Writers: You Are What You Read

“Originality is nothing but judicious imitation. The most original writers borrowed one from another.” ~ Voltaire

Oh, Tuesday.  You fickle beast.  You start like a Monday hangover--all noise, bright lights and regrets.  Then, somewhere between 2 and 4 in the afternoon, you start to feel like Wednesday.  If there's a groove in the week, it has to be from Tuesday afternoon to Wednesday afternoon.  Everything else feels like climbing up or sliding down in my book, which is to say a struggle.

Speaking of books, I've been doing some stewing on the relationship between reading and writing.  We all know there's one.  At the most basic level, if you can't read, you can't write.  Pretty simple really.  But what about at a deeper level?  To what extent do our reading habits influence our writing habits?

You Are What You Read

You've probably heard the expression, "You are what you eat."  This clearly isn't true, or I might have looked something like this guy after college:

I think it might be more applicable to reading and writing, though.  My mother called the other day and asked what I was working on.  The conversation went something like this:

Me - "Well ..."

Mom - "You are still writing, aren't you?"

Me - "YES!  I'm just trying to think of how to describe it.  It's actually a series of long short stories--like novellas.  They involve a guy who becomes a monster hunter, or paranormal investigator.  Each story is about a different investigation."

Mom - "Is it horror?  Like Stephen King?  You know my favorite movie of his was Silver Bullet."

NOTE: My mother is a HUGE horror film fan and loves movies based off of Stephen King stories.  She also knows that I've read his books since I was a kid.

Me - "Well, he didn't actually make the movie himself, but they based it off of his novella, Cycle of the Werewolf--"

Mom - "You know why I like that movie so much?  Because it seemed so real!  You almost forget that it's about something crazy like a werewolf.  I was just worried about the little boy in the wheelchair and scared of the creepy priest."

Me - "That's because King is a master character author.  You worry so much about the characters and their relationships with one another that you almost forget that you're reading a horror story.  Until some possessed dog eats someone, that is."

Mom - "So your stories are like that?"

Me - "I guess they are a little bit like that.  They've got some fun paranormal and scary stuff going on, but they're mostly about this guy trying to find his place in the world.  Those are the kinds of stories I've always enjoyed reading."

The thing is, I've always believed you should write what you like to read.  If you're passionate about YA, horror or historical romance as a reader, that passion will surely seep into your writing.  However, I'm not sure I ever really made the connection beyond the very broad strokes of genre or categories.  It goes so much deeper than that.

In hindsight, I can easily see the little bits of my favorite authors in my writing.  King's flawed and conflicted main characters.  JK's strong female roles and iron-tight friendships.  Shakespeare's exploration of human emotion.  On and on it goes ...

"Easy reading is damn hard writing." ~ Nathaniel Hawthorne

Don't get me wrong, I'm certainly not claiming to have successfully cloned the techniques of the legends I'm referring to in my own writing.  When I do that I'll give you a ride on my private jet and let you take the yacht for a spin.  :-)  It's just that I can see how I've tried to emulate them, and done so almost subconsciously.

So I ask: Have you noticed your favorite reads sneaking into your work?  Do you purposefully try to emulate a style or author?  Do you write stories similar to those you read the most?




  1. I'm writing in the spy genre, and certainly the influence of Higgins (in his better days) and Daniel Silva is there. There's also a fair amount of influence from the Shaaras in my books, I think.

  2. Right now, if I am what I read, I'm a million blog posts!
    I've read all of Preston & Child's books, although I know I don't write anywhere near their style. Probably more like Timothy Zahn - his Star Wars books. Fast paced without a lot of description or backstory.

  3. I find that whatever I've been reading recently seems to creep into my writing...

    A x

  4. I love how you say Tuesday's Monday's hangover. Brilliant!
    Funny enough, a few months ago, I was reading Chuck Palanhiuk and felt my writing was starting to echo his style. Sometimes we really are sponges!

  5. I'm (still) reading Game of Thrones and can only hope that some of that style seeps into my writing. :)

  6. Even now Pizza the Hut makes me want to gag.

  7. I wish I was as talented a writer as some of the authors I read. I tend to write some pretty dark stuff, so I am more apt to read something more comical or upbeat. That way I am less apt to depress myself with both my reading and my writing :)

  8. definitely. I especially noticed this when I first started writing -- whatever I was writing tended to take on a similar voice to the author I was devouring at the moment (I went through phases. let's just say, during the Uglies/Scott Westerfeld phase, lots of people fell off of high objects...).
    but as my writing developed, I noticed less influence creeping in, because I was coming in to my own voice? I still see inspiration everywhere, of course. just less directly obvious, I think...

  9. Pizza the Hut was one of my fave characters ever ;) Love how he ended... hehe

  10. I do watch what I read because what I read invariably influences my writing. I'm bilingual and I've not allowed myself to read any German literature until my book manuscript is done because reading German messes with the English channels in my head. I'll think of great German turns of phrase and that is counterproductive.

