Writing Without Reading

A pile of books. I love reading, but I can't when I'm writing.

If you ask any professional writer what’s the best way to improve your own writing, they will nearly always tell you to read. Read as much as you can. Read material outside your usual likes, even outside your comfort zone. Read fiction. Read non-fiction. Read biographies. Read history. Just read. But, what if you can’t read? What if the act of reading interferes with your writing? What do you do?

Let me say straight off the bat, I read. I won’t say I read a lot, certainly not compared to my wife. And not even how much I read even five-or-six years ago (I used to be someone that read a novel per week). But I do read. But reading fiction (especially) interferes with my ability to write.

The Problem with Reading When Writing

When I’m writing (and there are stretches when I’m not), I’m always thinking about the piece I’m writing. The characters, the plot, the structure, the tone, at a macro-level, but also at a micro-level I’m always trying to figure out what the characters might do when placed in a certain situation. What they’ll say. What they’ll do.

I always try to get inside my characters’ heads and see the world from their point of view. The situation is a little like the process used in method acting. When I’m writing really well, this continues even when I’m asleep. I dream about them and the situations that befall them. Usually this results in a something wonderful, a better quality of work.

A typewriter writing the words, 'stories matter'.

I’m not unique in this regard. Not by a long shot. Most of the writers I know (the ones that write each and every day – because it hurts not to write) are similarly cursed (or blessed – it depends on the individual day which it is).

Where I am, perhaps a little different, is that whenever I’m engaged in writing I have difficulties concentrating on other people’s work. I experienced the same problems when I worked as a film-maker. It usually goes like this:

  1. if the work is good, I spend all my time berating myself for not being able to write as well.
  2. If the work is not good, I spend all my time picking holes.

It usually results in me being unfairly harsh, or dishing out too much praise for those works I actually finish.

Then there’s also the problem where I start reading, and everything works as it should, until I get to something that reminds me of my work. Then, like a rat sprinting out of an aqueduct, my mind races away. What if Lera does that? Or why can’t Ganthe do this? Or what if Braia… well, you get the idea. And this happens every time I try to read something. But only when I’m currently neck-deep in writing a piece.

When I’m not writing, my brain works as it should. I’m able to switch off and become immersed in the world of the book. I tend to read voraciously when I’m not writing, perhaps because I can’t when I am.

I’m not alone in experiencing this problem. I’ve seen other writers express their frustration over it as well. Unfortunately, it’s just something I (and they) have to endure.


I’m skribe. I’m a writer, a film-maker and an actor. While I’m originally from Perth, Australia, I currently reside on a tropical island, the Lion City of Singapore. Fingerprint: 79A1 DC6C D367 8A31 135A 7AFA 940E 4231 D7B9 B15C If you like what you see buy me a coffee.

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1 Response

  1. 2024-06-18

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