I’m sure some who read my subject title think its a trivial subject; a no brainer. "Of course it is important to read other writers’ fiction, to improve." I agree at that level, but it actually has more to it.
For one thing, as a writer I am driven to write whenever I can and reading encroaches on my time. I have to do my day job, I have responsibilities to my family, including my daughter, etc etc. With what’s left, I have to make priority decisions. This is the most obvious consideration.
Another area of concern is the degree in which we immerse ourselves into other writers’ styles and worlds, and it can chip away at our own inspiration. I have heard writers say that other people’s stories (be it fiction, cinema, plays etc) inspire them for their stories – I do have some concern here as I believe it can, from a particular degree of exposure, stifle creativity. It’s a balancing act.
For much of my life I have been a copious reader – mostly speculative fiction, but no small amount of other genres and non-fiction, poetry and so on. When I started to write seriously, I almost closed it off completely. I needed the time to write, not read, and I genuinely felt I could generate my own creativity without the need for inspiration from other writers. It worked for me, but only for a few years. As I developed my skills, somewhat like an athlete developing their fitness, there comes a time when one has a hyper-sensitized skill level to detect what is needed for the next step up. I realized I needed to read more; much more.
Jay Lake, the voluminous bloggist and excellent, well-respected speculative fiction writer, blogged just on this topic and referred to the dual role that must be balanced – the consumer versus the producer. Here is his fifth part of the discussion with references to his earlier posts. He puts a valid case forward that there is a time and place for each, and I entirely agree with him.
Before Jay produced his interesting set of blogs with thesis, I made a New Year’s Resolution at the start of 2011. Eleven in fact. One of them was that I would read more. Much more. I set the goal of 24 books – any genre, style etc, and would include the books I edit. It isn’t a case of categorization here, it is to do with keeping the synapses running, exploring new ways of doing things by way of other’s experience, and ultimately finding your own unique style and inspiration, and writing better stories for it.