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Writer’s Craft #3 – Currently Reading

January 17, 2011

Writers are often asked to explain how their favorite authors have influenced their work over the years. But how about what we are reading today? Does it percolate into what we write tomorrow?

Writer J Randayle Greyson thinks so. After getting an e-mail from her, I surfed to her site at http://thesurvivalmama.blogspot.com/ where I found this quote: “I like to be selective about who I read when I’m writing, but especially when I’m editing.” You can catch the rest of the article on her tab [Read. Reading. Writing.]

I’ve always known the subject matter of my reading influenced what I wrote. I was into artificial intelligence and spacetime physics when I wrote the early drafts of what became books one, four and five of the Okal Rel Saga and there’s more science in those three than the other books. I am also aware of how my affair with the evolutionary psychology of sex influenced the creation of Vrellish culture. But content is one thing, and the writer’s craft is another.

J Randayle Greyson was thinking in terms of prose style, not content,  if I’m reading her correctly.

What do you think? Does your vocabulary get simple if you read too many children’s books. Or maybe reading Dickens makes you more verbose?  If so, should we read books as close as possible, in tone, to the one we want to produce? That would be sad. At least, I think the narrowing of focus brought on by the narrowing of niches sacrifices too much richness and depth of experience. But perhaps magpie interests and eclectic reading habits are things writers can no longer afford? Last but not least, does what you are reading have more influence on you as a writer, or as an editor? Presuming, of course, that you do both.

Please reply with your thoughts on this topic. Examples are always encouraged. And if you have ideas for future installments of the Writer’s Craft,  e-mail them to lynda@okalrel.org with the word CLARION in the subject so we can get started on working them up together.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Kari T permalink
    January 17, 2011 9:30 am

    Yep, yep-I always read 30-40 min before writing, and my number one grab is my ear marked, highlighted, page worn books by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I read him because no other author can describe things more beautifully. Here is one of my favorite passages (from Love in the time of Cholera)

    “The lighthouse was always a blessed refuge in a storm, which he evoked with nostalgia in the dawn of his old age when he had everything settled, because it was a good place to be happy, above all at night, and he thought that something of his loves from that time flashed out to the sailors with every turn of the light.”

    I also read a lot of (don’t laugh!) J.K. Rowling, because no one captures magical settings and sets the mind of fire like her. (From The Deathly Hallows)

    “The zigzagging path leading to the front door was overgrown with a variety of odd plants, including a bush covered in the orange radishlike fruit Luna sometimes wore as earrings.”

    I also frequently read a little known author named Mary McCarthy. She is one of my favorites for capturing the essence of a character. (from The Company She Keeps)

    “He did not envy her; her hands were empty; she was unhappy, she was poor, she had achieved nothing even by her own standards. Yet she exasperated him, as the spendthrift will always exasperate the miser who feels obliged to live like a pauper, lest his wealth be suspected and a robber plunder him.”

    I have more, but these rise to the top.

    • January 17, 2011 10:40 pm

      Gabriel Garcia Marquez! He’s definitely one of those people whose prose drips with richness. Love in the Time of Cholera is one of my favorites of his, too. Appreciate you citing a less known author, as well. I have some of them among my favorites. From “The Haunted Book Shot” by Christopher Morley: “The shop had a warm and comfortable obscurity, a kind of drowsy dusk, stabbed here and there by bright cones of yellow light from green-shaded electrics.”

  2. Kari T permalink
    January 17, 2011 9:33 am

    Yep, yep-I always read 30-40 min before writing, and my number one grab are my ear marked, highlighted, page worn books by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I read him because no other author can describe things more beautifully. Here is one of my favorite passages (from Love in the time of Cholera)

    “The lighthouse was always a blessed refuge in a storm, which he evoked with nostalgia in the dawn of his old age when he had everything settled, because it was a good place to be happy, above all at night, and he thought that something of his loves from that time flashed out to the sailors with every turn of the light.”

    I also read a lot of (don’t laugh!) J.K. Rowling, because no one captures magical settings and sets the mind of fire like her. (From The Deathly Hallows)

    “The zigzagging path leading to the front door was overgrown with a variety of odd plants, including a bush covered in the orange radishlike fruit Luna sometimes wore as earrings.”

