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.

    • 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.

    • 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!

  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.

    • 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.

  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,


    • 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!

    • 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.

    • 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.

      • 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!)

  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.

  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!

    • 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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