It seems obvious. If you’re a writer, you have to read!
I know most of you are readers. But I’m regularly surprised at how many writers confess to not reading widely in the genre they’re writing. Or any genre, for that matter.
Read in the genre you want to write
At one conference, I met with a lady who was writing a suspense novel. I asked who her favorite suspense authors were and she got that deer-in-the-headlights look, and hemmed and hawed. I felt bad for her because it was like she’d finally been found out! I gently suggested she take a break from writing and spend some time sitting on the front porch with a tall glass of iced tea and a stack of books. What could be wrong with that?
Of course, I wonder why anyone would even want to write a particular genre if they don’t read it. I mean, is there a fashion designer who doesn’t like clothes? Would you be a lawyer if you didn’t care about the law?
But more importantly, if you are not well-read, you will not be a good writer. If you haven’t read widely in a particular genre, you won’t have a strong understanding of that genre.
Quantity + Quality
I recommend you not only read as much as you can, but also pay attention to the quality of the books you read. You’ll naturally soak in the styles of writing that you’re reading. You’ll subconsciously learn about story structure and good dialogue and sentence construction and countless other aspects of writing. If you read nothing but bodice-ripper romances, don’t expect to sit down and write a literary masterpiece. (Note: I have nothing against bodice-ripper romances.) If you’re reading a steady diet of self-published books that haven’t been through the rigorous editorial scrutiny of a publisher, you might not be helping yourself.
Mix it up
It’s a good idea to read outside of your natural preferences sometimes, too. Give yourself some variety, open yourself up to different styles, genres, topics. You’ll learn something and maybe even find a new interest. That’s why I like book clubs, since they usually encourage us to read books others have suggested, rather than our own choices. Many reading groups, book-related podcasts, and websites like Goodreads have “Challenges” you can join, in which you’re trying to read all kinds of books that wouldn’t necessarily be your regular go-to. This keeps your reading fresh!
Don’t mistake this post to mean I want you to write like other writers, or consciously emulate them (although that’s not always a bad idea when you’re a new writer). I just want you to enjoy yourself while always becoming a stronger writer. And I want you to be an informed consumer of the product you are trying to sell.
And for those of you who are already readers, what have you been reading lately?