    I also frequently read a little known author named Mary McCarthy. She is one of my favorites for capturing the essence of a character. (from The Company She Keeps)

    “He did not envy her; her hands were empty; she was unhappy, she was poor, she had achieved nothing even by her own standards. Yet she exasperated him, as the spendthrift will always exasperate the miser who feels obliged to live like a pauper, lest his wealth be suspected and a robber plunder him.”

    I have more, but these rise to the top.

  3. January 17, 2011 11:29 am

    I’ve always wondered about this, but haven’t been strict in terms of what I’ve read or not read around the time of my writing. Maybe I haven’t been as keenly aware of my output as others, but I find that what I read inevitably helps make connections in my writing. I love the “Aha! I could put something like that in!” moments while reading and writing. I find serendipitous discoveries very satisfying and illuminating.

    Back to style, though, I think what we’re reading must have an impact, but I don’t think we’re necessarily going to reproduce what we read. What goes on around us at all moments of the day impacts how we write that day, in my opinion — confining your sensory input to try and produce a specific result is a bit hardcore for me. My thought is that if you go with the flow and read what you like, your style might change in small measurable ways (as it would with any life changes that you can’t control) but the beautiful part about editing is that you can pick up on these stylistic changes and correct them.

    As far as editing consistently goes, I’m not sure how much I can say. I’m currently experiencing my first serious editing on a large work, so I haven’t a clue if it will carry the same style throughout or not. Perhaps controlling your sensory input at this stage will speed the process up, making the edits more consistent so that less iterations are required to bring the work to a cohesive, whole stage. However, I think that stylistic shifts can sometimes be beautiful, particularly when they’re unplanned (but not always).

    I think that, in the end, finding the right creative process that makes it enjoyable is the most important thing. If confining your reading to Charles Dickens for a year makes you want to claw your eyeballs out, then it’s not worth it. If that sounds like the excuse you’ve wanted to read everything Dickens has ever created, then great! Creating something massive out of nothing is a great deal of work, and I think whatever gives you inspiration or motivation through reading or other input is always good, and helps bring beautiful art into the world.

    • January 17, 2011 10:42 pm

      I’m with you, Hal, on the ‘read whatever you want’ front. At least for myself, personally. SOMETHING in life has to be for a pure joy of being real about what you like and who you are.

  4. January 17, 2011 12:30 pm

    I notice this quite a bit, yes! My prose doesn’t completely change, but subtle influences of what I am reading do start to creep in under the radar. I have considered consciously choosing what to read when I am writing or editing certain projects to compensate for this and use the phenomenon to my advantage. Sometimes I wish I wrote more like a certain author, so I’m more willing to let myself read his/her books while working on a project; other authors I adore but do not wish to emulate their style, so I do the opposite.

    The main one that comes to mind at the moment is Roger Zelazny — I love his crisp, bold, colourful style with its mythical proportions and earthy, wisecracking characters. I am reading Chronicles of Amber now for the first time, and I certainly won’t complain if a hint of Zelazny creeps into my own WIP here or there.🙂

    • January 17, 2011 10:47 pm

      No matter how the world changes, it surly must remain true that the more good stuff you read the better a writer you will become. Surprises me, these days, how many people who like to write don’t seem to enjoy reading!

  5. Krysia permalink
    January 20, 2011 6:27 pm

    I purposefully try to read things that are different from my writing, excluding re-reading the oru books(that is research :p). I find that my English class is one of the biggest influences with my writing. A few weeks ago we were talking about parallel structure and some of that leaked in. Oh, and vocab words. Whenever we get a new list the first thing that pops into my head is a sentence using one of the words that would fit beautifully into my story.

    • January 21, 2011 7:46 am

      Reading is great for building the vocabulary. Ever experienced discovering a word you never knew existed and then hearing and seeing it being used a couple times in the next week? Happens to me.

      • Krysia Anderson permalink
        January 23, 2011 9:41 am

        All the time. I think it’s just cause you are more aware of that word and had you not heard of it you probably wouldnt have noticed. My favorite word is crotchety and now I see it in books all the time (well in older ones anyway)

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