To read or not to read

Years ago, I interviewed Dr. Frank Slaughter, prolific writer of medical and historical fiction. I asked him what he read for personal enjoyment. His response: “Nothing, when I’m writing. I don’t want anything else to influence me.”

I’ve since talked to authors who advise, “If you want to write, read,” their point being that other writers give you structural and characterization tips.

I am a prolific reader, paging through every magazine that comes into the house and opening endless ebooks, many of which I don’t complete. This week, I had a fortunate encounter with a political magazine.

I’ve had a hole in the latter stages of my novel. My antagonist is a federal judge whose past contains dark secrets. I identified a climactic event that turns the corner of the plot, but I still needed something that precedes it to make the protagonist look in the right place. None of the five options I’d outlined seemed quite right.

While scanning a recent issue of The Nation, I found what I need in a story about a convict fighting to win a retrial. The article contained backstory about another case and it was there, hiding in the underbrush of b copy, that I found a small gem. With a little polishing and a new setting, it fit perfectly.

So, though I am new to this, my advice is that to write, you must read.

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