I’m Not Going to Read, Read, Read!
I hate writing advice. I go out of my way to avoid it, to ignore it, and to actively disregard it. Writing, like all art, is too personal to advise. What works for someone else won’t work for me. What works for me won’t work for someone else. If you happened to find writing advice that clicks with you, it is sheer dumb luck.
A lot of writing advice I think is bad advice at best and restrictive at worse, but nothing gets to me more than the “read, read, read!” advice. This piece of advice annoys me the most because it looks so innocent on the surface. Yeah, of course. I want to be a writer. Writer’s read. Why wouldn’t they?
Writers are told to read for a few reasons. One major reason is to study their craft, which makes sense. As a child, I learned a lot about sentence structure from reading. I learned a lot of grammar as well, and what an indentation was. Reading taught me a lot, I don’t want to pretend like it didn’t. The books and authors that I read and learned from laid the groundwork for who I am and what I write today.
Another reason writers are told to read is to get ideas, to see how other people are doing it (the implication is to steal their style, which I’m fine with), to learn how a book looks. I don’t hate any of these reasons either. Like I said, reading has taught me all of these things. But I am past the point where reading is truly helpful to me.
Let me clarify, because even I’m getting a little annoyed seeing that sentence. I don’t mean that I have nothing to learn from reading. What I am saying is, what I can learn from reading is on a bell curve. I’ve hit the peak, and I’m headed down now. That doesn’t mean that reading isn’t fun or worthwhile for me, or that the stories I’m reading aren’t worth my time. I’m just not getting what I used to get from it.
This might be a very specific reason why reading no longer helps me the way it used to. Maybe other people have talked about this issue at length and I’ve just missed it. Or maybe, because of the weird pressure there is to listen to what Great Authors have said, no one has wanted to disagree. Either way, I’m going to say it. I’m a copycat.
I’m 100%, 24/7, 356, genuine copycat. I will steal the style of whatever author I’m reading. Angie Sage, Nancy Holder, Tanya Huff, Neil Gaiman– doesn’t matter. If I’m reading their book, my writing is a copy of theirs. Not even a good copy. A shitty, obvious copy. If I read a text book? God help my writing. It’s dry and flat as all hell.
And this doesn’t just apply to books. If I watch a show with a British actor, my inner voice has a British accent. Watching a historical piece? Guess what my inner thoughts sound like. There is no way around it for me. I get too immersed in things, and I copy them. Even when I try not to.
Now, this isn’t a horrible problem. I would love to write as well as Neil Gaiman, or be as funny as Tanya Huff. The problem lays in reading more than one book. Because my writing will switch to another author’s style mid-way through the book I’m writing.
For example, I recently opened up an old manuscript that I had abandoned and decided to rework. The first couple of chapters? That’s me and my voice. The next couple of chapters? Well, I was reading How to Archer at the time, so guess what those chapters sound like? And with the next set of chapters, I was studying for a history test, and guess what happened?
You see how this could be an issue. Now, an easy solution is to only read books by one author while I work on my book. But writing novels takes me a very long time, and reading books does not. Between writing and editing, I don’t think most authors have enough books to keep me going. The next solution is to stop reading.
And that’s what I mean when I say that reading is now more of an issue than a helpful resource for me. I have to be very careful about what I read (and what shows I binge watch, and video games I play for days on end) while I’m writing or editing my books.
This doesn’t mean I love reading, or that I want to read. I read the news all the time, and tweets, and Facebook and Tumblr posts. Those vary enough that my brain can’t get stuck on one style. But reading a couple of chapters a night of a book and it’s in my head.
Like I said, writing advice is so subjective that it really doesn’t matter how anyone else writes or what works for them. The one universal piece of advice seems to be “read all the books you can get your hands on”, and while I agree in theory, it just doesn’t work for me. And for other people, I’m sure reading is the best way for them to be a better writer. Don’t get to hung up on writing advice, it really doesn’t mean anything.
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