Drying Out the Well

WRITING 02The subject came up on the Mythic Café group on FB—the fact that there are some writers, in order to protect their individual voices, stop reading in order not to be influenced by other writers. I can understand isolating yourself somewhat if you’re working on a particular project. After all, when I’m writing fiction, I have a very hard time reading it, or at least reading anything remotely like what I’m working on. I don’t pretend to understand how it works, but the part of my brain that recognizes and appreciates a particular branch of the fantasy tree, at least for reading pleasure, completely shuts down. Which is why, as much as I enjoy the periods when I get more reading done, they’re usually possible simply because I’m not writing, which becomes a problem if it goes on for very long. So in general I don’t read nearly as much fiction as I used to, and I do read a lot more non-fiction.

But to stop reading entirely? Get serious. That’s rather like saying, “I’m going to become a guitar player. Therefore, I will no longer listen to guitar music so as not to pollute my style.” You simply cannot miss the point in a greater and more profound fashion. How do you know what you like? How do you learn what moves you? And more to the point, how do you learn to understand and incorporate the techniques of your betters into your own playing if you don’t study and internalize them? For writing it’s exactly the same. Assimilating your influences and incorporating, synthesizing them into your own unique style is what makes your style.

You may start with a lake, but cut off access to rivers and creeks and rain and pretty soon all you have is a dust bowl. That situation won’t float anyone’s boat.