Writing what you read?

Now that year’s end has me reviewing my list of books read in 2011, I’m counting all my excuses for not reading more than I wanted. Left to my own devices, I’m confident I would join the 100+ club for the year, but alas . . .

Graduate school is one excuse, since I spent the first six months finishing an MFA. (Of course part of that degree actually required me to read books, so that excuse is a little thin.) There is my young son, who goes to bed late at night, so I don’t often get to read in bed before sleep. My biggest excuse, though, is that I spent more time writing than in any previous year.

Writing and reading go hand in hand for a lot of writers, but for me this isn’t the case. My writing is affected by the style and content of what I read, so if I’m looking for inspiration, for encouragement, for a jump start, nothing is better than reading a good book. (I’ve noted in a previous entry that Graceling and Thirteen Reasons Why recently turned out to be good choices for me.) Once I’m on a roll writing, though, I find that reading interferes with my writing. It inhibits my voice and ideas because my head becomes filled with somebody else’s voice and ideas.

This is not to say I don’t read at all when I write. It means that certain parts of the writing process make me hesitant to read. Brainstorming, outlining, and revising are great times for me to be reading good fiction. When I’m actually producing pages, though, it’s better for me to abstain from reading or to read something non-fiction. Today I started a non-fiction book on medieval England.

How are reading and writing related for you? Do you find it hard to read while working on your own piece? Do you find certain books help you along?

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The man who can drive himself further once the effort gets painful is the man who will win.

— Roger Bannister