Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Every Writer Should Read

For the past three months I have been saying to myself - 'You know what Laura, you should read more.'

Have I? No.

Before I started writing I used to read all the time, and I read widely. Chick lit, autobiography, memoir, crime, comedy etc...

But now it seems I don't have time to read at all.

As a writer this is extremely bad of me. The whole world seems to say - 'you can't write if you don't read.' But as a writer how can you possibly have time to read other people's work, even when you know you should? And as any writer will usually tell you, time is precious. It's very precious when all you want to do is write your next book, market and promote your current one and live your own life as well.

Sitting in front of a computer all day is very tiring on the eyes. So when I come to take a break the last thing I want to do is strain my eyes some more and force my brain to engage on something else. Most of the time I'm just screaming, 'Let me watch some mindless TV and go to sleep!'

So when I do force myself to read, my inner editor comes out in full force and I end up not concentrating on the actual story but asking myself: why didn't the author choose that word instead of this?

I guess I am also scared to read a book similar to mine in case I subconsciously copy sentences. Sometimes a thought just pops into my head and I think - Aha! That sounds good but where I have I heard it before? Was it something my neighbour said or have I actually read it somewhere else? So consequently I am paranoid for the rest of the day.

And then there's the problem of having your own life as well. People often say, and I think this myself, that to write about anything you first must go out there and experience it yourself. Ideas, thoughts and creations are not going to come if all you do all day is sit down and sleep. So people call me up and say, 'Hey, do ya fancy a coffee?' I say yes, because really I am quite a sociable person at heart, despite spending most days feeling irascible.

So I am sitting with a friend, having coffee and the world is great apart from one tiny thing - I should be at home writing, or even better reading!

Please tell me I am not the only writer who occasionally feels like this. How do you get the balance right between writing, marketing and reading?

6 comments:

  1. You're not alone. I do the same thing. I often find it difficult to read and enjoy a story while I'm in the midst of a writing project. Problem is, lately I always seem to be in the middle of a writing project.

    There's a bunch of books I want to read right now, but I've avoided them for the same reasons you've stated above. I do try to keep reading something while writing though, and that is any kind of writing book. I find a book about writing can be very inspirational-while writing.

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  2. If you look at the advice professional writers give to newbies the one that crops up again is: Read, read and then read some more. It’s not bad advice but I’m not convinced that one has to be a voracious reader to be a good writer. It’s a plus, not a requirement. Of course you need to read and I like to think I am well read but I’m not widely read. When I was in my early twenties I only read books by authors who had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature and although I didn’t limit myself to that select band for too long it did set a precedent: I don’t read rubbish and up until I started getting sent ARCs from publishers I pretty much only read literary fiction but even there there are a lot of authors I haven’t read not because they’re bad writers but because they write about things that don’t interest me which is why I’ve read very little literature from before the twentieth century bar Kafka who really was ahead of his time anyway.

    I do have the same problem as you when I read these day: I want to edit so much of what I get sent to read but that’s why it’s best to read someone like Nabokov or Beckett because, seriously, are you going to try and edit their work? Some authors can read whilst up to their armpits in a new work and bully for them who can. I think most of us need to cut back on our reading while we’re wrapped up in our own wee worlds. I don’t worry about copying sentences. Even if I did manage to remember it word for word the odds are it will get altered in the constant editing I do in fact when I was writing my first novel I deliberately copied down odd sentences from books or TV and tried to work them into the book. I defy anyone to find them but it worked for that book because it is riddled with cultural references and even I can’t tell what was deliberate and what was accidental.

    What I do find if I’m reading and writing at the same time is that what I’m reading can affect the tone of what I’m writing which can be a good or a bad thing.

    There are only so many hours in the day and if you’re perpetually changing hats you’ll get yourself in a state. There are times when you want to market and so focus on that for a week and forget about the writing. That way you can get a flow going. I doubt there is anyone who can snap their fingers and switch from one mindset to another just because it’s time to do x, y or z.

    As far as the write-what-you-know school of thought goes I’m basically against it. I write about what I want to know. What’s the point in writing about what you know? I’d find that boring. Yes, by all means include things you’ve experienced or seen or read about to add a feeling of reality to your writing but my last book was about two women and I wasn’t about to go and have a sex change just to see what it felt like to be a woman; that’s why we have imaginations. This reminds me of the comment attributed to Laurence Oliver on the set of Marathon Man:

    A story circulated for a long time that Dustin Hoffman (being a "method actor") stayed up all night to play a character who has stayed up all night. Arriving on the set, Laurence Olivier asked Hoffman why he looked the way he did. Hoffman told him, to which Olivier replied in jest, "Why not try acting? It's much easier." Hoffman repeatedly denied the story, and finally cleared up the matter in 2004. The torture scene was filmed early in the morning, Hoffman was going through a divorce from his first wife and was depressed, and had spent the previous two nights partying hard. Hoffman told Olivier this and his comment related to his lifestyle and not his "method" style of acting. - IMDB

    Writers are exactly the same as actors – we’re liars. Some liars are better than others. I can’t lie to save myself in the real world, but on paper, where I have time to gather my thoughts and rehearse my lines, I think I do pretty well and my short stories featuring women have been complimented.

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  3. Hey Laura! Thanks for stopping by my blog. Wow, we do think alike. Great post!

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  4. Laura, as far as I can tell there is no balance. I run run run until I fall apart. Honestly, last night I went to bed at 8:30, just too drained to even think anymore. Between doing the writing, the marketing and trying to keep up with other projects (because you can't just have one good book anymore, you need 9 it seems) I'm exhausted. Add onto that all the other stuff that comes with life - working, kids, paying bills, blah blah blah - and it gets overwhelming.

    For me reading is my escape. I love to sit back and take some time to read a good book, to escape into another world. I don't worry too much about copying other writers, I guess I just think I'm super unique :)

    Enjoy the long weekend, and read a book!

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  5. Thanks everyone for your comments.

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  6. I used to read a lot for pleasure, but 20 years of editing other people's work killed that pleasure, and now I merely write for pleasure.

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