Friday, December 4, 2009

To Read or not to Read

We’re always being told to read, read, read. That good writers are great readers. But sometimes I’m not convinced that this is always useful. What if you’re trying to write a serious scene in your novel/short story/feature article but you’ve been reading Douglas Adams and your characters all become slightly weird and start pining for cups of tea? Or if you’re trying to be literary, but you’ve been reading Raymond Chandler and things turn out a bit like this interpretation of Hamlet. Or worse, if you’re trying to write crime fiction and you’ve been reading Raymond Chandler and your work turns out like Raymond Chandler's.

If you’re someone who finds it easy to imitate styles of writing, then maybe it’s better not to read anything at all while you’re trying to write your own stuff. It's difficult to not pick up another author's style, and the stronger a style, the more likely it is to stay in your head and take over your own. I admit, this is just my own experience, and other people might not have any problems of this kind at all (I'm the sort of person who unconsciously mimics other people's accents when speaking to them). Still, despite the mantra about readers and writers, maybe sometimes it's better to declutter your brain and just focus on your own style. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but it don't necessarily make good writing.

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