I once was given some odd advice. To be an author, if you don’t read, start. If you read, stop.
It’s a balancing act. You need to read to see what others are doing, learn the tropes and rules of your genres, and familiarize yourself with proper story structure. You can break those rules later, but you need to know them to start! So read lots and often.
That said, if you’re reading while writing new stuff, you’re probably taking things from what you are reading, even if it’s at a subliminal level. You might be more upbeat after reading a romantic comedy. Or maybe you pick up a few turns of phrases or general plot points. Or perhaps that character you develop is like the one you read about… So if you want to write truly original material, you need to stop reading.
I used to read a ton. I got saturated. I knew the tropes. I could predict most plotlines. I was bored with it. It was one of my main motivations for getting into writing myself.
So I did as it said, and I stopped reading when I started writing.
Most of what I wrote at first was indeed different. It broke stereotypes and threw in a lot of twists. I loved writing the ‘other side’ of the story, villains that made sense and were, so help me, smart. I wrote main characters that were conflicted and grey, who would be juggling insanity instead of demonstrating heroism. I had grouchy main characters. I loved it!
Then I wrote Dragon’s Voice, which was far more typical than usual, and it remains one of my best sellers! I fell back onto some tropes perhaps.
Years later, I am back to reading because it’s been too long. I’m sneaking in a few pages at the kids’ bedtime when it’s dark and I can’t be working. I’ve read four books this year doing that, a few pages at a time, slowly tiptoeing through books from essays to new releases in fantasy and SciFi.
The trouble is that an author doesn’t read like a reader does. All these months, I have been training myself to spot prose and plot mistakes. But even more than that, I have learned to recognize where things aren’t wrong but could be better. In some ways, I can’t just read now. I am critiquing and editing the book I’m reading. It’s ruined me as a reader!
I hope practicing will help, and one day, I can turn off that part of my brain. I know I learn from reading other authors’ work, but so far, I can’t just enjoy a book.
I guess it’s a case of being careful what you wish for! I got my wish and became an author. I love writing and editing.
It just came at the cost of my ability to read without analyzing it.
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D. Lambert, author
Fantasy novels that entice, inspire, and entertain.