How do your reading habits influence your writing?

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How do your reading habits influence your writing?

Postby Ishta » 14 Apr 2010, 10:22

A post about kids and books got me thinking:

I know there are all sorts of different tastes out there, and I am generally not one to judge based on what someone is reading. What works for me might not work for you, and vice versa, and that's okay. However, I do have my own tastes and preferences, and I know that sometimes what meets my tastes falls within the realm of what is popular, and sometimes they fall within the realm of the obscure.

Now, as a writer, I want to be able to earn money. So: do I write to my tastes, or do I write something that might be more popular than my tastes? Right now, I'm going for popular - not that I don't like what I'm writing, but in terms of language and sentence structure, I'm really working hard to keep my intended audience in mind.

How about you? Do you write with an audience in mind, or do you just write something you like and hope there are others out there who will want it? How do your reading preferences in terms of style and "literariness" and presence or absence of a moral message and everything else influence your writing?
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Re: How do your reading habits influence your writing?

Postby wetair » 14 Apr 2010, 15:47

I write for me. I have to figure that if I am bored with my own writing, my eventual audience will be too. So if I am interested, maybe others will be too. Besides trends change, you know?
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Re: How do your reading habits influence your writing?

Postby gonzo2802 » 14 Apr 2010, 18:26

I try to write a book that I would love to read. Which can be tricky, because if I'm not commited to the author or the idea of the story I can lose interest fast.

I don't think I have the ability to write a story that isn't somewhat mass market, because my overall tastes aren't specialized enough that I would expect to find myself without a potential audience. (I don't mean that to sound like I think I have mass market appeal, just those are my sort of story ideas)
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Re: How do your reading habits influence your writing?

Postby wildheart » 14 Apr 2010, 19:37

Well, sometimes I have an audience in mind, sometimes I have no clue. One thing is for sure: I write for me. I am not going to try and change my style, my voice, for anyone. And if I don't like what I am writing what is the point of writing it? I do, however, understand wanting to write something that you think would be popular, because at least you know there is a pretty wide range of people that would read it...

I hope that if what I am writing interests me and pulls me in that others might feel that way too. And, like others have said, trends change. So I don't bother to purposely write what is trendy. I write what excites me.
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Re: How do your reading habits influence your writing?

Postby KappaP » 15 Apr 2010, 02:02

Ha, this is actually something I thought about a lot while writing. I read a lot while writing my ms and, when I reread my it, I can see bits and pieces of the stylistic choices of those authors working their way into my own prose.

The parts I wrote while reading Lolita tend to be more narrator-focused and ornate, the parts I wrote while reading Dead Souls develop tertiary characters well and focus on imagery, etc. When I first read through, I could figure out where I had been reading Lermontov, Vonnegut, Nabokov, Stieg Larsson-- the voice was still consistent and it reads smoothly, but I could certainly notice that what I was reading was leaking into my handling of the narrative. When editing, I tried to take what I liked from all those portions and spread them out evenly across the narrative... so yeah, reading definitely influenced my writing.

It was also nice to realize the things that made me anxious about my own writing and spot those same things while reading through other works.
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Re: How do your reading habits influence your writing?

Postby eringayles » 15 Apr 2010, 02:54

Ishta wrote:A post about kids and books got me thinking:

I know there are all sorts of different tastes out there, and I am generally not one to judge based on what someone is reading. What works for me might not work for you, and vice versa, and that's okay. However, I do have my own tastes and preferences, and I know that sometimes what meets my tastes falls within the realm of what is popular, and sometimes they fall within the realm of the obscure.

Now, as a writer, I want to be able to earn money. So: do I write to my tastes, or do I write something that might be more popular than my tastes? Right now, I'm going for popular - not that I don't like what I'm writing, but in terms of language and sentence structure, I'm really working hard to keep my intended audience in mind.

How about you? Do you write with an audience in mind, or do you just write something you like and hope there are others out there who will want it? How do your reading preferences in terms of style and "literariness" and presence or absence of a moral message and everything else influence your writing?


I read so many Steven King novels years ago, (every word he wrote, up until around 1990) that I think his style definitely 'conditioned' my writing. Salinger, and Golding, too. Put them all together and you get a common leaning towards lots of interspersed short sentences - some not sentences, but just single words- not all verbs.
King's irreverence, and 'telling it from the gut', has also had a big influence.
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Re: How do your reading habits influence your writing?

Postby Ciara » 17 Apr 2010, 04:51

What I'm reading always influences me. I find that if I'm reading YA then I think I should be writing YA, until I pick up an Alice Hoffman and I think "gee maybe magical realism is for me." I think I have fairly diverse tastes so you can see how it goes from there!
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Re: How do your reading habits influence your writing?

