Monday, December 7, 2009

Stout of Heart

This is going to sound rather strange, but I find that when I'm deep in the middle of writing a book—especially when I'm first starting out and find myself gripped by the fever of new love—I can't read all that much. In fact, a lot of times, I'll go weeks without touching a book. It seems a little backwards. I mean, most times I'm inspired by reading—see things that I absolutely love, that I wish I had written, or conversely, notice things that I definitely want to avoid in my own work. Reading is a well that allows me to tap into new ideas—to find what moves me. Explore new language. Etc, etc.

I think any writer worth his or her salt is going to be well-read. Both in their genre and in other areas of fiction. Only makes sense, right? So why do I avoid it?

Well, to put it bluntly, I'm a bit of a chameleon. I tend to take on the voice of books I really enjoy—be it in my specific genre or not. Don't believe me? Well, here are a few examples – some of them literary, some of them cinematic.

I was on a HUGE LOTR kick a couple of years ago. I seriously couldn't get enough of the movies, and found myself beginning to take on certain nuances… lol. For example, when speaking to someone who had traveled through bad weather, I actually said the following, "You must be very stout of heart to have ventured out into this weather." The guy looked at me, blinked, and said, "Why yes. I am quite stout." (grin) Needless to say, I turned tail very quickly. (I listen to A LOT of audio books, and coincidentally, I'm listening to RETURN OF THE KING this week. Let me tell you…stout is trying VERY hard to work its way back into my vernacular. )

Then there was the time I was REALLY into Pride & Prejudice. Heck, I'm always into it, but there was a period where I was reading the book AND watching the movies. Believe it or not, I have three different versions. That said, when I found myself starting to say, "My head is feeling very ill tonight," I just knew I'd had enough.

Don't even get me started on the one weekend I was sick in bed and wanted nothing more than literary crack to get me through. I started reading dime romances—Anne Stuart is great, but man, the purple prose that came out of me the next week was so sickly sweet I practically couldn't stand to be in the same room with myself.

And Scott Westerfeld! I can't tell you the number of times I've found myself saying things like: "This is all so nervous-making." "This dessert is very happy-making." "I'm not feeling all that bubbly tonight." I mean, come on! People didn't even know what language I was speaking.

And of course, all of this eventually started bleeding into my work. It got to the point where I simply couldn't read anything that even slightly resembled my books because I didn't want to be unduly influenced by the voice of another author. IOW, I wouldn't even imagine reading or listening to Evanovich while working on FI. I haven't really found anything I think is all that similar to BTPM, but at times I try to avoid young adult novels altogether.

It's a problem no matter how you approach it. I need to read to fill the well, but I don't need another author's voice drowning out my own. And as you can see from my above examples, it doesn't really matter if I avoid MY genres… it still affects me. In very unusual ways at times. LOL.

Also, reading can very easily turn into a HUGE distraction. A go-to activity that is much, much easier than sitting down to work on my own writing. I can't tell you the number of times I've MEANT to write and ended up reading the afternoon/evening/week away. It's been (heck, it still IS) a problem for me, to the point that at certain times I've had to parcel out my reading time as a reward to myself. "Come on, Jen…just write 1000 words. Then you can read the next chapter!" Oh, I've tried it all. Sometimes it even works.

Right now I'm definitely in "want to read mode," when I SHOULD be in "revising my ass off mode." That said, I've decided that reading needs to be a reward for me this month. Until I finish revisions, actually… so yeah, to the backburner all of the lovely novels in my TBR pile will go. At least this week. (vbg)

What about you? Do you ever find you have to cut yourself off – go cold turkey with that literary drug we all love and adore? Just say yes so I don't get jealous, K?




  1. I fear that I'll copy the writers I love. I wish my skills were that good. ;) I can't read Mark Twain--makes me ache to write in dialect. I suspect that I'd drive myself insane if I really tried--I love Twain, but I'm a borderline spelling nazi... I recently finished a DG marathon, and that may be what caused me to break out in virtual spots when I discovered that I'd typed a three-word phrase... Three words--can that be plagiarism?

