We watch what we eat to keep our bodies healthy, but how many of us watch what we read to keep our writing in tip-top shape?
I struggle to understand how some writers can keep churning out work without doing much reading of their own. For me, reading gives me much-needed inspiration, teaches me what to do and not to do, and often brings me new insight on my current projects. Authors are, after all, idea-magpies: we steal the shiny to build our
nests stories. But I didn’t fully realize just how much influence my reading choices have on my writing until a few days ago.
I recently finished reading Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy as part of my 100+ Reading Challenge. I hadn’t read a classic in a good while, and although it took a while to sink properly into the style of prose, I found myself ultimately enjoying its complexity (and often unnecessary prolixity).
My own writing is generally direct, unadorned; writing description is one of my weak points. But as I set aside Madding Crowd and took up my writing journal, my pen had a will of its own. Out poured longer sentences, unusual adjectives, descriptions of the minute. Oh, the voice was my own, but changed.
You know when you met a person who speaks English with a different accent from your own, and you really get along? Eventually Accomodation Theory kicks in and you start speaking like them, often without even realizing. That’s what I was doing, but in writing.
All of a sudden it made sense why, when blocked, reading my favourite stories of a similar genre would help me start writing again. I suppose I only conciously noticed it because Hardy’s writing is so different from my own as to make the changes obvious.
Of course, this has a downside: reading too much of one genre or style could not only suffocate my voice, but limit my creativity.
You are what you read. Like with food, watching what you read can be extremely beneficial. And, as with food, a healthy, balanced book diet will ensure you’re at your writing best.
How much attention do you pay to what you read?