Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Book I Read

By Alex Segura

Or, What I Read While I Write vs. What I Read When I Edit.

This is the opposite of a how-to post. This is closer to a poll. Why? Because I’m extremely curious to hear what other writers have to say about it.

I was having dinner with a writer friend last night and, not surprisingly, we were talking about books we’d read recently. Many of these were written by people we knew. Something he said stuck out: 

“I can’t read Author X’s book yet because I know Book #Z of my series will also be in the same genre.” 

Now, I bring this up not because I think it’s weird (I don’t), but because it got me to thinking about my own reading “rules.” It also got me wondering about what writers read while they write, and when they don’t.

I don’t read mysteries while writing a mystery. Most of the time, I’m doing research or reading nonfiction that’s somehow influencing my current work - or the next one. True crime, historical pieces, whatever. Why do I avoid other mysteries? Simple: I don’t want to lose my voice because my reading has become immersed in another writer’s. It happens. You mainline an author’s work and next thing you know, your sentences have the same cadence. Your dialogue starts to read like you didn’t write it. It’s weird.

Now, a little influence here and there is fine - it’s organic. We’re all products of the books we read. But I don’t want to push it. If I’m rolling along on a piece of fiction, and I have the voice and style down, I don’t want to lose that because I just got hooked on a new author. It keeps the work somewhat pure, and, I think, consistent.

So, when do I read fiction? The rest of the time. While editing, while revising, between major projects and on trips and such. Even then, I’ll hop between genre fiction and true crime or nonfiction as my tastes guide me. I’ll read a music bio or some political stuff, too, to provide a change of pace.

I guess, now that I put it on paper, my only rule - and it’s not really an unbreakable, hard and fast one - is that I try to avoid books in my genre when writing a new book. What’re yours? Why do they exist?


Dana King said...

I have none. 90% of the time I read whatever is next on the To-Be Read list. The other 10% it's because something struck my eye and I want to read it right away. What I'm writing, and where I am in the writing process, never enter into it.

Dave White said...

When I'm writing prose, my attention flags. I can't read other deeper friction because my mind is full of my writing ideas. I tend to lean toward quicker reads, like sports journalism when I'm writing.

Scott D. Parker said...

Great question. I generally read something close to whatever I'm writing. For example, in July, I wrote some western short stories so I started reading some westerns, both vintage ones I inherited from my grandfather and modern ones by James Reasoner and others. Part of this exercise is that I need to build up my 'western vocabulary', but another part is that I wanted to immerse myself in the genre. This is typically how I work. I usually have a pretty firm idea of how a story of mine is going to go so I don't worry about bleed.

However, July was also the month I used to plan my next novel, a World War II yarn. I will be starting that book on Saturday so I've been reading up on the invasion of the Low Countries and the Dunkirk evacuation. I don't actually have any WWII novels lined up, but I've been frequenting Half Price Books and have picked up 7-10 WWII movies on VHS so I'll be watching them to 'maintain the mood during the month as I write the novel.

Scott D. Parker said...

Oh, and in July, I also watched as many westerns as I could to maintain the mood and expand my 'western vocabulary.'

Alex Segura said...

Very interesting stuff, all! Thanks for chiming in.

Jay Faerber said...

Interesting thoughts... When I'm writing something, I tend to read (or watch, if I'm writing a TV script) stuff in the same genre as "inspiration" in the early stages of writing -- when I'm doing research, or trying to figure out the world. But then when I actually WRITING I tend to switch gears and avoid that stuff -- for the same reason you cited. Fear of losing my voice.

Kristi said...

I only wish what I'm reading would spill over and affect my writing!
When I'm writing I only read books that rock my world. I don't read a so-so book because I feel I have to read it eventually, etc. I only read books that excite me about writing and inspire me to try to be a fraction as good as what I'm reading.

chrisirvin said...

^^^I'm with Kristi. I need to stick with stuff that inspires me - and is close, maybe the same vein or style of story I'm hoping to achieve. I don't think it crowds out my voice, but keeps me in the right frame of mind. My voice does tend to change if I'm reading something vastly different (SFF, satire, etc). I try to binge those while on breaks.

Unknown said...

I have to not only read in the genre I'm writing in while deep in a project, but the specific style. I'm never worried about it affected my style because I do avoid reading more than one or two books by the same author in a row. In fact, my style kind of depends on this. I read whats out there in a genre and then run it through my funhouse thought process mixed with everything else I've read or seen or experiences and shake it up and see what comes out.

After I'm done with a book though I usually take a break from the genre and go find some nonfiction or a complete;y different genre.

I'm also not above reading books I know are shitty to make myself feel better about my own work when I'm in the middle of a slump.

Steve Weddle said...

As it takes me 9-17 years to finish each novel I'm writing, I don't limit my reading.