Wicked Wednesday: What Do You Read When You’re Writing?

stack of booksThe discussion is age-old. Some writers say they can’t read, or can’t read in their genre, when they’re writing. Others say, “If I had to give up reading in order to write, I’d give up writing.”

Wickeds, do you read when you’re writing? If not, why not? If so, what do you read? Is your reading restrained in any way?  Does it make a difference whether you’re writing a first draft or doing a polish? When do you read for research?

Inquiring minds want to know.

TanaFrenchLiz: Love this topic! I find reading depends more on my overall mood than what I’m actually working on. Since most of what I read is mystery/crime, it varies between cozies, thrillers and other types of crime. That said, I don’t have nearly as much time to read as I would like…but that’s really the only limitation I have when it comes to reading. I can read any fiction, any time. I read for research as the need arises, or as the mood strikes. Sometimes I veer off into the world of business books, but I quickly return to my beloved mysteries.

Right now, I’m catching up on my cozies – recent releases from my fellow Wickeds and a Natural Remedies Mystery I’m blurbing. Next up – the new Tana French book. Can’t wait!

AndGrantYouPeace-final-4Edith: I find I have such little time for reading, if I didn’t read while I am writing, I’d never read. I certainly read for research both while I’m creating and while I’m polishing: Whittier’s biography, or the history of Brown County, Indiana, for example. But I also read cozy mysteries, New England-based police procedurals, suspense novels. They don’t seem to interfere with my writing or revision process, other than making me look more closely at my own work to make sure it’s as clear, lyrical, and deeply drawn as I can make it.

Right now, in final revisions on one book and starting revisions on another, I’m fittingly sitting in Maine reading Kate Flora’s new (Portland, Maine based) Joe Burgess mystery, And Grant You Peace.

longmireJulie: I try to read while I am writing. BUT I find that the ability to just read, and not dissect, is gone while I am writing. For example, I am reading the Longmire books in preparation for Crime Bake. Craig Johnson is the Guest of Honor, and I am going to interview him at lunch during the conference. First paragraph, my “oh he writes in first person. Wonder how this works in a long series…” kicks in. It is hard to turn the writer off.

Edith: Agree with you on the dissection habit, Julie. It’s given me no patience for poorly written books. There isn’t enough time in the universe to read a book I see glaring writing errors in – point of view hops, too much telling not showing, and so on.

Jessie: I used to only read non-fiction when I was working on first drafts. I was really concerned about unintentionally matching the tone of what I was reading in my own work. As time has passed my confidence in my own voice has gotten stronger and I no longer worry about what I read. Like Edith, I read a lot of books for research and I do tend to read those voraciously whilst creating a first draft.

At any given time I am in the midst of several books. I get a little panicky if I don’t have at least a few books waiting in the wings. As a matter of fact, I bought a house next door to a public library partially influenced by that concern. Currently, I am part-way through a Swedish crime novel, a book about the relationship between Harry Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle and a book on the history of the tarot.

truthbetoldBarb: If I couldn’t read while I’m writing, it would be a close and agonizing call, but I would probably give up writing. Reading, after all, was my first love. Being a professional writer does crowd your reading time. There are books for research and books for blurbs. If you’re moderating a panel or conducting an interview at a conference, as Julie is, you’ve got a lot of books to read. Somehow or another it all piles up. But to be my best and happiest self, I have to read books I love, books that I wish I could have written. Kate Flora (I love the Joe Burgess novels, too) has a tradition where she allows herself to read anything she wants between Christmas and New Years. I’ve taken this tradition and expanded it (I’m a slow reader) to anything I want between the New England Crime Bake (Veteran’s Weekend) and New Years. It’s the ultimate luxury. Up this year will be Deborah Crombie, Louise Penny, Craig Johnson, Hank Phillippi Ryan, and (fittingly) Kate Flora.

IMG_1012Sherry: Of course I read when I write. I read lots of thrillers and mysteries. The only thing I try to stay away from is any book that has a similar theme to mine. I agree with the other Wickeds that reading good books makes me a better writer and makes me work harder. Right after I read an early copy of Clammed Up I had the opportunity to write the proposal for the garage sale series. I loved Barb’s character Gus and I think he influenced my character, Angelo. The good news is when I told Barb, she was surprised and didn’t think I’d copied Gus. Angelo is quirky in his own way.

