voices we heard rarely in our house. I could hear rich carpets in their voices, books and pearls and furs….My mother’s voice – a cooking pot, a flagon – approached from the front room…..The woman’s face was like an oval serving plate, flashing at times, dull at others.”

I was hesitant to re-read either book while still working on my wip, nervous that I would try to emulate those novels instead of letting mine be, but I am not encountering this problem. In fact, it has been quite inspirational. I’m wondering how others work – do you read similar novels as to your current WIP, or do you stay away?

37 thoughts on “Reading while writing?

  1. I don’t read as much fiction while I’m writing, but I do read some, and it’s always similar to what I’m writing. It inspires me to write better. I’ve never felt there was a danger in emulating anything other than these authors’ craftsmanship, which is a good thing. It doesn’t change my style at all; I write the way I write. In fact, I believe that my favorite authors became so because our styles were already similar.

    1. Hi Linda, hope you had a good weekend!
      I think it’s amazing that basically every comment here says that reading is a learning tool! I have been thinking about my favourite authors and wether their style is similar to mine, and I honestly have no idea. I don’t think I can step away at the moment enough to see it. But, I am certain that I take a piece of something from them.

  2. Ohh, very interesting question! There are books I’ve avoided, because they sound too close to mine, but then when I read them later, they never are. I think once you’ve written a lot and your own style/voice is quite entrenched, you don’t need to worry about inadvertently mimicking another’s work. I know what I want my stories to be/sound like/read like now. Or on a good day I do, heh. 😉

  3. I most definitely read in my genre while writing; to set the mood. I alternate between literary and humor, hoping to instill the vibe of both in my novel. However, I find if I read Fannie Flagg while writing, I tend to lighten the mood of my wip too much, so I’m saving any more of her novels for when I’m finished. I don’t know why she has so much influence on me and not other writers of the same genre.

    1. I just googles Fannie Flagg, Tricia. Fried Green Tomatoes. So many authors for me to discover still. It’s interesting that you doscovered that one author in particular influences you.

  4. I tend to read a lot more when I am not writing, though like others, I read in the genre I am working on typically to help keep me in the right head space. I’m a bit like you and have a readers hat on while reading, I struggle to keep my writers brain ticking away!

    1. Hi JC! I kept my writer’s eyes open for the first bit of the book, but then I got lost as a reader again. Ugh! I might have to re-read it again. I have to decide.

  5. Oh, I definitely like to read while I’m writing and copy anything good I can find. Half the reason for having a large collection of books is so that I can look up how a better author handles whatever it is I am trying to write, such as a love scene or a narrative transition or change in the point of view. I love consulting good writers. I wouldn’t read a novel all the way through, though, since I am always in a terrible rush. Also, I’m thinking that if I steal from dozens of writers instead of just one, it will be harder to pin a law suit on me.

    1. lol, Joseph.
      I think it’s amazing that you can just reference a certain technique, see how it was done, and apply it. I think I learn much slower than that. I have to see it done over and over again by various authors. Perhaps it is because I do not use reading so much as a conscious device. I love getting lost too much in the story to analyze. For now I have peace with it, but I hope one day to be able to divide my time in reading novels: for pleasure and for learning.

  6. I have a book with me at work that I read on breaks and lunch. Cuurently, James Ellroy’s memoir “My Dark Places”. I have a book on my desk that I will read when I’m not in the middle of writing/editing/blogging. Usually, I read within my genre as that is what mostly interests me. I agree with Linda’s response that I don’t feel there is a danger of emulation. Per Eccliastes, there is nothing new under the sun. Even if we were to absorb, so to speak, a feeling or sensibilitiy, our true natures as writers will ALWAYS emerge. I wrote a novel after reading Chuck Palahnuik’s “Fight Club”. It was similar in that it featured an unnamed narrator and a deep and dark transgressive streak. Beyond that, the tone and themes are vastly different. Read for inspiration. Read for joy. Read to remind yourself why you began this madness.

    1. Oh, Ev, it is not my theme…I would gladly share it with you 🙂
      Your looks great! We must have both gotten that spring itch – getting warmer here in Mtl!

