Guest Post from Paul Marriner

Guest Post from Paul Marriner

Am I A Reader Or Writer?


Of course, in an ideal world the answer is, ‘both,’ and, over time, it’s absolutely possible and, many writers would say, absolutely necessary to be both . The prevailing wisdom is that writers should read, read, read … and I certainly wouldn’t disagree but find reading fiction when I’m in the depths of writing a distraction.

There are a few reasons. One is time. Writing a novel takes time: thinking, plotting, researching, writing, re-writing, re-thinking, re-plotting and re-writing … you get the idea … and I feel guilty if time is spent on reading purely for pleasure. It is true to say that as part of ‘research’ I’ll often read fiction and non-fiction in order to learn and soak in atmosphere and information to help make the latest work the best it can be. And it would be a lie to say I don’t take pleasure in it, to the extent that I sometimes find myself distracted and researching at ‘tangents’ to the work in hand. Often the research (be it fiction or non-fiction) has taken me somewhere fascinating and I may follow the trail until I feel guilty enough to go back to writing. But I console myself with the thought that some great ideas are often born that way and it is, after all, research.

So, time is one constraint on reading purely for pleasure while writing. But it’s not the primary reason I try to avoid it.


When I’m between writing projects and can properly relax into a good book (or two) I find it takes a little while to immerse myself into the story of the first one – I find myself a little detached and thinking about style and plot and pace and narrative rather than being engrossed. But after a few chapters I can let myself go and be in the story. From then on I can ‘get into’ new books from the beginning, much like I could as a child with my latest library choice. But, if I’m in the middle of writing something myself I can’t quite lose myself in others’ books. This is a conscious decision to try and not be overly influenced. For example, if I’m reading Catch 22 (again, I read it every 2 or 3 years) there is a real danger that the next thing I write will be a pale imitation of Heller – especially when it comes to dialogue. Or if I’ve been reading something by Irving I may want to try and bring in an overtly political angle to my next piece of writing or a quirky character whether the piece requires it or not. Or if it’s been a thriller I may be thinking about introducing a murder and lose time planning the perfect crime (which is what I imagine a lot of thriller writers do). In short, I’m concerned about being unduly influenced by the style and plots of others – which is not necessarily a bad thing when you consider how wonderful many of those other writers are.

And I know it’s important to keep up with literary trends and, besides, it would be ridiculous to avoid reading great fiction because I’m worried about inadvertently copying it. After all, am I that weak willed that I am so easily influenced? It’s doubly ridiculous when you consider how much can be learnt from reading the work of others – regardless of genre.


But even so, I’ll continue to be careful when I’m writing and hope that all the good stuff I read when I’m between projects rubs off in some way and comes together as my own style – and, ultimately, while it may be the case that there are only a limited number of plots, (another debate for another time) hopefully my style is unique – for better or worse.



Oh, and it’s probably worth mentioning that, in the final analysis, perhaps I simply prefer writing to reading.




You can find information on Paul’s latest novel here:


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