Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Read while You Write, Don't Read while You Write

(If You Want to Write...)

I've heard weird opinions on this topic of reading while writing books. The weirdest opinion is that one should not read books while writing. This makes no sense. Writing a book takes at the very least six months, and sometimes years. Nobody should keep from reading that long!

Another opinion is that writers should not read the genre that they are writing in. This is a little more reasonable, but I love YA. That's why I write YA! Now I have to give up YA too?

I tell you: Read while you write. But with a codicil. Read any genre that you want, but stay away from similar themed books. If you're writing romance, romance is a HUGE genre and you shouldn't have any problems. But if your masterpiece in progress is a tale of the Scottish highland lord, don't read any romances about Scots or highlands or lords.

The real issue here is, of course, both unintentional plagiarism and stolen voice. Never place yourself and your reputation in danger of stealing another person's words. A second danger, more fatal in art than in law, is that of unconsciously adopting another person's style. So read while you write, but read judiciously.

I had a hankering to reread Hacking Harvard by Robin Wasserman, a book I've really enjoyed. But I put it down after the first few chapters, because I realized that both Robin and I were/are writing about overachieving American teenagers. Similar themes and topics, but I need to write a unique book. So Hacking Harvard will wait till January, when I write something else. Perhaps about Scottish highland lords.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good luck with the highland lords. But don't write about one, write how to abduct one! ;)

Yes, I've heard YA author Meg Cabot say she barely reads while she writes, but I've never found the sense in that either.

Yet one has to tread carefully, don't you think? For example, if one is trying to write a humorous YA geared toward girls 8-12, it would be rather difficult to read their angsty romance adult novel at the same time.