  7. I love to read, and my novel reflects the types of books I love to read. If I had time, I think I would certainly read in the genre I am writing. In fact, I have two purchased before Christmas that I have not had time to get to. Think I’ll put away the keyboard soon and get started.
    Going for that glass of wine, soft music and aromatic candles 🙂

  8. “Every step I take with this novel brings me further into its world, and just when I think I know all I can, I learn more.”

    Love that. It was that revelation that gave me the confidence my wip was a story worth telling. The storytelling doesn’t shut down, it become rife with possibilities. It’s awesome!

    I do read within the genre I am writing. I figure it can help me avoid duplicating some things and it can open up new, tangential possibilities for characters, story line, conflict, etc. My novel has steampunk elements, so I powered through a number of steampunk novels, old and new, to see what other authors had done. I read some pretty cool books and expand my vision of steampunk at the same time!

  9. Hi Jennifer,

    I occasionally read novels in the same genre while I’m writing. Sometimes, it’s good to have the time out and see what others are doing.

    All the best with your work,


    1. Hi Lawrence, I don’t know that I right a genre, and I certainly don’t read a genre. I am really all over the place. I read in so many areas, I wonder how that is reflected in my own work?

  10. Great post, Jennifer. I do try to read similar books to the ones I write, simply out of preference, but I am never swayed to emulate them. I like that you read through your novel and write a paragraph on each section.

  11. I absolutely find reading to be inspirational. It does nothing but help my work. I often turn to books when I am struggling with things. For example, when I encountered problems with switching around between my protagonists I turned to The Correction and Empire Falls for some much needed craft lessons.

  12. I don’t read if I’m really engrossed in writing a story. It’s not a conscious decision not to read, I just don’t feel like it. After a day spent staring at words on paper, I guess my brain just can’t take any more!

    1. Interesting, Helen! I know one writer who says the same thing. Myself, I cannot ever be without a fiction book. I try sometimes to put them away and read some non-fiction books I’ve been wanting to…yet somehow I can’t. I’ve taking advantage of all those hours in doctor’s office to read through novels on the craft. I don’t bring my fiction with me – avery difficult thing. lol

  13. I’m always reading and usually get so caught up I don’t look at others’ work analytically. Like you, I have to read a novel a second time to discover what works, what makes it good. I know that as I read for pleasure, I’m absorbing the mystery of story-telling.

    1. Do you re-read them a second time, Cathryn?
      I am really very bad at going back to re-read, and as I saw with Girl With A Pearl Earring, I did not better the second time around. I jsut got lost in the story again.

      1. Yes, I do re-read a 2nd time. I find that if too much time has passed, I get caught up in the story again. If it’s recent, I can be a bit more analytical. From time to time, I’ve dissected novels into spreadsheets — that can really kill your pleasure, but I have learned from it. (I don’t do it often!)

      2. wow – that is amazing, Cathryn, spreadsheets!

        You’ve got me thinking maybe I should re-read that book, now, as I’ve just finished it.

  14. I usually try to stay away for fear I’ll be influenced, but that said, I’ve noticed I can usually tell during later editing if my voice has changed or started to sound false (as it always does when I unconsciously emulate another author.) So I figure as long as you’re inspired, it’s a good thing.

    1. Sometimes I get really nervous about voice, Jen, especially from character to character. I have to know them well enough for them to be identifiable, I suppose.

  15. I loved both those books and if you’re work is being compared to them then I’d say that’s a real compliment. I’d also say it definitely sounds like something I will enjoy. Can’t wait!

    1. Thanks for the confidence, Laura!

      I am actually reading Birth House now, for the first time since I read it when it was released, and I have to say that I am surpirsed by some of the similarities. It must have touched me on a deep level! It’s interesting to read it now, after having written a draft of my novel without ever consciouly thinking of it. Midwives, conception and birthing issues, world war 1. They’re not the same, but they do touch on similar aspects. I didn’t realize it while writing – thank goodness! I would have never been able to write it while comparing it to the Birth House! Such a great novel!

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