What to read while you write… aaaaaaand relax

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?

About Mhairi Simpson

Writer, dreamer. Magic, dragons, pink mice, cake. Come say hi!
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18 Responses to What to read while you write… aaaaaaand relax

  1. A very good post πŸ™‚ I tend to read a mix of fantasy and actual history books. To be honest, I seem to read more history texts than stories these days.

    • I’m glad you liked it. It’s interesting to hear what helps other people with their writing. History hadn’t occurred to me but for world-building it must be phenomenally useful.

      I lead a double life reading linguistics and history of language texts πŸ™‚

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  3. Mike says:

    I like writing fantasy and science fiction but that love comes out of reading so much of that particular genre. My tastes on what I read have definitely changed over time. For example, the last two books I read were J.M. Coetzee’s “Waiting for the Barbarians”and Olivia Munn’s “Suck It Wonder Woman”. I took some advice from a friend to read Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game” because he’s the king of the the genre in which I want to write. However, finishing that book just made me want to strike him from memory and I realized I will never write a book so bigoted and full of hatred toward gay people. The fact that he’s been lauded with awards only validates that the community at large that purchases books hates gay people and believes they deserve no rights including gay marriage.

    • I remember reading Ender’s Game a long time ago but I don’t remember any gay references. Maybe they simply didn’t impact on me at that time – I was probably about 16 or 17. I think it’s important to remember that a writer’s political views are not the same thing as the quality of their writing.

      Orson Scott Card is indeed a very well known fantasy writer and for good reason – he created a world very different to this one and populated it with memorable characters. That is what I remember of his writing, and that is what I personally aspire to, not any political views which may (or in my case, may not) have been evident to other readers.

  4. I love YA with paranormal and fantasy in it. Any will do. I also dig romance, true crime that’s focused on serial killers and YA that deals w/ addiction or disorders. I recently got Hunger by Jackie Kessler which is YA paranormal WITH a disorder. Really need to chip away at my TBR pile. >.<

    • Wow, that’s a great cross-section of genres. It would never have occurred to me to go for serial killer true crime or YA dealing with disorders. There are some very brave writers out there.

      One problem with being on Twitter is that I have encountered so many new authors and fantastic looking books – the only reason I’m not broke from buying all the books is because I’m broke anyway!

  5. Ellie says:

    Terrific post Anne Mhairi. I like your conversational writing style- it’s like I’m sitting next to you with a cup of coffee, and a muffin, on a warm day, in our sweats–okay I’ll stop now. Lol.
    I think it’s so important to read our genre! We should be an expert in our field of work. I’m re-reading A Wrinkle In Time- my genre. Its probably the genre we enjoy and LOVE the most anyway if we’re going to write in it.

    • Exactly – after all, you wouldn’t marry someone you didn’t know, eh? Well, unless you live in a Mills & Boon novel, but that’s something else πŸ™‚

      Thanks for the compliment re my writing style. I used to have a more self-conscious tone when I wrote, in general, and even I hated reading it so this works for me πŸ™‚ I’m glad it works for you, too!

  6. I have found that if the well is running dry, it means I’m not reading enough. I read everything from sweet romantic comedies to dark thrillers–and everything in between. I actually LURV history books. I especially like to imagine the bits that are left out. I’ve had an eclectic schooling, especially for stateside (public school, catholic school, public school, christian school, home schooled by pastor uncle, back to public school) so I learned from a lot of different angles.

    I’ve also learned that within every genre there is good and bad, just like real life. Who knew LOL

    Yes read what genre you’re writing. Yes read what’s popular. Also read the classics within your genre. But read outside your comfort zone. It’ll make it easier to see what is good and bad about the writing. A really good thing to think about is reading what’s controversial.

    That sparkly vampire and magic boy with lightning scar caused quit a stir that still ripples out. Why?? Look at why? (No bashing as that’s not constructive) After you’ve read and pondered, see if you can recreate that “something” that readers loved so much they became fanatic readers!!

    • Exactly. And I also agree with the ‘no bashing’. Some you like and some you don’t. To be honest, I think the things that become so hugely successful are the ones that were different. Harry Potter was different – he didn’t get trained up by some mage, he went to an actual school, with dorms and class schedules, etc. Vampires have been done over and over, but sparkly? That was a first.

      I think that’s what you’re really looking for, what we’re all looking for – the first, the thing that hasn’t been done before. I spend my days, well, parts of them, wondering if I will ever find it. Who knows? We can but try πŸ™‚

  7. You are spot on. I read tons…both in my own genre and out. Helps I think. =)
    Also, I’m stopping by as a fellow crusader and new follower. On to the first challenge!

  8. Hey fellow crusader, nice post, and nice discussion going on here. My brain swirls with ideas when I’m jogging. I need a tablet to jot them down. I’ll follow by RSS.

    • I never got to the point that jogging wasn’t such hard work that I could have ideas! And I usually run intervals so I was always focussing on the time. But I’ve heard other people say that running is their relaxation time. Even just getting out in the fresh air helps me relax and think things through.

      Thanks for dropping by – glad you liked the post πŸ™‚ And thanks for following πŸ˜€

  9. Regina says:

    I write YA and Adult Paranormal, Paranormal romance, Dystopia, and some New Adult. But I read everything because I like all the diversity and I keep an open mind because I never know when I might think another genre might sound interesting or another dream I have could hold a different genre and then I would have at least read some in those categories. I’m a follower and fellow crusader. I really enjoyed your post.

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