When Reading and Writing Don’t Mix

They say that in order to write well, you must read, read, and read some more. I agree with this. I mean, how can I not?  But sometimes I have trouble doing both at the same time, and it’s frustrating in the extreme. This became a huge problem when I was working on my last project, and it took me a while to figure out why. It turns out, I need to read books that are written in the same point of view that I’m currently writing in. Or at least, if the POVs are different, I need to save my reading time for after I’ve finished writing for the day.

I really have no idea why this is, but something about it messes with my writing voice. Sometimes I even get blocked, or I’ll catch myself questioning the POV I’m using, wondering if I should change it when I really don’t need to. The latter happened with my current project. I was reading a fantastic book that I found inspiring plot and character-wise, but it was written in third person past, and the draft I’m working on right now is in first person present. I started to wonder if maybe I was using the wrong point of view. Maybe I should be writing my novel in third person past as well.

Then the next day, I’d read over bits of it, and realize that no, first person present really was the way I should be writing it. But still, whenever I would think ahead to scenes I had yet to write, I’d think of them in terms of third person past.

So I set the book I was reading aside to finish at another time . . . and I picked up a memoir. It’s in past tense as well, but it’s in first person. And that has done the trick. Granted, there’s tons (and I do mean tons) of fiction also written in first person, but that particular memoir had been calling to me for a while, so that’s what I went for. (It’s Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, if you’re wondering, and I’m enjoying it immensely.)

Now? Boom, I’m back in business. I wrote 4k without a hitch the day after I picked up that book. Four thousand words in one day is a crazy amount of writing for me, especially during the summer with two kids at home running in circles all over the house.

So my point is, if you find you’re having trouble getting your writing voice to flow, or if you’re getting stuck completely, you might want to take a look at what you’re reading. No matter how much you’re enjoying the book, it may be the culprit. Consider setting it aside (only temporarily, of course!) and see what happens. That might be all it takes to get your writing mojo back.

When she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard (it’s all the same, right?), Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele (badly), knitting (rarely anymore, unfortunately), or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys (pretty much constantly) with her husband. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. (Go Huskies!) Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here.