    I think I need to work on each of my characters' voices--they aren't very distinct from each other at this point. I could argue that they're all from roughly the same area, and not too far apart, generationally speaking, but that's probably the novice writer copping out. But since my current read is set about 100 years ago, while the story I'm writing is maybe 10 years ago, I Think I'd notice if the voices were being taken over...

    Next up on my TBR is post-apocalyptic... This could get interesting. :-P

    Best to you and yours!

  2. Ah, I'm afraid I'm gonna make you jealous. (g) I can't NOT read. Seriously. If I don't have a book to read at night, in bed, I'm awake to 3am. Reading is such a part of my life, it's almost like oxygen! LOL. I always have a book tucked in my hand bag, just in case I'm stuck in a waiting room or arrive early to where I need to go.
    I don't think it affects my writing, just because I read books fast enough (about one a week - apart from DG's tomes, that is!) that no particular style sticks on me long enough to make a mark. My current reads are The Alienist, by Caleb Carr, and the Seven Ages of Paris, and my aim is to buy no more books until I'm at the bottom of my TBR pile - which, honest to God, is about 50 books high. Oh man, am I a book addict! LOL

  3. Reading is definitely a distraction, especially with some books that I Just Can't Put Down. So yes, sometimes I have to ration myself for that reason (like you, I do the "if I write xx words, then I can read more of this book" bribe *g*).

    I do pick up the odd word here and there from books (or friends, or movies/TV shows) but it tends to be ONE word (eg. "smeg" from Red Dwarf, "howdy" from a friend, etc) not the entire speech pattern.

  4. Jen,

    I think this may help you feel better. I am a SPONGE! I pick things up (style, tone, turn of phrase) like you would not believe, even down to unconsciously changing my accent mid-conversation. It freaks out my internal writer. Worrying about inadvertently mimicking another writers style (or downright stealing!); thinking I couldn't possibly have an original thought left after the bazillion books consumed over the years... my own stories and ideas flailing away under the wonderfully inspiring but VERY influential weight of all those other voices. Egads!!! Only recently have I become plucky enough to give writing a shot in spite of all that, but am anticipating a boatload of literary lockdowns (nooooo) in the future.

    Cheers & good luck with revisions!

  5. I'm with Rachel on this one - I've got my train book(s), my bedside books, my beside-the-couch book, etc - but if I'm ever stuck anywhere without a book I only whine for a few minutes, then I get out the pen and start working on my own! Woe betide the doctor's/government/etc office that catches me without a book or a pen...

    Speaking of woe betide, I'm rereading The Lord of the Rings (again!) and I do find it's making my dialogue more formal. It doesn't seem to directly affect any other areas of my writing (beyond what teaching and influence I must have absorbed from Tolkien over the years) but since I have trouble with dialogue to begin with, I think it's tainting me in that area.

    (On a side note, I think one reason I love rereading these books is that there's no need for copy editing! They've been gone over with such a fine-tooth comb by so many others that there's nothing for me to do. It's wonderful to read without a pen or sticky notes or anything! As opposed to, say, the Cat Who... books I've been reading, which have all sorts of screwy sentences, dates that don't match up, etc.)

    As for dialogue problems, though, I'd better go read some Janet Evanovich or something, to clear my mind of high-falutin' stuff :-)

  6. Hey Jen,

    Like Rachel and Deniz, I can't really stop myself from reading. For me, the danger is reading a really good book that is in the same vein as what I'm working on and feeling inadequate. But, lol, I know many chameleon types (my husband, for instance) whose speech patterns will literally shift with the person they are talking to. :)

  7. Gretchen,, don't think three words will do it. ;) And ohhh, post-ap, which book?


  8. Rachel,

    Ohh...the Alienist! Loved it... Been a while, but I seem to remember liking the sequel even more. :)

    And yeah, I'm jealous! LOL. But honestly, telling myself I'm not going to read rarely works. It has this week simply because I haven't had any time. (g)


