Influences, Good and Bad

Reading shapes your writing

Writers are influenced by what they see, hear, and read. Most writers were and are avid readers. Writers interested in stage and screen tend to support those media, too. As a result, the works of other writers influence a writer.

List your five favorite writers and three favorite genres. Now list five books and five films. List your least favorites, in any numbers. Explain each.

Writers Read

Good writers have a passion for words. They read because they enjoy a well-constructed sentence, a powerful paragraph, and a compelling story. Reading works by talented authors encourages a good writer to become better.

When a writer tells us he or she dislikes reading, we know this is an individual courting disaster — and rejections. Books, magazines, and other media should excite you. Libraries and bookstores should be your sacred temples.

It’s Good For You

Every writer should expose his or her self to variety of works by various writers in multiple genres. As the saying goes, it might not be pleasant, but it’s good for you. By reading across the literary spectrum a writer gains new insights into what is possible.

The creative process is the act of borrowing existing concepts and combining them into a new form. Most writing relies upon worn formulas, so there is room for experimentation. While conservative editors and publishers will likely reject what is new, it might be wildly successful once published.

Romance writers have found success with vampires, ghosts, and time travel. The paranormal seem inherently romantic, but the sales of time travel romances are stunning. Someone read across genres, creating something new.

Bad, Very Bad

It should be noted that some theft is intentional and entirely without excuse. Plagiarism is a crime in some countries… unethical in all.

Sometimes, in fact usually, a writer accidentally borrows too much from another. Believe it or not, most literary thefts are accidental. Failures of human memory explain these incidents.

Reading the same authors and works repeatedly imprints elements of those writings onto a writer’s memory. As time passes, the origins of these elements are forgotten, but not the elements. Suddenly a good idea for a story seems original or an exchange between characters is fresh and exciting. Unfortunately, the story has been written and the dialogue pre-dates television.

Even the Greats

Select a popular title that you would not normally read from a bestseller list. Read the entire book — no cheating.

Even a disciplined and talented writer fears that some of his or her writing lacks originality. Maybe he or she unconsciously borrows a concept or quote. Maybe the writer falls into a formula rut. Writing daily, you undoubtedly stumble into these traps. The trick is recognizing a problem page or work and tossing it into the trash. We challenge any writer claiming he or she has never slipped.


Bickham, Jack M. 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes, The. Cincinnati: Writer's Digest Books, 1992. (ISBN: 0898798213)

Fletcher, Ralph J. A Writer’s Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You. New York: Avon Books, 1996. (ISBN: 0380784300)

Polking, Kirk ed. Beginning Writer’s Answer Book. Cincinnati: Writer's Digest, 1994. (ISBN: 0898795990)

Rozakis, Laurie E. Creative Writing. Complete Idiot's Guide to, The. New York: Simon & Schuster, Alpha Books, 1997. (ISBN: 0028617347)


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Writer: C. S. Wyatt
Updated: 21-Oct-2017
Editor: S. D. Schnelbach