To Write, Or Not to Read

I recently read a remark written by another author about how they don’t read other novels or stories in the same genre as what they write. This author made this decision for a few reasons. One, it was stemming from someone’s request that the author read their own un-published work. The author had to politely refuse, and I think most people, writer or not, would agree with that decision. It’s a good idea to keep from doing that, no matter who you are. It leads to the author’s second reason for not reading other novels in their genre.

Now this next one is tricky. Yes, when reading someone’s unpublished work, you could later run the risk of being accused of plagiarism. However, there are only so many ways to tell a story that all similarities are difficult to eliminate altogether. This, the author acknowledges as well. By not reading someone else’s work, you would avoid a lot of unconscious usage of terms or phrases. On the other hand, you may end up copying something without even being aware. And anyway, reading someone’s unpublished works can later lead to legal accusations of theft or plagiarism even if you write in different genres altogether.

Someone recently accused me of copying ideas from a certain popular trilogy and writing them into a semi-autobiographical romance series. It was not true but I can’t deny that the name of the male leads was the same and… Well, that’s about where the similarities end. 🙂 Obviously whatever else I wrote into the story was enough to highlight some thread between my story and the other one that this person felt compelled to point it out.

I think you could do that with just about any two novels or stories out there. Yes, settings may be different. Point in time, character names and even the genre might differ. But romances are romances. Adventure and mystery are adventure and mystery. You’d be hard pressed to find something brand new and totally original anywhere. That’s not to say you should just give up with writing completely, or reading, for that matter.

For me personally, I approach each new novel I read with an open mind. I don’t do it consciously but I crack a new book open, something I’ve never read before, and my mind is blank. Maybe that makes me sound like a simpleton, but it’s just that I treat every book as I do a new acquaintance. I don’t know anything about it, no matter what the blurb on the back says or all the reviews I come across. If I happen to find similarities between a new book and something else I’ve read, it’s because I haven’t completely lost myself in the new one. That’s my theory anyway.

Moving on, the final reason for not reading other works too similar to the author’s own – unpublished or otherwise – is because the author feels it can sometimes interfere with their own writer’s ‘voice.’ I can see their point with this, and yet, I can’t. Maybe it’s because my mind works differently and I’m able to shut off the writer part of me when I read, and vice versa. Maybe it’s because I’m just a different sort of writer altogether. I don’t know. Then again, I don’t think I’ve read much in the genres I’ve written in. I find it much more interesting to write those kinds of stories than to read them. Lucky for me, you all enjoy reading them, otherwise I’d be without any sort of audience. 🙂 So that’s a personal preference on my part. (Incidentally, I have read a series of hockey themed romances. I honestly can’t recall if I started reading them before or after I started my own. Either way, I don’t think those novels affected my own. My desire to write the hockey themed stories came from my own deep-rooted obsession with hockey. :D)

I don’t know. To me, saying that I can’t read in the same genre as my own writing is like an actor saying he’ll never watch a movie similar to his own. Do you think Kiera Knightley went her whole life or career without seeing another Pride and Prejudice adaptation? Or even beyond that, do you think action stars never watch each other’s movies? Or rom-com stars? Of course, any actor you talk to would say they’re not one type of actor or another. To me, the same applies to authors.

I don’t consider myself only a romance author. I know that’s primarily what I write but that’s just because that’s what I enjoy writing more than anything right now. I’ve dabbled in other genres in the past, and more recently, but have yet to write something without a touch of romance. Again, that’s just me. But I also don’t bar myself from reading other romance novels or stories.

I suppose everyone has their reasons and differences when it comes to writing and reading preferences. I have mine, as I’ve outlined many times in the past, and today. You all know what a voracious reader I am. I could no sooner limit what I read than I could with what I write. I suppose you do have to be careful not to let another author’s ‘voice’ encroach on your own. Whether or not you have to make a conscious effort to do that is each author’s individual struggle. Maybe if I read back through some of my work, I might find more similarities between what I’ve written and what I’ve read but that might be hard to pinpoint. And anyway, I’ll always have those 50 Shades fans to keep me honest. 😉

Take care and happy reading.



Filed under Writing

3 responses to “To Write, Or Not to Read

  1. Lady Falcon

    lol…keep you honest? I remember that comment on your Christian stories and I thought it was bogus when I first read it. Anyway, when are we going to get a peak at that totally unexpected genere you keep teasing us with?

  2. If you want to avoid any possible plagiarism charges, then you really have to stop reading anything, don’t you? Just because you read science fiction, doesn’t mean an element might not settle in your mind and you use it in a romance. I agree that there are similar themes out there — if you’re going to write a shy girl/friendly guy story, no doubt it will share some traits with others.

    But to me, you can’t simply stop reading. If you prefer not to read the genre you write, that’s fine. However, I find that when I read other romance stories, I learn a) what I don’t like; b) cliches or themes I want to avoid; and c) things I want to explore or respond to.

    This discussion put me in mind of music. Remember “Pet Sounds” by the Beach Boys? Well, it was inspired by and in response to the Beatles’ “Rubber Soul.” In turn, Paul McCartney has said that the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was a reaction/response to “Pet Sounds.” But no one’s making plagiarism accusations.

    I’ve said before that my story “The Hunted Key” was a response to a story I read. The similarities: a group of four female friends, and local werewolves. The key idea: that a woman would turn down the alpha male/wolf after he made his advances. I was tired of the strong, independent woman turning into a puddle of goo when the alpha male makes eyes at her. My story “Pretending” was inspired by another story as well. Both were about best friends, but the one I read was in first person from the woman’s POV and I wanted to know what the guy was thinking. So I wrote my story.

    I’d say we need some common sense but then I’m such an idealist… 😉

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