What we read influences us.  I don’t mean at the conscious level, where we choose to read certain books in order to learn about a topic, or the views of a figure we respect, or about a different life experience; I refer rather to the subconscious level, where what we read will tint and sway how our imaginations work, how we think, and how we interact with the world, often without our being fully aware of it.  Most authors realize this fact, because it can come out obviously in our writing.  The exact changes are different from person to person.  For me, I’ve found that that my writing will tend towards the style of whatever I’m reading at the time.  If I’m reading something with an older style of language, my sentence structures will be more elaborate and my word choice more careful than if I’m reading something in a transparent prose style, while will make my sentences trend shorter and my language more direct.

Like changing from running clothes to dress clothes, or from casual clothes to hiking clothes, you can use what you’re reading to manipulate your subconscious mindset.  It takes experimentation, but you should be able to identify certain styles of writing and/or certain authors who will influence your writing in particular ways.  Maybe you read Dickens when you’re doing a lot of description, maybe you read philosophy when you’re working on essays, or maybe you read Rothfuss when you are working on revisions.  The point is not to intentionally mimic a certain style, or even to mimic a style at all.  Instead, you are allowing yourself to be influenced, taking advantage of the inevitable ways in which our brains respond to such stimuli.

This concept was emphasized to me recently by my split reading efforts.  I’ve been simultaneously reading Tocqueville’s Democracy in America and a web serial called The Wandering Inn (which I am calling “market research,” by the way).  Interestingly, I found that, while reading Democracy in America sent my brain whirling on numerous ideas and shifted my writing style towards longer sentence structures, reading The Wandering Inn left me with little writing thought at all.  Something about its mode of storytelling and style of writing actually crimped my imagination and short-circuited my writing brain.  It is a strange phenomenon.

Nor need this idea be solely confined to writing.  I’ve found that what I’m reading can affect my speech patterns, my thought patterns, even how I choose to interact with people, especially as I’ve become more cognizant of the effect.  The realization of the extent of the influence that the reading content I consume has upon me is no small part of the reason I strive to read so broadly and seek out challenging books.  I would much rather sound like Benjamin Franklin in conversation than some whiney, teenaged dystopian.

Maybe this seems obvious to you, and in some ways the fact that what we read influences us is quite self-evident.  This post is more to point out that the influence of books need not be a passive, incidental phenomenon – you can control it, manipulate it, influence it, and use it, harness it to achieve certain affects.  Paying deliberate attention to how books affect you can be thoroughly enabling, and not just in a nebulous “learn more about yourself” way.  It might even improve your writing.

One thought on “You Wear What You Read

  1. 100% agree. I definitely pick out what to read based on what I’m trying to write sometimes. Currently, I’m on a trend of books written in the third person omniscient because I find close third or third person can throw me off the style I’m going for. Looking forward to getting to some of the books I’ve been putting off when I finish this draft!

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