Thursday, September 24, 2009

A reading quota for writers

Word of the day: assiduous - constant in application or effort; working diligently at a task; persevering; industrious; attentive

 Nathan Bransford, agent extraordinare, had a good post on his blog yesterday about being a well-read writer. As in, do you need to be well-read if you want to be well read? I expected there to be quite a bit of dissension in the ranks, but I should have known the target audience of the blog better. The resounding answer was yes, you need to know what the heck you're talking about to talk about it, and being well-read in your genre is even better. We're a bunch of book-loving literary types, of course we would say such things. There was the occasional "I don't want other people influencing my writing and accidentally causing me to plagiarize all over the place," but it was a pretty weak devil's advocate argument.

And to be fair, my answer was the same. You need to know the rules to break them, and knowing the rules means lots of reading. But there is also the argument that fresh voices can come out of not overexposing yourself to certain mores of a genre. There's a reason why little kids have the most vivid imaginations amongst our population; they're not overexposed yet, fighting a hopeless battle against the "there are only seven original plots in the world" concept. So where does Waiting for Godot fit into that?

I've been writing almost daily for the last five or six months now, and I have found that when I'm writing I don't like to read as much. If I take a break for a few days to ferret out a plot point I might pick up a book, but I like for it to be in the same vein as the story I'm writing. Right now I'm reading Carter Beats the Devil, a great book so far. It's pretty huge, though, from the ancient times of debut books being more than 300 pages. Reading other books while I'm writing does seem to pull me out of my story world, so I don't like to do it.

It's difficult for me to argue on this point, though, because I have been a vociferous reader since the time I could string more than three words together. I would choose a book over television any day, and usually do. So the whole well-read concept was unavoidable for me. Do I think it's helped my writing? Definitely. But I also consider writing to be a natural talent to a certain extent. I can watch Dirty Dancing until the cows come home but I'm never going to get that leap. I feel the same way about writing. You can study up on the greats all you want, but if you don't have that original seed of talent, your plant's not going to grow.

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