Good reading, good writing?

Some people say you shouldn’t read while you’re writing a novel, in case you’re influenced by the writer, but reading is like breathing to me. Shame, the book I’ve been reading last week almost put me off writing altogether. It wasn’t that the story was bad, it wasn’t. It was original and pacey, and much of the imagery was beautiful, but oh, did it fall down on presentation. Obviously unedited for typos and grammar errors, and absolutely full of wandering tenses, going from past to present in the same paragraph, even in the same sentence. This by an author teaching English and creative writing at university level and published by a reputable press. I think there must be something wrong with me if this kind of work is acceptable because it just ruined a good book for me. At the end I had to ask myself, ‘what am I writing for?’ if this is the accepted standard.

However, that was last week and this is this week. Now reading ‘The Help’ by Kathryn Stockett. So far, I’m enjoying it, but only just started. Anyway, I’m pretty optimistic about  last week’s production, nearly finished another chapter of the novel;not a huge amount in actual words, around 3000, but at least it’s forward movement. Actually got around to doing something about booking a research trip for the setting, so pinning my hopes on doing major writing once I get there later in September. Also fleshed out around half of the next chapter in my history of Skelmersdale, up to the end of 1962 now and it’s coming together well.

Going on a self-publishing course tomorrow, mainly out of curiosity. I am actually ‘publication officer’ for our writers’ group, as we have our own press for producing anthologies, so I’m hoping to learn something useful. Let you know next week how I got on.


6 thoughts on “Good reading, good writing?

  1. Brian Wharton

    I remember reading an interview with Carla Lane in which she said that she didn’t read or watch anything in case it influenced her. This is obvious in some of her work which hasn’t always been good. However, Butterflies was a masterpiece due to the collaboration between Wendy Craig and the other actors. Her memoir Someday I’ll Find Me was a disappointment and I don’t think she has yet succeeded. She is from a middle class background and should stick to just writing about that.

    1. Tess Makovesky

      I sometimes wonder what they teach on these high-level literary creative writing courses. I read and struggled with a book by another such tutor which should have been wonderful, but was a morass of strange punctuation, dull reportage and frankly bonkers characters. It all seemed very self-aware, somehow, as though the author was shouting ‘look how trendy and clever I am’ rather than just sitting down and writing a good book…

  2. Loree Westron

    I’ve read books too that have made me want to give up writing, not because they were poorly written but for the opposite reason – that anything I wrote could only ever be mediocre by comparison. But I’m with you, Carol, I read all the time, when I’m writing and when I’m not. Writers learn from reading. And yes, I’m influenced by other writers all the time but I don’t see that as a problem. Few things are truly ‘original’. We all learn from and are influenced by what has gone before. When it’s a problem, I suppose, is when we simply try to recreate what someone else has done. Any writer worth their salt, though, is not going to be happy with producing work that is merely pastiche. Most of us, I would guess, want to put OURSELVES into our work.

    1. skemjazzercarol Post author

      You’re absolutely right, Loree, and yes it’s so true that often one’s own writing seems worthless compared to the amazing work of those we admire. However, it’s such a positive experience I think it spurs me on to try harder.


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