A few days ago, in The New York Times two great authors, Zoë Heller and Anna Holmes, contributed to the column called ‘Bookends’. The topic was what authors read while they write. It was very intriguing to me because it is something I honestly never gave much thought about. But, in many ways, I could completely relate to it. For my job I read a lot and that reading is usually picked out for me based on what I am researching at the time. Some of it I rather enjoy, while other times there are books that I really wish I could permanently erase from my brain. This act of “forced” reading greatly affects what I read when I am not at work. I gravitate towards books that will hopefully rejuvenate my love for reading and will somehow, magically, cancel out those “bad” reads. This often leaves me searching for the complete opposite of my work reading. As a publishing professional, my work affects my personal reading choices. Just as for writers, their work affects their personal reading choices as well. Both authors have a different perspective on what they read while they write, but the underlying message turns out to be the same.
Zoë’s position is based on practicality. At first, she likes to read books that will give her the necessary background information she needs to write. Research is important and to incorporate it into your personal reading while writing seems to certainly prove helpful. She points out that she doesn’t overload herself with research as she finds that she will start to sound more like a textbook rather than herself. After her research stage is done she has a few go-to-novels that boost her moral while writing (if need be). She has read these books many times before so she knows what to expect and she knows how they will make her feel. They distract her brain from her writing, while taking her to a place she already knows. She also notes that she avoids reading new younger authors while writing. I imagine that one reason is probably because she doesn’t know what to expect, it’s new territory, and she has no idea how it will affect her.
Anna admits that she likes to read very detailed nature based works while writing because it gives her more perspective. The amount of detail, emotion, sensory imagery, and creativeness that goes into these writings reminds her that all she needs to write is right in front of her- she doesn’t need anything or anyone else to write. Both authors touched on procrastination, but Anna focused on it a bit more. She often finds herself reading while writing to distract herself or to avoid writing during a writer’s block. I think this is why nature writing appeals to Anna. Most of her reading while writing is meant to distract and avoid because she might be feeling incompetent in that moment. But nature writing reminds her that all the inspiration she is looking for is actually right there in front of her.
Both authors come to the conclusion that there is nothing you can read while writing that will make your writing path crystal clear or give you all the answers. But, reading does serve as an escape- a brief hiatus from the crazy world of a writer’s brain. It can lightly tap you back onto the right track and enable you to continue to do what you do best- write.
No matter what or why you read, you should always be reading. Reading refocuses you, brings you back down to Earth, and gives you the much needed “break” that will encourage you to continue to write. You need to find what type of reading makes you a successful writer, reassuring you that you can and will finish your next writing project. Write on.