  11. Hey E.J.! I think you really hit it. After taking a step back from from my work I realize that what I read really does reflect in my writing. Oh, by the way, Pizza the Hut was priceless!

  12. People say I write like Erin Evonovich. Never read any of her work b/c her book covers are hideous. So, after I've published my first book, I'll read her stuff.

  13. Great post! I noticed after I started reading a ton of Charlaine Harris, that my novel drastically went to a shorter, blunter style of dialogue. Now I have some MAJOR editing to do! Lol.

  14. So...Pizza the hut? Totally gross! Ha!
    I find myself reading a lot of YA paranormal and fantasy. So...obviously I write the same. ;) I do like my historical fiction too, but I could never write it. And contemporary is great. I'm sort of playing around with an idea for one of those.
    Great post! It really made me think! :)

  15. Very interesting to think about. I definitely emulate the themes of my favorite authors, which is what attracted me to them in the first place. I love being able to look at my shelves and know that my "collection" of books is purely based on my personality.

  16. I like your mother-son dialogue. Very cute!

  17. I read a variety of genres so I'm not sure what ones have influenced my writing. Something I'll have to pay attention too. Great post!

  18. I love flawed narrators, and I do find that when I am developing a main character she always has some major flaw that almost pushes her into unlikable territory. So, yeah, I do write about the characters I like to read about.

    Great post! I loved your big lightbulb.

  19. This is a great post. I really enjoyed reading it.

    That said, my writing philosophy is "What Would Joss Whedon Do?"

  20. Hi E.J.,

    I must admit, I have an ulterior motive for this particular visit to your blog, but first, GREAT POST! I fully expect a ride on that jet!!

    Personally, I have to make a very conscious effort NOT to let aspects of my favorite stories trickle into mine. (Especially JK's!I've had to strike out whole lines...er...pages...in the past!) :)

    Anyway, on to my nefarious scheme! I'm wondering if you'd be willing to do me a HUGE favor!!! I'm putting on "The Four Hundred Hours to Four Hundred Days Blog Party" at the end of this month, to celebrate the release of the second book in my Lor Mandela Series, FOUR HUNDRED DAYS, and I'm looking for wonderful bloggers (like you, of course)to help me out! I wanted to see if perhaps you'd like to participate. Here's the link with all of the info: http://wovenstrands.wordpress.com/2011/06/14/join-us-on-the-400-hours-to-four-hundred-days-tour/ I really hope you can join us! I think it's gonna be lots o' fun!!!
    Thanks a bunch!!! Lisa Carroll

  21. Spaceballs!

    I find little things popping up from fave movies and writers. For example, I love intertwined plots, so I try to write them. And I think my voice is a little affected by some of the YA I read.

  22. I'd really like to write a cross between Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton, so I am trying to introduce more MG reads in and fewer picture books.

    Yes that picture is gross!

  23. Hmmm... difficult to say. Back before I started writing seriously, I read a lot of Johanna Lyndsey romance books. I loved her voice. I think, if anything, my voice resembles hers just an eensy weensy bit... but only because I read her so much, how could i not?
    But actual writing style? Nah. Imagination-wise and world building-wise I'v learned from the best, and even then, I wouldn't say you could pick it out in my stories, but the inspiration is there for me.
    I caught up on your last couple of posts. You rund agood blog here, EJ. ;) Always have.

  24. the image, LOL (!)

    this is so true.

    it's also discouraging ~ well, i so wish i could write like my faves writers and absorb their brilliance somehow.

    i love that quote about how easy reading is hard writing. i have heard it before but had forgotten it.

  25. Love this post - so very true. I read a mixture of horror, fantasy, sci fi and quirky realism. I've always seen the magic in life and that is what I write about. Favourite authors include Stephen King, Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman, Baroness Orczy, Mary Shelley and Douglas Adams. The more I write, the more I see how my stories are very much based in the flawed characters that people them.

  26. I hope that my favorite writers (Tim O'Brien, Raymond Carver, Lorrie Moore) will rub off on my writing more!

    I usually read literay fiction and I do write literary fiction, as well. Though I try to branch out from my usual genre, as well.

    Thanks from your newest follower!
    -Miss GOP

  27. Are we emulating the authors we love, or are we seeking out books to read that are like the ones we want to write?

  28. Yeah, I have the same question as above.

  29. I like Lisa's question: who knows if our muses are steering us to certain books so we can borrow, um, learn from them?

    Although, as Picasso said, "Good artists borrow; Great artists steal." Look at Wm Shakespeare. All his plots came from other writers (or history--one of the best writers of all.) We read and absorb and of course some of the stuff will seep into our writing. Each generation of writers builds on the ones before. As it should be.

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