Monday, June 11, 2012

Does Reading a Novel While Writing Affect Your Writing Style?

Hi all,

I have an interesting question for you. Does reading another writer's novel affect the way you write?

Anyone who plays sports knows that watching a teammate or opponent while playing can affect the way you play. All players have their own style. In baseball, a batter doesn't want to watch the batter up before him or else it may change the way he hits the ball. A golfer never wants to watch his teammate or opponent swing otherwise it may upset his own timing and speed. Even in bowling, you don't want to watch the person before you throw the ball or it may affect the way you throw yours. (Yes, bowling – my kids played a lot of sports and were serious about them so I learned a lot too!) The point is, although you learn how to play a sport by watching others, once you've set your own style, then watching others can actually disrupt the way you play.

The same could be said about reading while writing. Certainly, writers learned to love the written word and to write by reading. We are influenced by the great authors and learn from them. However, when we sit down to write, we want to project our own style and not copy other writers. But sometimes, at least for me, reading a good book in my off time can influence the way I write.

How does it influence my writing? Well, let's say I've been reading the latest Danielle Steel novel. Now, I realize she has sold millions of books and has been at the top of her genre for years and years, but in all honesty I feel sometimes that she gets a bit lazy with her writing. She repeats herself throughout her books and starts a lot of sentences with 'But' and 'And' – something first-time novelists would never get away with. I find that when I'm reading one of her books, some of that laziness filters into my own novel and I have to go back later and clean it up.

Then I pick up a fun book, like one written by Janet Evanovich, which is generally fast-paced, witty and downright hilarious. My own novel may start reflecting this with quick, to the point sentences or ill-placed humor. Or, I might be reading a serious book by Elizabeth Buchan and suddenly my own prose becomes heavy in details and emotions (actually, not such a bad thing!).

While these influences may seem like they would improve on your writing, they actually don't. I lose my own personal timing, pace and style and that can cause the novel to become disjointed and awkward. So, I now make sure not to read right before sitting down to write, that way I've had some time to let the other author's words clear from my mind before I begin weaving my own story.

I'd love to hear from other writers about this. Does reading affect your writing?



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