Fact or Fiction? To write, should one read?

I don’t necessarily subscribe to  the philosophy that in order to write you must also be constantly reading. Not if you have spent thirty odd years of your life doing just that. I used to read a lot. Actually I still read a lot; I just don’t read an awful lot of fiction these days. In fact, I can honestly say in the past two years I have read one fiction novel and a further two only part of the way through.

Now if you are a writer – and by that I mean an author of fiction – reading this blog then you have probably thrown your hands up in horror at the thought someone writing a novel has read just one in two years. After all, you’ll have read (some of you may have written) the blogs and advice from those well known authors who say:  “To write, and to write well, you must read, read, read and then read some more.” Of course in principle I entirely agree with this. In principle. But  in reality, and in the busy world I inhabit, I have found less and less time for reading novels. And truth be known, I have lost interest to a certain degree. As to why this is, I have a few theories. All I know now is, as a writer who is embarking on the writing of my first novel, I feel a little bit of a fraud among writers and certain blogs are making me feel inferior or like I am breaking the 11th commandment: “Thou Shalt Not Write Unless Thou Reads” (or else burn in author hell for all eternity). Will I be shunned by my peers for holding the view that I don’t necessarily think you need to be reading novels on a daily basis in order to write? Or will I not be taken seriously as an author when others realise I  am no longer an avid fan of the novel?

Before you reject me completely let me explain.

I have read a lot of novels in my life. I started as a nipper reading as many Enid Blyton books as I could get my hands on. I loved adventure and mystery and the idea of going to boarding school. I read the Narnia books, of which The Magician’s Nephew was always my favourite. The idea that a ring and jumping into a pool could transport you to another world fascinated me. I read pretty much everything by Roald Dahl and many other wonderful stories in between.

Later on, I studied  English Literature up to A level standard at school and as such read novels I would probably never have picked up otherwise. Many of them, demands of the course, were classics by the likes of the Bronte sisters, George Eliot, Wilkie Collins and Thomas Hardy. Wuthering Heights remains my all time favourite work of fiction. I don’t think I will ever read anything to match its imagery or the sense of empathy I felt towards different characters or the strength of the theme of the sins of the fathers being revisited on their offspring. The book may have been written nearly 200 years ago but its themes transcend easily to the modern day. This is what I find is the mark of a truly outstanding story.Throughout my twenties and early thirties I continued to eat my way through novels. Other than romance or Science Fiction, neither of which particularly grab me, I read a wide variety of genres. The crime novels of Agatha Christie, Thomas Harris, Kate Atkinson, Kathy Reichs and Ian Rankin. I read dark comedies by Ben Elton and numerous novels by Nick Hornby, my favourite of which will always be High Fidelity. I read historical fiction such as the books by C.J Sansom as well as  modern classics such as To Kill a Mockingbird, A Clockwork Orange, Animal Farm and Catcher In the Rye.  I read my fair share of trashy, throw away beach novels too, (age has seen me grow out of these though)! As the cinema world began to make the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings films, I made it my mission to read the books before seeing the films and my love of and joy in children’s novels was renewed once more. I also do this the other way round. If I see a film, then discover it came from a book, I read the book too. So after I saw Casino Royale (Okay I already knew it was a book first,) I read the novel by Ian Fleming and after seeing Jurassic Park, I read Michael Crichton’s Lost World. Right now I am reading The Hobbit as I want to see the film. But I won’t see the films until I have read the book. However it is this  fact which has led me to writing this post because it is taking me forever to read J.R.R Tolkien’s children’s classic. (Perhaps I should stop blogging, maybe then I’d finish it!)

But seriously. Over the past couple of years (coincidentally in the time I have been writing my book, I might add) I have simply stopped enjoying reading novels. Is this an age thing I wondered at first? Has the magic of a story – the world of escapism it provides – become too familiar and stale to me?  I have read an awful lot of non-fiction books, on a variety of subjects, as well as autobiographies over the past few years but novels seem to have dropped off the radar. So why is this? Why have I suddenly lost the plot, so to speak? 

Firstly I know for a fact I have less time than I used to. The writing of my book co-coincided with taking on the full time guardianship of  my now 5 year old nephew. Having a child is time consuming and tiring in itself. By the time I get to reading at bedtime, I’m asleep before I can read a page! Reading a novel requires deep concentration to follow the plot, unlike non fiction which I find I can pick up and put down at whim more easily. Also I have a job. I am a teacher. Although I only work mornings in school, I  do a lot of work outside of school hours. Teaching is a very time consuming job. And then of course I started actually writing my own novel. And editing it and formatting it and getting ready to market it by blogging. All of these things take time.

However it is actually the process of writing a novel, more than lack of time, which I  think has more put me off reading novels, to a large extent. Simply because I find now, when I read –  a novel in particular – I am thinking about the process of how it is written, how the sentences are structured, how similes are used  etc etc etc… So I am finding, rather than enjoying the read for pleasure’s sake, my mind starts to tick over with how I can improve my own book and then I’m back to writing rather than reading!

Or the other thing happens. That thing where you read something so mind-blowingly excellent, you feel inferior and the doubt monsters in your own ability strike and knock you down so that you tell yourself you’re rubbish and you’ll never get anyone to enjoy your book: the plot is ridiculous, the characters are 2-dimensional and the dialogue dry. So the book I am reading is set down and put on the pile next to my bed.  I currently have 5 novels and an autobiography only part through read sitting there. I have a further three novels on Kindle partly read and another novel in the garage partly read. Meanwhile I walk around bookstores and think “Ooh I should read that.” Or I’ll be on Twitter and there are authors tweeting about their books and I read reviews for them and think “Oooh that sounds great, I must read that.” Or just the other day I was walking around the children’s section of a book store and thinking: “I must read some of these and see what kids enjoy these days.”

But the key word here is must rather then want. Do I want to read them or do I feel because I am writing I should read them? And then I read tweets from authors about the marvellous, must have, latest title  they are reading and I think: How do you find time to read? Do you really read as much as you profess to?

Is it just me? Have other writers/authors ever had the same problem?  Is it a first book crisis which will pass?

Or am I just choosing the wrong novels?


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