Postby Ishta » 18 Apr 2010, 19:11

I want to clarify my initial post.

When I posted this topic, I wasn't really talking about writing to suit a trend (vampires, for example). I was talking about writing to suit an audience, or not. By this, I mean more than one thing:

a) You could read really super-literary stuff like Ulysses and write similar, or you could read Ulysses but choose to write Twilight. And if you do the latter, do you do it while thinking, "This is simplistic dreck, but I'll do it because I think more people will buy it," or while thinking, "This isn't usually what I read, but I'm writing for this age group/this audience who like this sort of thing, and that's okay"?

b) Do you write in a genre and style that you read a lot of, or do you find stories come to you that are outside your usual reading tastes?

c) If you write MG or YA, do you find yourself writing something that you would be happy for your kid to read? The post about kids and books got me thinking about this, so I'll just re-post my original response to that thread here:

First, a number of people have said that they got "turned off from reading" towards the end of elementary school because the texts that they were assigned in class weren't interesting. However, these texts are widely recognized as some of the best that the history of literature has to offer. (I didn't say "the best", I said "SOME OF the best", so don't jump on me.) On the other hand, books - especially MG and YA books - that have turned into blockbusters lately have not necessarily been heralded as high art in the literary world; they're mostly classed as "pulp" or "fluff". So: do we want kids to read, or do we want kids to read what we want them to read? I mean this seriously. The recent discussion about TWILIGHT has shown that there are some very strong opinions out there about what should and should not be published, and what is and isn't considered to be a "good read". But if kids don't want to read what is thought of as "literary fiction", then what good is it? On the other hand, is reading "trashy" novels getting kids anywhere? Is it any better than reading nothing at all? (I'm putting terms like "literary fiction" and "trashy" in quotes, because I want to be clear that I'm not personally branding anything as specifically being "good" or "bad" literature; I just want to enter into a discussion about this.) I enjoy reading books across the spectrum, from Jane Austen to Stephenie Meyer to Beverly Cleary to Shakespeare. I really do get something out of all of them. And as I write for myself first, I occasionally find myself thinking: "Would I consider this to be a book of quality to be read and re-read, or would I think of it as a light work of fiction to be enjoyed and then disposed of? This is fun, but do I want to write something more or less high-brow?"

This brings me to my second question, which is: How does your answer to the first question influence your writing?

I'm really curious about people's answers to this.
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Re: How do your reading habits influence your writing?

Postby bronwyn1 » 18 Apr 2010, 20:17

Well, usually when I read a good book (i.e. a book that is both well written and has an interesting and engaging story), I use it as a sort of goal post and say to myself "If I can write something as equally awesome as this, I'll be happy." I set that book as a sort of goal post or something...hahah I hope that makes sense.
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Re: How do your reading habits influence your writing?

Postby Bryan Russell/Ink » 19 Apr 2010, 08:27

A simple question, but fairly profound. I think there are a lot of short answers to this question, but I thought I’d attempt a longer one.

I think what we read has a huge influence on what we write. It is part of who we are. My bones are made of book spines, and my skin from a million slender pages. What I read is a huge part of who I am. These stories are some of the building blocks for how I see and construct my world, and I often understand my world in relation to these stories. We take in stories and make them part of ourselves, and yet we shape our consciousness in the same way. Who we are, mind and memory, is shaped. We give it form and structure. It is how we make our lives cohesive and understandable. Our lives, our own minds, are the story of us… as we tell it to ourselves. It is the inter-braiding of a thousand stories, fictional or not, and this is the world as we each know it.

This is bound to be reflected in our writing. If we are shaped by stories, the stories we shape in turn will have reflections of that world. Echoes, shadows, pale reflections… this is who we are, and we can never completely escape that in our writing. And yet conscious and unconscious thoughts can shape the writing, can move it, can push it in new directions and make new connections. This is our imagination acting on that vast story that forms our consciousness.

And so we make a new story out of ourselves. We move within it, always making, always creating. And yet it can be difficult. We can wrestle with the stories we know (and with our own “self” story). Newness can be a challenge.

We change as readers and writers. We move from story to story, and each one leaves a little mark… or a big one. We are not the same readers we once were. I have difficulty with simplistic writing, clunky writing. It might be a fun story, but I lose patience if the writing doesn’t work. I can’t get lost in a story if the words don’t take me there.

And this is true for our writing, too. Such shifts are usually reflected. Input, output. Stories we reflect, and mirror, and change. Refracted at strange angles… and yet the source is there.

We wrestle with it. I remember starting my current fantasy novel. I wanted a fantasy novel… and yet not something typical. Epic fantasy with a literary, character focus. And so I started writing.

