When Reading and Writing Don’t Mix

I am currently working on my second novel. My first novel is written, but in desperate need of revision. Currently, it is in timeout while I try to gain some distance from it. I did do a first-round edit for grammar and POV before putting it in timeout, and I learned something in the process.

Like Kaye, I can be a sponge. But I am not always a sponge. When I look back at what I read while I was writing different sections, I realized that I pick up the style of other romance and chick-lit writers, yet I have my own style when I am reading other genres. I read a lot while I wrote my first novel, ranging from a funny British romance to medical thrillers. It is obvious when I was reading the British romance—my style mimicked it. My North Carolina born-and-bred characters were suddenly saying “bloody” this and calling elevators lifts. As soon as I finished that book, I went on to a James Patterson novel.

The novel was set in New York, but my characters suddenly became southerners again. I didn’t bring any of the style of that novel into my own, perhaps because it was so different than what I was writing. Through the rest of the novel, I channel my inner Nora Roberts and Carly Phillips, but not Robin Cook (my all-time favorite author) or Catherine Coulter.

When I first noticed this, I thought I was insane, but I have since seen several writers say that they can’t read in-genre while they are writing. Apparently, I am not alone. Which makes me feel somewhat more sane. 🙂

So, as I approach this second novel, I am avoiding reading anything that I may be tempted to mimic. It is important to me that I develop my own voice, and I can’t seem to do that when I read certain genres. So, I will stick to the mystery/crime/medical thrillers that I love so much, and pretend that there are no romance novels I have yet to read. Lucky for me, I have recently found the Rizzoli and Isles series by Tess Gerritson, and I can’t seem to put the books down. So, I have something to read, at least for a little while.

Of course, I am not really writing yet—I am finishing up my outline. Even I shouldn’t be able to absorb someone else’s style in an outline. So, I guess I will just need to pack in as many romance novels as I can this week. I can then bond with the crime-fighting ladies again next week, when the actual writing begins.

Who are your favorite authors? Are your tastes as diverse as mine, or do you stick to one genre? Do you have to avoid reading a certain genre when writing? Most importantly, do you have any good recommendations for me on other books to read while I write? 🙂


About Susi Borath

Susi Borath finds time to write between freelance marketing jobs, minor league baseball games, creating new cookie recipes, and juggling more laundry than any two people should be able to produce. You can find more about her at http://susiborath.com or follow @susiborath on Twitter.
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5 Responses to When Reading and Writing Don’t Mix

  1. Kaye Peters says:

    Well, you know me, a romance reader through and through. Can’t get enough of it really. However, I do read other genres and I just purchased Steig Larsson’s Millennium trilogy that I’m anxiously waiting to start. (Haven’t started it yet because I am in the middle of an historical romance series.) I actually don’t mind reading romance while writing it. If anything it inspires me in my own work. But I think its healthy and actually beneficial to writing to keep your mind open to other genres out there. Every little bit helps, right?

    • Ana Quinn says:

      Every bit does help. I actually find that I learn a lot from other genres because of how different things are. For example, the description of a murder victim, which I will likely never have to describe as a romance novelist, still shows me the power of strong descriptors. I actually find the descriptions used in other genres help me to develop myself more than the descriptions in romance, because they are so different. With romance, I am unconsciously tempted to mimic style. With other genres, I have to re-adapt a writers style to my own because the styles are so different.

  2. This is a bad thing when we are trying to develop our own style but a great learning tool. That’s why read, read, read is number one on the list of ways to improve your writing. My daughter was reading Sherlock Holmes while writing a personal narrative. And she totally mimicked the voice of what she was reading. The essay was littered with partooks and thence. Too funny. So, to a point, everyone does it.

    • Ana Quinn says:

      Thanks, Laura. It is always good to hear others struggle with the same thing. Still it frustrates me.
      My husbands suggestion was to just stop reading while I am writing, thinking that I would be able to get twice as much writing done. I laughed at him. We have been together over 10 years. By now he should know that just isn’t possible! 🙂

  3. Great advice. I’ll keep that in mind for my next project.

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