Is it Immoral to Read While Writing?

Is it possible to write in a vacuum? Should you?

Jenn Fir
December 1, 2021

Is it immoral to deliberately consume other author’s works while writing to absorb their writing style?

TL;DR: No.


It’s logical:

  1. Nothing is new under the sun. Every invention, product, document, or speech is a combination of existing ideas, emotions, and voice.
  1. But here's the twist: the previous point is a lie.  “Nothing is new under the sun” is simply untrue. When you combine your ideas, emotional beats, twists, character developments, and voice, you create something totally new.  As long as you don’t plagiarize word for word, being “influenced” by another author’s voice and tone is no different than watching Game of Thrones prior to writing your fantasy novel, cooking Thanksgiving dinner prior to writing a feast scene, or watching a SpaceX launch prior to writing a spaceship separation sequence.

But isn’t it partially plagiarism? Aren’t you “copying” the other author’s style?  


If you write a scene about artificial intelligence, are you copying Isaac Asimov or Ray Kurzweil? If you write about dragons, are you ripping off Anne McCaffrey or Christopher Paolini?  If you write about a castle, are you disrespecting English or Japanese culture?  If you write your main character into a ball gown, are you ripping off Jane Austen or Brandon Sanderson?  (Yes, he wrote about a MC in a ball gown—read Mistborn!).  If you write a mystery, will the estate of Arthur Conan Doyle come after you?


The bottom line is: if your words come from you, generated from the dynamic machinery of your mind, cobbled together from your vast history of experiences (regardless of age, you will have a vast history), then your writing is yours.

Don’t steal word for word.  Try not to copy any concept exactly.  Take the dry British humor of Douglas Adams or Monty Python, and give it a modern American twist.  Give elves rounded ears, put carpet in spaceships.  

I’ve done all three!

Don't plagiarize. Don't copy. But there's no harm in reveling in and emulating your heroes.

I've got a few posts somewhere deep in the pile of ole gray spaghetti behind my eyes about my favorite authors that I like to read while I'm writing. Look for those up next!

Jenn Fir

Sci-fi and fantasy author with a taste for change and a love of the impossible. Fir trees rule!