I was having trouble thinking up a topic to blog about today. So I went for a walk instead. I was halfway down the stairs of my apartment block when I came up with this. Sometimes, it’s just psychological. Going for a walk clears the cobwebs, refreshes me, but often my brain will start working, as today, before I have even left the building, having already relaxed due to the promise of a little downtime.
So, I decided to write about what you should read if you want to write. I know, I know, I can hear someone saying it: but if you are writing, shouldn’t you focus on that? If you’re reading, you’re not writing.
Well done, you are absolutely right. However, I don’t write twelve hours a day. I don’t even write eight hours a day. At the moment I am writing for between 1.5 and 2 hours a day, which gets my required two chapters done (as per the agreement with my critique partner). Once that’s done, my brain switches off the novel. I could try telling it that we were going to write three chapters today, but unless my CP tells me to, it’s simply not going to take.
So what do you do for the rest of the day? Just because you aren’t writing your book, doesn’t mean you can’t help your brain with it in the meantime. I forget where I saw it, but someone else said “regardless of what genre you write, read everything. Look at books the way a carpenter looks at trees.”
Now I don’t entirely agree with that. Unless I am very interested in the personality, I don’t read (auto)biographies (except for Roald Dahl’s ‘Boy’ and ‘Going Solo’) or whodunnits. Nor do I think you should read only in your genre. The answer is, as usual, somewhere in the middle.
You should absolutely read in your genre. Not so you can copy people or write something similar because that is ‘obviously selling right now’. But so that you can see what has already been done. As someone else pointed out (and I really should remember this because I read it recently 😦 ) if you want to write about sparkly vampires, I’ve got bad news for you. A boy who discovers he’s a wizard and goes to magic school? Likewise. But you can often get ideas for how to change something round, take something that has been done and turn it on its head.
Ok, I write fantasy, so I will read fantasy. Check. Next?
Next, read other genres that have aspects in common with yours. By this I mean, if you want to write a book with plenty of action in it, read thrillers. Look at how the writer creates tension, gets the blood racing. I like reading contemporary action thrillers that have some link to the past, like Clive Cussler’s books, or David Gibbins’ Atlantis. Recently I decided I should look at James Patterson, a highly successful writer of thrillers. Guess what? I love them.
If you want to write romances, read chick lit, contemporary romance, historical romance, paranormal romance – there are a lot of romance sub genres out there. Personally I love Nora Roberts’ magic-themed romance series’, Three Sisters and The Circle. I don’t like Maeve Binchy’s books but I do like Katie Fforde and Sophie Kinsella. I like the comedy, you see? Within every genre, there will be books and writers that don’t do it for you. That’s fine. Know what you like. And why.
So don’t be snobbish about what you choose to read. The chances are you will only harm yourself and your work. Other writers have come before us. You might as well take what they can offer in the way of lessons learned and mistakes to avoid. This is where the ‘why’ is important – why don’t you like this book? When you can answer that question you will know what to avoid in your own writing.
What do you like to read? What genre do you write in? How does what you read affect what you write?