This is a question I’ve found myself pondering lately. For years, I’ve had a rule that if it’s a choice between reading or writing, the pen (so to speak) takes precedence over the book. This has been especially so in recent months as I push to finish my latest novel. Reflecting on having finished writing a chapter of my own book is a whole lot more satisfying than having finished reading someone else’s, so the rule has stood me in good stead (albeit not as stringently enforced at all times as it could have been).
Yet now, when I have also been filling my night-time reading with research books rather than fiction, I’m rethinking this strategy. I find myself wondering how other authors handle the dramatic power of the hero’s point of no return, or the heroine’s dark night of the soul. I want to be able to hear other writers’ voices, in order to better understand my own. I need to place other novels in the field in which I’m writing, in order to see where mine fits. All this is difficult without reading widely.
I guess it’s like chocolate, it’s a question of balance. A little bit of this, a little bit of that. Building craft includes learning from those who have gone before, and there’s only so much you can learn from books on writing or courses. Even learning by doing has it’s limitations, in that isolation can make for an ordinary novel that is narrow in scope and naïve in expression. I want to be the best writer I can be, and to do that, I need to push myself and overcome my limitations.
So I am officially giving myself permission to read again! What a joy. And speaking of chocolate …