Over the years I have had a number of conversations with writers about their habits when they write. I have noticed two types of writers: those who continue reading other novels while they are in the midst of their writing, and those who cannot read anything else while they write.
I fall into the first category. I always have at least two or three books on the go, usually a mixture of fiction and non-fiction. I am currently re-reading The Fox, part two of Sherwood Smith’s Inda series. I am also reading Pathfinder, the first in a new YA series by Orson Scott Card. It is my routine to read a chapter or two before I go to bed, as it helps me take my mind off what happened during the day and what I have to do tomorrow.
Rather than take my focus away from my current project, I find that reading in the same genre helps to focus my attention on my own writing. When I read quality writing by another author, it inspires me to aim for the same quality myself. When I read writing that is not good quality, I contemplate what it is that makes it so and use that as a reminder of what to avoid.
In the past I found reading and writing at the same time caused difficulties: I would constantly compare my own writing to the published author, and the comparison almost always left me feeling dejected. Perhaps it is an increased confidence in my own ability that has changed this, but I don’t think that is the only contributing factor. Part of it is that I am more actively working on building my skills in the craft of writing, and so I see my reading as an opportunity to learn what could make my writing better (or what could make it worse).
Some writers, I know, find that they cannot read within the same genre (or at all) while they are working on a project because it is either too distracting, or else the writing of another author influences their style too strongly. I understand this paradigm because I have been there myself. I don’t think there is any right or wrong way—there is simply the way that works best for each individual.
One element that I think has influenced the change in my reading and writing habits is the fact that I have started planning my writing rather than writing by the seat of my pants. When I was writing as a SOTP, I was easily influenced by whatever I was reading at the time. Now that I am using the Snowflake method, I find that it is much easier to stay focues my own writing goals and style even though I am reading other authors on a regular basis. I get the best of both worlds: I can read new authors and authors I already love, and I can develop my own craft at the same time.
What type of writer are you? Can you read and write at the same time, or only focus on one area? Are you a SOTP writer, an edit-as-you-go writer, a Snowflaker or an Outliner? (See my previous post, Knots and plots, for a full definition of each of these terms.) Please feel free to use the comments section of this post to tell me what kind of writer you are—I would love to know how you approach your writing.