I honestly think that to be any kind of a writer, good or back, fiction or non-fiction—even news, you must first be a reader. It would seem obvious, to write you must read, but I have been surprised by how few writers read beyond the scope of their field. Fantasy writers read fantasy, mystery writers read mystery, paleontologists read dinosaur books. That never really made sense to me. I am a voracious reader and like a kid presented with a new food, I am willing to try almost anything once.
It’s someplace where many writers fall down. They get stuck in their own genre and see themselves as only compared to Joe Guy the greatest Fill In The Blank Author on earth. There is danger there. First, maybe Joe is awesome, maybe you adore his writing and want to write like him. But, he is not to everyone’s tastes, so focusing totally on him might be a mistake. Secondly, you run the risk of ending up in an epic rut that is hard to write your way out of. Then there is the third problem, if you read only in one genre, you tend to think everyone gets it, and will understand you when you reference it; that is not always the case, particularly in genres that are on the outer edges of the fringe.
Actually, I think you should read four books outside whatever genre you write in for every one in your genre you read. For example—you write classic science fiction, and awesome it is, but you shouldn’t just read sci fi. Try a mystery, maybe a romance, perhaps a fantasy and toss in something off-the-wall. Wander into the non-fiction area of the library (or Kindle store in the free section) and get something way out of your usual comfort zone. How about Myth, Ritual and Religion by Andrew Lang available free from Kindle? Or a personal favorite The Hunting of the Snarkby Lewis Carroll, also free on Kindle.
So what did I mean about “aware reading”?
For me, every book I read brings me something new, even just a tiny turn of phrase or a new word. (I love to collect words, even if I never use them.) Whether a novel or a non-fiction, there is something there that adds to my awareness of my own craft. I admit sometimes it is an awareness of something I don’t want to do, or don’t like, but that is a valuable lesson as well.
So what am I talking about? First go out and find something you wouldn’t usually read. Novel, short story, poem, or a book on String Theory, find something. Read it. Then think about it for a minute. While you think, ask yourself:
How does this affect my sense of my writing? Or does it?
Is there something here that I can use?
Does the prose flow in a way I like?
Do I like the words, the very bare bones of the work?
I know that feels a bit like a college class, and it will at first. But after you become aware of reading this way, you will realize you have been reading that way all along; pulling in bits and savoring them, keeping some discarding others. Maybe a scene was particularly vivid because of the way it was described and you unconsciously mimic it in your next work. Perhaps there was a fantastic word, that was just the word for your latest blog, story or article.
Whatever it is, it is there waiting. Just hop out and give it a chance.
I have been a writing all my life and have been published in newspapers, magazines and books. Recently, I have started working with writers helping them to learn to love their writing, and how we, as writers can learn from musicians and their techniques.
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