Readers: What’s your take? If you’re a writer, do you read while you’re writing? If you create other kinds of art, can you absorb art by others while you’re creating?

18 Thoughts

  1. Well, thank you! SO lovely to see this!
    I think one of the things they don’t tell you is how your reading life changes when you become a writer. DIfferent, for each of us, but big changes. I have a difficult time simply reading for pleasure–I’m dissecting and analyzing (and admitting or criticizing.) BUT! that does make the
    moments when I find a fabulous book and forget all that and just read be even more special.

    1. Hi Hank,

      I enjoy learning what authors like to read, and your comment is very reassuring to me in that I do much of the same when I read.

      I have yet to be published as a novelist, but the more serious I become in my book writing, the more of a critical reader I become, as a learner. Typically while I am writing I will be reading or rereading a book by you, Deborah Crombie, Louise Penny, and all of my favorite authors here and everywhere who write books the way I would like to write.

      I think I enjoy them more that way, actually. I read books and the way they are written as if they were the mystery. And really the writing is the alternative mystery.

  2. I used to avoid reading the same sort of thing I was writing, worried I’d end up imitating someone else’s style but nowadays I break that rule a lot, especially with traditional mysteries. I “skim read” a lot of nonfiction for the historical series that launches next year. I don’t read many other novels set in the 16th century but that’s mostly because I find too many historical errors and get irritated by the sloppy research. I’m picky. I admit it. But with good reason. I’ve been studying 16th century England for over 40 years, long before I attempted the first novel in that setting. Mostly I read by writer–anything new from old favorites with a sprinkling of new discoveries thrown in. A fair amount of romance, since I wrote romance of various sorts for years, although not very successfully. One thing I have noticed is that I read more when my own writing is going well. I average about 120 books a year, not counting the ones I just skim, and I still wish I had more time for reading. A couple of years ago I started listing (and sometimes reviewing) the books I’m reading on Goodreads. I find it interesting to see what other people there are reading and why although I can’t say I’ve discovered any titles that way. I have found authors and books new to me here and at other blogs I read regularly. Sorry for the long comment. I promised myself I’d finish the rough draft of a short story today and I’m procrastinating.


      1. Hi, Edith,
        Yes, it is earlier, so I get to enjoy without nitpicking. I love Sharan Newman’s medieval series, too. Historical Settings in the Regency and later are also favorites. Except for 1888 U.S. 😊 I don’t know much actual history, so I can just read.


  3. If I were to start writing, I think it would cut into my TV time more than my reading time. I do most of my reading on my lunch hour in my car. And I’m not a morning person, so getting up early isn’t an option. But at night, I’d have to not turn off the TV and write.

      1. Usually read some kind of fiction-crime, fantasy, old school lit such as DeLillo, Bradbury-at night to take me out of the day’s concerns (and into someone else’s, it helps me sleep).

        I don’t worry that I might steal subconsciously since I steal on purpose in daylight. Just kidding. Absorbing visual art, music & writing inspires me to write better, so I am not one to abandon my distractions.

  4. I could never give up reading, though time for pleasure reading was curtailed when I was teaching six classes a day and reading mountains of students’ writing efforts. Now, I read several books at once and listen to another book on CD in the car. I can keep them separate if they are different genres. One wonderful summer I took two classes from Howard Schwarz at UMSL, Modern Poetry and a writer’s workshop. The two combined to inspire me to write more poetry than I had in my entire life . . .

  5. I read all the time, and what I’m writing doesn’t affect what I choose. It’s much more the need to change my “frame of reference” – if I’ve been working in/reading murder mysteries a lot, I’ll take a break and read something lighter. I return to old favorites frequently (re-reading Pride & Prejudice now). Like Hank and others, I have to make a conscious effort to turn off the “writer” part of my brain. I’ve ditched a couple of works recently because of scattered POV, weak plotting, and one because I *think* it was supposed to be 3rd person omniscient, but I couldn’t get attached to any single character of the six(!) that were introduced in the first three chapters.

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