You Are What You Read

In order to be a writer, you must read. That’s a piece of advice you’ve probably heard countless times, and it’s worth repeating. But what do you read? Only books similar to what you want to write? Or do you read everything under the sun?

My theory is that you must read a lot of different things in order to get a sense of different styles and types of writing. Read bad writing, good writing, poetry, plays, newspaper articles, blogs, whatever you can. Read mysteries and Westerns and romances and sci-fi and thrillers and classics.

But, oddly enough, what you read is what you write. If all you read is Proust, your writing will reflect that. You will unconsciously imitate the types of writing you read most. In some ways, that’s good, but in other ways, it might not be so good.

For instance, lately I’m reading a lot of news articles, and I feel as though my fiction writing is becoming more dry and journalistic as a result of that, so I need to get back into reading more fiction!

A similar thing happens when I write (well, used to write) poetry. If I read a lot of good poetry, like A.R. Ammons and Elizabeth Bishop, my poetry turned out better. Conversely, if I listened to a lot of pop music on the radio (all songs are poems, but not all poems are songs), my poetry didn’t turn out as good.

Perhaps my unconscious mind is more impressionable than it should be. But in any event, I still think that what you read is what you write, so be careful not to read too much of any one thing. You might end up sounding too much like a particular writer and not enough like yourself.

Posted August 9, 2012 by Maggie in Books and Authors

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