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Robert's Rules of Writing #14: Stop Reading

[Rule quoted from Robert's Rules of Writing: 101 Unconventional Lessons Every Writer Needs to Know by Robert Masello (Writer's Digest Books, 2005). See my original post for the rules of this discussion.]

Stop reading? What kind of advice is that? Writers are often told to spend as much time reading as possible. Many of my own writing instructors have said that the more varied your reading the better your writing will be. In Creating Short Fiction, Damon Knight says to read anything and everything you can. When I took Denny O'Neil's course on comic book writing, he warned us not to read only comic books, or else we'd never be able to create anything original. So why would Masello advise writers to stop reading?

Well, it's not as ridiculous as it sounds. Masello isn't suggesting that writers stop reading altogether; he's simply noting that if you start reading other people's prose while in the middle of a writing project, you might have trouble sticking with your own personal voice. In his own experience, he found that when he wrote a high school book report on Moby-Dick, he had fallen under the spell of Melville's language and his paper ended up with pretentious prose, vague pronouncements, and elaborate syntax.

Now, he acknowledges that it's impossible to stop reading; after all, if you're a writer, presumably you spend much of your leisure time with a book. But he suggests that you try to read something that's not too close to the type of project you're working on.

I know of what he speaks. It should come as no surprise that science fiction is a large part of my pleasure reading, but there are times when I make a point of avoiding it. When I'm in the midst of writing a short story or a novel, I find my reading habits gravitating more to the nonfiction section of the library or bookstore. Fortunately, I'm also fond of reading history and science, and I find it's a lot easier to get into those books than into a novel when I'm working on fiction of my own.

But on the other hand...while I'll admit that Masello has a good point, there's also times when you want to imitate the style of someone else. My own writing style tends to be matter-of-fact and straightforward, but I sometimes strive for a different feel with my prose. And as much as we all strive for originality, we also study the works of other writers, trying to figure out how they did what they did, so we can borrow their best techniques and make them our own.

So...what do you read when you're writing?


I'm thinking of papersky's Tooth and Claw, which is a Trollope homage/pastiche, and ALL the science fiction C.S. Forester pastiches, of which the Honor Harrington books are only one example. Heck, I think it would be nearly fair to count Honor Harrington, Richard Sharpe, and Aubery/Maturin as examples of the same genre -- "C.S. Forester-esque" -- and I doubt if any of the authors would feel insulted by such a grouping.

Hunh. I wonder if anyone has written a C.S. Forester-esque fantasy series. I wonder what assumptions you'd need to make about your world to make it work?

Let's see: you need a reasonably powerful nation or empire for your hero to be working for, but one on which he cannot necessarily rely for backup. You need at least one other nation or empire to be a believable enemy and threat, and many other smaller powers who can have shifting alliances. You need to have a hierarchical military power structure through which the hero can rise, one which is riddled with patronage jobs but which is nonetheless more-or-less compitent, and which the hero must rise through his or her own merits, rather than family connections.

You know, I think Tamora Pierce could write this if she ever wanted to write more than four books about the same character. . .
Interesting, but I'm not sure I see the connection to my original post...could you elaborate?
I pretty much don't do anything but write when I'm writing.
Whatever's handy. :D

Sometimes, I want something similar in flavor to what I'm writing; others, something as far removed as possible. Fortunately, my massive TBR piles cover both eventualities.
I like to try and find my favorite work in whatever genre I'm working in, and read or watch that. I tried noir not long ago, so I re-watched Touch Of Evil, Chinatown, and read through a lot of Bendis' comics works. I find that if I do this while I'm mid-project, it keeps me mindful of any genre cliches I might have sloppily stumbled into, or find new ideas springing forth from their twists.
generally, i don't read while i'm writing.

December 2016

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