Reading, Riting, but no Rithmatic!

Posted: December 17, 2014 in Regarding writing

One of the interesting side effects of being a writer is that it affects how you read. It’s often said that in order to be a good writer you should be a voracious reader, unless of course you plan to be like the wonderful Garth Marenghi who once said:

“I’m one of the few people you’ll meet who’s written more books than they’ve read.”

I doubt there are many writers who didn’t begin by being readers, and who don’t continue to read. Those of us who love to create stories do so in part because we loved hearing/reading/watching stories first, and even when we begin to create our own tales we still want to read others, if for no other reason than, most of the time, we already know how ours end!

It’s also highly likely that you will end up writing the kind of stories you like to read. People who only love gory horror novels are unlikely to write slushy romances (or vice versa) and even if they tried their hand at it they might well be rubbish, because if you don’t understand a genre how can you create something that will appeal to fans of that genre? Similarly, knowing the genre will allow you to (hopefully) avoid the pitfalls, you’ll know all the clichés and can either ignore them, or at least use them with a degree of knowing self-awareness.

Of course one of the downsides to reading widely within your genre is that horrible moment when you find a story like yours that someone else did first, although given there are only so many stories in the world, it’s unlikely any of us will ever do anything so shatteringly original that it will shake literature to its foundations…although my new novel about a man who becomes a cat might…

Joking aside even if you’re writing on a similar theme to someone else the chances are your story will be a lot different, and sometimes what you do with an idea can be more important than the idea itself. Your prose and your characters may make it a very different story, so as long as you aren’t writing a tale about a boy wizard who battles an evil force who killed his parents, or a British secret agent with a licence to kill who’s battling a guy with golden digits…the chances are you’re probably ok. There are plenty of stories out there about magical children and lethal secret agents after all.

That said I have turned away from idea because I’ve realised they’re too similar to something else out there, but I’ve also persevered with story ideas that seem similar to other’s plots too. I don’t think there can ever be a hard and fast rule, but I’d suggest that you think long and hard before you give up on an idea.

Anyway, to return to my original point, which sort of got away from me but hopefully the tangential stuff was still interesting. As I was saying, when you start to write it affects how you read. Very often now I’ll be reading a book and find myself proofreading it, thinking of different ways to structure a sentence, thinking how a writer could trim down what they wanted to say.

This process doesn’t usually impede my enjoyment of a book, and I think for a writer it’s healthy, and it shows you’re honing your craft, even when you’re not actually writing. On the plus side at times it’s a boon, often the phrase “Well if he/she can get published so can I ‘cos I’m better than them” has come to mind, in fact while I was writing my very first novel I had a particular paperback purposefully resting on the desk as it was one of the worst books I’d ever read, it was a useful motivational tool!

Of course the flipside is also true, and sometimes I read other writers and think; “I’ll never be as good as them!”

That’s writers for you, the ultimate flip-floppers, either we’re unassailably brilliant, or we’re absolutely rubbish! We don’t do average!

  1. Mim says:

    The main thing about writers is that they’re *persistent*. Tenacious little buggers…

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