  9. Helen,

    I'm the queen of picking up full-on nuances, even if I don't know the entire lingo. I used to do fundraising for an environmental company and my "region" was Virginia. After 4-6 hours of talking to people in that area, I would come home with a slight twang... and y'all and a few other words have STUCK forever. lol

    I try the reward system when I'm really in a pinch to get some work done, and it has worked. As this past week was a bust on just about all fronts, I'll be trying it again this week. Hopefully it goes well. lol


  10. Alissa,

    Yeah, when I write a phrase I really love..some description or what not...I sometimes find myself pausing and analyzing. Did _I_ come up with that? LOL. That said, I'm fairly sure most of my "jokes" are from me...just because when they hit me I practically fall out of my chair laughing from the hilarity (even if no one else does! My sister always says I crack myself up way too much (g)). But if it sparks that "oh yeah!" light in my head, I'm fairly certain it's new _to me_.

    All that to say, go with your instincts. You'll know when something comes purely from you. So glad you're trying this writing gig out. :)


  11. Deniz,

    I love how you phrased that. If I don't have a book to read, I whine, and then I pull out my own book to work on. LOLOL. That's exactly the trap I fall into sometimes. It's much easier to read a well-written, I-don't-have-to-do-anything-but-read-and-enjoy book than it is to work on my own book--especially the tough parts. It's definitely an issue I have, so I have to really think strategically to make sure I'm getting my writing time in first.

    Oh, and I just finished RETURN OF THE KING. *deep breath* Okay, I read these books in high school, and I seem to remember enjoying them overall. Though they were long, I thought the world-building was great. THAT said, holy heck. ROTK was the book that Would Not End. It was a real slog. Overall, I have to say I didn't enjoy the series this time 'round, at all. Bah. He knows how to build a world, no doubt, but tell a well-paced story? Eh, not so much, imho. I know it's sacrilege to say this, but I definitely think the screen version by Peter Jackson is better. It had a nice pace at any rate. LOL. Okay...tucking tail now that I've put down the Holy Grail of fantasy.


  12. Kristen,

    I so do that, too. (g) And yeah...the books close to my own work are the toughest and definitely the first I try to avoid. Even saying this now, I'm TOTALLY having an itch to read a book. BUT NO. Must wrap Christmas presents and get them in the mail...then FI.. FI. Only FI. :)


  13. Jen,

    I'm done with 100 years ago, (that was Mercedes Lackey, the Elemental Masters series) now I'm 10 years from about now, except that it's 22 years after the end of Life As We Know It... S.M. Stirling, The Sunrise Lands at the moment, but the larger series started with Dies the Fire. I would have started at the beginning and plowed through the entire series (my preferred method) but I foolishly lent my books 2 & 3 to my brother, and he hasn't deigned to return them yet. I hope they come back sooner than my C.S. Lewis Narnia series... That took him something like a dozen years!

    Yes, they require a suspension of disbelief. My hubby insists that it's a ridiculous premise, (and therefore refuses to read them) but I suppose I like the story elements enough to overlook any troubled logic. No time travel, but in a way, it's very similar to time travel... And I'd better stop--Mr. Stirling has free chapters (beware of spoilers!) on his website, if you are so inclined.

    Seems like everywhere I turn, I hear about more books I haven't read. So many books, so little time. ;-)

    Best to all!

  14. Hey Jen, about LOTR... since I'm rereading it all at the moment :-)
    I can see how, if one was into pacing and movement, the movies might come across as more exciting. But I still can't forgive them for all the errors of characterisation - giving some characters no voice, changing the motives of others, giving them actions that have no bearing on their personalities... the old argument of mine, that if they have time to add crap, why don't they have time to get it right...
    And I can never understand why they took all the fun out of the books - Merry and Pippin greeting everyone at the gates of Isengard, Merry and Aragorn bantering in the Houses of Healing, all that sort of stuff. I was sooo looking forward to seeing it "live" :-)

    Hey Gretchen, I hear you on the so many books so little time - I've still got my 180 books I own that I'm supposed to be reading, plus the 30 or so I've bought (shhhhh!) since I made that list, plus the 100 or so that I want from my Amazon wishlists... oh dear, I wish adults had summer vacation too!