Is reading really dangerous for writers?

Reading time: About 1 minute

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss an article written by Thomas Chatterton Williams…

Is reading really a “dangerous game” for writers? As a writing coach who always encourages people to read, I was intrigued to stumble across an intriguing essay on the topic by novelist Thomas Chatteron Williams.

He begins with an Annie Dilliard quote: “[a writer should be] careful of what he reads, for that is what he will write.” Yes, I agree with that. You don’t want to read bad writing before writing yourself because — with those inept or clunky sentences rolling around in your brain — you are more likely to produce similarly bad ones.

But good writing? I’ve never had a problem with that. Neither has Thomas Chatterton Williams, it turns out. He goes on to describe how reading Teju Cole’s novel Open City helped him wean himself off the negative effects of  potboiler writing. (The potboiler in question was Game of Thrones, which I’ve never read or watched on TV, although my kids adore it.) He writes:

15 minutes with Cole was like a palette cleanser on my mind, a spoonful of cool sorbet after a long and heavy meal. 

And I heartily agree with his conclusion:

The solution, I’m convinced nowisn’t to read less (that would be boring) or even, as Dillard suggests, to censor what is taken in. On the contrary, the answer seems to be to take in more.

I’ve been reading a fair bit of mediocre writing lately. My new goal for this week is to pick up a great novel. I could use a spoonful of cool sorbet…

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