Writing Advice: Take It One Book at a Time

About four years ago, I heard a piece of writing advice that has stayed with me ever since. I first wrote about this back when I was haunting HubPages, but I think this is still valid advice, and wanted to share it here as well. It has nothing to do with style, or grammar, or plot, or character development. It has everything to do with the writing process as a whole, though.

The advice was this: don’t read more than one book at a time if you’re trying to write a story.

As a writer, I love reading because it not only lets me slip into someone else’s imagination, but also introduces me to new styles and techniques, and helps me further develop my own. I know I’m not the only one who feels that way. I also know that, for all of our skills as writers, for all of our enjoyment of the craft, for all of our (usually) amazing grammar and dedication to engaging plots and characters and desire to polish our work until it glows, there’s not much to be proud of if you just can’t get the words out.

I don’t have a guaranteed cure-all for Writer’s Block, and this may not work for everyone, but if you are one of those people who enjoys reading more than one book at a time, this may be of interest to you.

Not everyone who reads two, three, eighteen, forty-two, negative seven, however many books at once has trouble putting words down on paper. But for the multi-book readers who do find it difficult to tell their tales, consider this: when you read several books at once, you are following several plots at once. You are in several worlds at once, you are becoming intimate with several characters at once, you are dealing with several conflicts at once, and (whether you realize it or not) you are confusing your brain.

Reading as little as two books at the same time can cause people to unconsciously cross stories and confuse elements from the different pieces. It becomes difficult to keep everything straight, and this can very easily carry over into your writing. Even if you are able to separate what happens in which book, you have trained your brain to think in a sporadic pattern. When you jump from book to book, your brain jumps with you and does not want to stay focused on any one piece. This may explain why it’s so difficult to actually get that story down, even though you’ve got it completely figured out in your head. You might not be able to keep it straight. Your brain might jump around on you, even when you tell it to sit still and focus. It’s not going to want to obey, kind of like that new puppy that’s discovered how great a chew toy your shoes are. Or that cat that has a fondness for substituting the carpet in your hallway for the litter box, if you’re not really a dog person.

If you’re someone who writes several stories at once, this is the perfect state to have your brain in. You can shift from story to story and not worry about crossing plotlines or switching characters, and you might not run into the dreaded Writer’s Block. But if you’re trying to focus on one particular piece, you might consider doing the same as a reader and not just as a writer.

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