Oct 1, 2012

Why You Really Should Read what you Write

I know, I've talked about this before, and so have lots of people.  But it really is a bit like the elementary teachers explaining over and over the reason kids need to read or be read to 20 minutes a night.

Because if we don't, nothing else we do will matter.

Sure, you could be a prolific writer of brilliance, but there are nuances within each genre that a writer MUST be aware of.  For instance, the difference between romance in MG and YA, or closer to my writing home, the different emphasis between romance and women's lit.  We have to know the kinds of plot structures that work in different genres and we have to know the appropriate character configuration.  Older readers can appreciate multi-character plot lines, whereas younger readers would get confused with too many characters.

I would argue the biggest reason to read the genre we write is to use it as a guide in our own writing.  This is our chance to see if we are on track, if we do recognize the quality stories, appropriately deep characters and the like.  But when we are reading in our genre, we are allowing our brain to be filled with the kinds of things we are trying to create.  I think most of my readers have been out of high school for a while and I'm equally certain each of us have some sort of knowledge base that may have been reasonably sturdy for some time, but now is crumbling and weak.

For us to be able to pull from the creative tank, it has to be full.  Doesn't it make sense to fill it with what we need?  Sure, we can read other things at times, but I really truly believe we will export according to what we import.  I don't think this means someone is locked in forever - I think reading preferences should change as writing preferences do.

And if you don't read what you are writing, why are you writing it?

Have you noticed a difference in your writing based on your reading?  

15 comments :

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

My reading has been varied in genre over the past two years as I've been reading a lot of blogger buddies' books in addition to what I normally read. Maybe that's why all three of my books have a slightly different feel to them although they are still space opera. (And yes, I read books like Zahn's Star Wars series and think THAT is how I want my books to come across!)

Simon Kewin said...

I read widely and constantly, so I take your point. But sometimes I find my writing starting to emulate the book I'm currently reading, and I have to guard against that...

Angeline Trevena said...

This is so true; and I actually wrote about the mistake I made NOT doing this in my blog post today!

Angela Cothran said...

I pretty much like everything, but I have to be in the mood to read certain genres (like non-fiction :) But I totally agree there are millions of things to learn from each one!

David P. King said...

This is why I've surrounded myself with MG books to read lately. Excellent post and thanks for the linkage. :)

Cassie Mae said...

I'm in love with my genre, so it's always the first thing I grab at the library. :)

Elizabeth Seckman said...

I read everything. But I find my heart lies with women's lit...which would probably qualify as old school romance.

prerna pickett said...

i couldn't agree more! it's a good thing i love all things ya, it makes reading much more enjoyable and i can use reading time as 'research'.

Jess Stork said...

Absolutely. I notice strengths in the writing that the author does as I'm reading... like things the author does to help with pacing, or great description, or arrangement of dialogue. I get so much out of reading books in the genre. It's like a self-help genre.

Emily R. King said...

Very true. In fact, I decided to write a fantasy MG because I realized I've been reading a lot of it (again) and buying the books I've been borrowing from the library. So I thought I'd take a stab at it. If I read it, I should be able to write it. Right?

We'll see.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I've noticed a lot of popularity in epic fantasy toward the dark side. I enjoy reading it and am trying to take some light out of my own newer works.

Andrew Leon said...

I disagree entirely, and, yes, I know what I'm about to say goes against conventional wisdom, but conventional wisdom is almost always wrong. Just saying.
Immersing yourself in "your genre" makes your writing flat, cliche, and conventional. Period. Sure, it will fit right in with everything else, but that's the problem; it will fit right in and by utterly indistinguishable from all the other stuff sitting on the shelf.

If you want to write well, read good authors no matter what genre they write. Read the best authors. Focus on quality material so that your material will stand out, not fit in.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

I was recently asked to revise a manuscript as upper MG instead of YA. Luckily, as a 5th grade teacher, I was able to identify two books of similar genre, with the right age protagonists, and the right sort of themes to use as a guide for my revisions. So, yeah. You gotta read in your genre -- and maybe a few others as well!

Lisa Regan said...

Excellent point! I like to read outside of my genre sometimes but when I'm in the throes of writing I like to immerse myself in my own genre and go on a reading frenzy because for me it is inspiring and you're right-I need to be inundated by the very thing I'm trying to create! also you get to see what's working and what isn't working in that genre.

Livia said...

I read mostly romance novels, memoirs and SOO many blogs. Yes, what I read has influenced my writing. When I write a movie review, I find myself writing like a blog post when I shouldn't. Maybe I read too many blogs right now but that shouldn't be a bad thing: they give me some inspiration so I CAN write.

Great post, Tasha!