Yet it was not right. The voice… was simply the voice of similar novels I’d read before. These typical novels, seeping together in bland style. Little stories that had become part of me. They’d created paths in my head. Ruts, if you will, from long wear. Certain things were done certain ways. Certain stories used certain language. No, it wasn’t right. Wasn’t new. It was not a true reflection of what I wanted, of my own self story.

I had to write it over. I stripped the conventions away and wrote the same actions in a style and structure that was ultra literary. This wasn’t right either, but it freed me from the ruts. It jerked me out of repetition. It widened the view on my own story.

The truth, the voice, was somewhere in the middle. Writing, writing, writing it again. And soon the voice was there in the rough. There was still an echo of those hundreds of fantasy novels I’d read, and yet there was more, too. Echoes of Tim O’Brien, Anne Patchett, Ian McEwan. Echoes of other writers and other forms, echoes of a million stories that had gone into me and now sought release.

This is what makes each story unique. Not the singularity of a story, but a unique multiplicity. I know writers who fear reading. If they read while writing the other voice seeps in, takes over their own. But I try never to fear this. If you write long enough you will find your own voice. And what is that? It is the ability, I think, to reach in and grasp all those stories, the vast self story, rather than just a single one. Your voice ceases to echo a single voice (the deafening voice of a mentoring love), and rather pulls itself out of a vast choir, stealing a note here and a note there to craft a new song, a new hymn on the possibility of story.
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Re: How do your reading habits influence your writing?

Postby bcomet » 20 Apr 2010, 10:46

I have always read for enjoyment and understanding, both nonfiction and fiction, across the board.

However, as a writer, I tend to direct myself (or listen to others' directions, i.e. Nathan recently recommended a book for its voice on the blog and I picked it up with an eye to that) to read what will support my continued development. I look for story, for depth of story, for good storytelling, for voice.

If I am writing, I try to steer away from material with poor language usage. For example, I was reading widely in a genre, exploring its many creative treatments. One that I enjoyed was a foreign translation. It held a certain charm, but was a poor translation so I did not read further in the series because the language might rub off. I know. But when I'm around English folks, I tend to take on the Brit dialect. Things do rub off.

Right now, I find I am staying away from (reading too much and) discovering what others have done (to all extents) with a certain motif. I know the classic treatments, but from there, I want to discover my own creative way with it and avoid too much outside influence.

As a writer, my reading habits have changed dramatically though. (It is also how I wish my beta's to read my work.) I read first for story. Then, if the story works, I read subsequent times for writing. To study others. To critique. To grow.
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Re: How do your reading habits influence your writing?

Postby JustineDell » 20 Apr 2010, 17:19

I think Ink made some very good points. As did the rest of you. With that being said, I would say that I am the type of person that writes what I love.

Publisher guidelines often say to "write what you love". They say they can tell the difference between someone who is writing some they just "think will sell" or what's "popular" compared to those who write stories from the heart, something they love. I, too, believe there is a difference.

Don't write what you think you can sell. Write what you love. The story will be better that way. Well, that's my philosophy. Hoping it's right for me ;-)

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Re: How do your reading habits influence your writing?

Postby Ishta » 20 Apr 2010, 21:07

Ink: Wow. Thank you for this thoughtful, insightful, eloquent post. And thank you for sharing your experience in writing your most recent work with us.

Justine: Write what you love, yes, of course. Why write sci-fi if you really love historical romance? If historical romance is what you love, of course, write that story, even if the agents are crying out for sci-fi. But how to write it? This is the question for me.

I could just write it in whatever way feels most natural and flows most easily, but that doesn't really feel like "work"; it just feels like verbal diarrhoea on paper. As much as the craft of writing involves pacing and weaving the threads of a story together, does it not also involve knowing your audience, and adjusting your phrasing and sentence structure and use of metaphors and language accordingly? I guess I think it does, so I often find myself deleting and rewriting things to stay within a certain "reading level", if you will. Maybe that's misguided?

I write primarily for kids - are there many others who do this as well? I find that for this reason, I really have to know who my audience is; it's often the first question members of my crit group ask when looking at a MS. Maybe the answer to my question changes depending on the type of book you write?
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Re: How do your reading habits influence your writing?

Postby KellyWittmann » 24 Apr 2010, 11:26

I read a LOT of history, and that definitely comes through in my fiction. The lineages of my characters, even my supporting characters, are very important to me. I like to think that I have a pretty good idea of their histories going back at least a century or so, three or four generations, even if I'm not going to share all those histories in my novel.

I think my love of history has shaped my writing style, too-- realistic and minimalistic.
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