Reading Fiction While Writing It

I’m eagerly awaiting my flipback version of David Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas,” which I ordered directly from Hodder & Stoughton on June 30. So that’s why you haven’t heard about it yet.

I just finished "The Cure for Death by Lightning," and I might start "Tinkers," which was so beautifully crafted it disrupted my writing process the first time I tried to read it.

I check my front stoop a few times a day hoping for the package–especially because I just finished rereading “The Cure for Death by Lightning” by Gail Anderson-Dargatz. That book was recommended by a friend of a friend years ago, and it was great fun to rediscover it. Anderson-Dargatz fuses mythical elements and Native American lore with an honest coming-of-age story set on a Canadian farm during World War II. I especially love the detailed descriptions of the mother’s scrapbook, which she fills not only with recipes and articles, but pressed flowers, dirty fingerprints and handwritten notes.

In any case, I’m ready to choose my next book. Sometimes I have to set fiction aside if it’s interfering with my writing. I began “Tinkers,” the incredible debut novel by Paul Harding, this fall, when I was in the initial development phase of my historical novel. After a chapter or two, and with great sadness, I had to abandon Harding’s masterpiece because its strong voice and compelling story were interfering with my creative process. I was afraid I’d mimic his work in some way. The book did, after all, win the Pulitzer Prize in 2010–and from the breathtaking first few chapters, I could see why.

Now that I have my historical novel established, and the first draft halfway done, maybe I’ll try reading “Tinkers” again–that is, if my flipback doesn’t arrive in the mail today.

In related news, I received a gracious note from Arthur van Keulen of Jongbloed BV, and he said he’ll be sending me a few flipbacks. I can hardly wait! Once Arthur’s package arrives, I plan to hold another giveaway contest so a lucky commenter can win a flipback. So stay tuned! And in the meantime, if you’re unfamiliar with the pocket-book phenomenon, check out the “flipback” category in my sidebar to learn more. Arthur has been an exemplary source of information about these books, known as dwarsliggers in the Netherlands, where they debuted in September 2009.

So what are you reading right now? Is it hardcover, paperback, an ebook or an audiobook? Does reading interfere with your novel-writing or is it easy for you to separate the two pursuits?

About Laura Stanfill

Publisher, Forest Avenue Press
This entry was posted in Books, Fiction, Flipback, Writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Reading Fiction While Writing It

  1. Like you, I only avoid reading when I know it will interfere with the writing. The only way this happens with me is in the prose itself. When I read Douglas Adams, for example, I start to write in those rhythms. Everything else is fine. Otherwise, I’d never read anything, because I’m never “not writing.” My life doesn’t divide up into “writing” and “not writing.”

    I’m currently reading:
    The Bostonians by Henry James (Kindle — re-reading)
    The Sirens Sang of Murder by Sarah Caudwell (Kindle — re-reading)
    Piercing Through the Darkness by Emerald Barnes (Kindle)
    Death of a Doxy by Rex Stout (Kindle — re-reading)

    Plus my weekly comic books, of course.

    • Great list of books, Anthony. I’ve been thinking about rereading some Henry James myself. Do you ever read paper books or are you a total Kindle convert?

      Good point, too, about reading and writing. I’m always writing and always reading as well, but am much less fussy about books when I’m working on later drafts of a novel. I have to be really picky in this first-draft stage to make sure I don’t get into somebody else’s rhythm or looking at the world through a particular character’s POV.

  2. How exciting to see my name in Anthony’s currently reading list! Actually, I’m about to put his book, A Sane Woman, on my Android tablet and read it. (I stick to ebooks because they’re generally cheaper, but on occasion, I need to hold a real book in my hands.)

    I don’t divide my time between the two either, but I generally save the reading for the last thing I do during the day so it won’t take the place of my writing. I’m bad about reading instead of writing. (If you follow my tweets or see them on my blog under the tweets section, the other day I was having a hard time writing because I wanted to read.)

    Reading while writing seems to help me get into the mindset of my genre because most of the time, I stick to reading YA fiction. I’ve never had the style of writing interfere with mine (that I know of at least).

    (I really want a flipback book though!)

    • I only read at night so it never interferes with my morning writing sessions. Unless I’m researching something for the novel and get carried away.

      Keep posted for my flipback giveaway. You might win one! I’m so excited Arthur offered an extra one (or maybe two) for me to share with you guys.

      • I get carried away at times too. There are times I sit down to read but pull up my writing or something related to it and completely forget to read.

        And, I definitely will. It is definitely exciting!

  3. Huh. I was totally unaware of the flipback phenomenon. Thanks Laura! This gives me ideas for Christmas… 🙂
    Otherwise, I’m just finishing S.M. Sterling’s first Change series novel, “Dies the Fire” and then eagerly pick up a borrowed copy of Tina Fey’s Bossypants. I have limited time for reading, but actually love when a book gives me ideas for tone and direction in my writing.

    • Flipbacks are very cool, but the shipping is prohibitive. If you want to buy some for Christmas, see how much amazon.co.uk charges for sending books to America. I heard they ship faster, too.

      Good point about books giving you ideas for your writing. That should probably be a whole other post! I’m so often inspired by other authors’ achievements.

  4. Flipbacks sound kinda neat! I’m going to check them out further. Currently though I’m reading The Final Evolution by Jeff Somers. If you like fast paced sci-fi, you should check him out!
    -Jana

    • Flipbacks are so fascinating to me. I’m really hoping mine arrives soon so I can check out the reading experience. Small books that use less paper and can fit just about anywhere–plus they’re cute!

      Thanks for the reading recommendation!

  5. Nisha says:

    I feel so embarassed sometimes when I’m working on a short story set in the present day and if I happen to be reading either AC Doyle or Dickens, the story will suddenly take on a Victorian tone!
    I love my classics so unfortunately I cannot put it aside even when I write a modern story. I just have to be vigilant when I put pen to paper.
    Currently reading: JM Coetzee’s Booker Prize winner DISGRACE, and Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South.

  6. For me, the trick to reading fiction while writing fiction is choosing a book or author that doesn’t completely engage me. What I mean is if a character has a strong voice or an author has a writing style I would like to emulate, I stay away from the book because it will unconsciously filter through in my writing and change the tone and that’s not a good thing.

    • Thanks for commenting, Patricia! So do you take time off from writing to read really engaging books? I never really stop writing or reading, and so that’s why sometimes I have to put down an engaging book. I’m sure reading influences my writing to some extent, but I don’t think my voice changes. Sometimes reading a book helps me solve a plot problem, or look at how to construct one of my own scenes differently. And on the positive, I read lots of novels and tend to think critically about the content and language, so those influences are diluted and sorted during the year or two it takes for me to write a novel.

  7. I’ve always read that many authors have trouble reading fiction while they write their own. Did you read something else after putting aside “Tinkers” or were you unable to read any fiction for a while?

    I go mad if I’m not reading at least one fiction book – I literally feel that reading is a drug I simply can’t do without. I just finished Dawn Powell’s “The Locusts Have No King” and have started “Naamah’s Blessing,” a fantasy novel by one of my favorite authors.

    • Good question! I immediately started reading something else. I’m addicted to novels, too! I can’t go to bed without reading. Luckily, I usually don’t have a problem with influence or rhythm. I think in the case of “Tinkers” the language was so particular and engaging, and I was reading it while beginning the search for how to tell my own story. What the author did was too similar to what I was trying to do.

      “The Locusts Have No King” sounds fabulous. I’ll put that on my list!

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