Do You Read What You Want to Write?

Photo credit: Mosman Library on Flickr
"If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it."—Toni Morrison
I'm sure most of you have heard that Toni Morrison quote, or some variation of it before, and I think there's a lot of truth to it.

Looking back at all of the manuscripts I've written, there's certainly a noticeable pattern as far as themes, elements, and style go, largely because I write about topics I like to read about. I suspect that most of you writers will find the same in your work, if you haven't already.

And let's face it—the reason why this tends to happen is pretty obvious: very few writers want to spend months or years writing a novel they aren't particularly interested in. We write what we want to read.

But what if we reverse that sentence? Most writers instinctively write what they want to read, but do you read what you want to write?

Since the beginning of my novel- writing days, I've written YA novels. There wasn't a doubt in my mind that that was the age group I enjoyed writing for. But initially I didn't read very much YA.

Honestly, it pains me to think about it now, and it's not like I didn't read any YA...I just didn't read nearly as much as a YA writer should. And I know some writers avoid reading novels in a similar genre while they're writing (that's another post all on its own), but in general, it's important for writers to read the genre they're writing in. Widely.

This is a lesson I learned the hard way—and sort of my accident—because once I really delved into YA books, something weird happened: my writing started to improve. Quickly. I learned different techniques and stylistic options I never realized were available to me. I learned about pacing and character development and voice and the sheer variety of novels out there.

I learned about how I should be writing. And as an added bonus, I came to realize just how much I loved the genre I was writing in.

This point is this: it's just as important (if not more so) to read what you like to write as it is to write what you like to read. Don't neglect your genre. There's always more to be learned.

Do you read what you like to write? Why or why not?

22 comments:

Chihuahua Zero said...

The Toni Morrison (who I need to look up) quote totally applies to me.

I want to write a YA urban fantasy from a male's point-of-view with edginess that just walks the line, with LGBT themes and sexual references and other stuff.

The problem is that while many YA books have at least one of those elements, very few of them have all of those elements...so I'll stuck writing my own book.

Ava Jae said...

I don't think you need to read something that contains all of the elements you want to write about (in fact, it's not necessarily a bad thing that what you're writing has a combination of elements not often found in other novels), but it's useful to read many novels within your genre. You could read, for example, so YA urban fantasy, YA told from a male's POV, YA with LGBT themes...etc. It doesn't all have to be in one book to be a useful read. :)

Courtney Privett said...

I read a little of everything, but I write fantasy.  I read sci-fi, historical fiction, fantasy, non-fiction, scientific journals and books, children's lit, and whatever else crosses my path.   I got bored with reading the same fantasy tropes over and over, so I started writing, and I draw elements from every genre I read.  I might write in other genres eventually, but for now I'm trapped in post-apocalyptic Malora and I have to write my way out.  

"If you don't have the time to read, you don't have the time or the the tools to write." Stephen King

Margaret Alexander said...

Excellent post! Very true about writing what you wish to have read. I actually did read a lot of the genre I wanted to write, and that mainly inspired my own writing, but the lesson is: you can always stand to read more. And the more you read, the more you understand what you're writing and how to write it. Basically, if you want to write fiction, don't just read nonfiction; if you want to write chick lit, don't just read sci-fi. I also try to watch movies that are very similar in genre to what I write.

Lauren S. said...

One of the main reasons I write the genres that I write is because I read those genres and was disappointed. For example, I'm writing a sci-fi novel that is more how I want sci-fi to be. I'm writing a YA horror story that's written the way I think horror should be written.  

Great post! 

Ava Jae said...

I love that Stephen King quote (and I've used it in the past because I think it's fantastic). Just as you learn something from every WIP you write, you can learn something (or many things) from every book you read. Reading truly gives us invaluable tools. 

Ava Jae said...

I truly believe reading widely is essential for all writers, and part of that is being especially well-read in whatever genre you want to write in. 

And you're absolutely right about always being able to read more. :)

Ava Jae said...

Thank you, Lauren! 

Patti Mallett said...

Great post! Twice today I told myself to stop holding back and write the story that I want to read. Thanks for the encouragement.

Every book we read will teach us something. Today I was also wondering, again, why I watch Hulu rather than read, when the To Be Read Pile is so high. (Stephen King was whispering in my ear that "no writer has time for television.")

Andi-Roo said...

This is so true! I attended a writing group wherein one lady presented a story idea about a children's chapter book series she wanted to write --- then she proceeded to describe the Magic Tree House series mixed with the Time Warp Trio series. Poor thing hadn't read any books in that genre AT ALL, & was shocked as all hell to learn that her idea was already written. Wish I'd had this article to show her then --- & I hope she's expanded her reading horizons since that meeting! 

One of my biggest problems is that I read from SEVERAL genres, so sometimes it's difficult to nail down exactly which way I want to go. I definitely need to work on FOCUS & maybe stay with one section of the book store for a while! :)


Andi-Roo
/// @theworld4realz

http://www.theworld4realz.com/



theworldforrealz@gmail.com

Rachel Frost said...

The answer to that question is both yes and no.

 I read Fantasy because I love exploring other worlds, magic systems, characters, etc. But traditional High Fantasy tends to be long-winded. I love it...

...but I've always wished the writing could be concise. It drives me crazy that people wander into 300-page detours. So I make a conscious effort to stay away from lengthy explanations and digressions in my writing.

Ava Jae said...

Thank you, Patti! I'm glad the post served as some encouragement for you. You're absolutely right--every book we read offers us something to learn, whether it's a technique that was particularly effective or something that didn't work for you. 

Ava Jae said...

I wouldn't say that reading from several genres is a problem--in fact I think reading widely is very important for writers. I believe we need to be well-read in our genre (both to avoid the situation you describe and to learn certain rules and techniques that apply well to that particular genre), but reading in other genres as well is just as important. There's something to be learned from every book we read, regardless of where on the shelf it sits. :) 

Ava Jae said...

Sounds like you've already learned something important from your genre. :) 

Just out of curiosity, have you tried reading YA Fantasy--it's certainly not the same as traditional High Fantasy, but it tends to be more concise and avoid those long 300-page detours you mentioned. 

Laurapauling said...

I definitely read what I love to write: mystery, murders and spy stories. But I also love the more literary story filled with theme and symbolism and lyrical writing. My sweet spot is a combination of high concept and a touch of literary writing.

Ava Jae said...

That sounds like a great combination--can you name any books that hit that sweet spot? 

Author Steven said...

This is a great point and something I have always done and believed in. Nicely said. :) Also, I was just thinking about what makes something good or successful. There's a phrase that says "You either do it first or you do it best." This got me thinking about books. There are cutting edge new genre making groundbreaking books that are good because they are specifically original or new. That makes up for the sub-par grammar or technical issues of the book. Then there are books that are from a common genre but they break all the the cliche's and redefine the genre. So, maybe you could give your thoughts about cliche's and things of that nature to avoid in one of the most cliche'd genres of all....Epic/High Fantasy. Haha. Thanks!

~Author Steven :)

Daniel Swensen said...

Agreed. I've never understood writers who say things like "I don't want to read in my genre because I don't want my ideas to be corrupted by other people's work." Huh?! 

Ava Jae said...

Hello Steven! As always, I appreciate the suggestion, however I don't know nearly enough about Epic/High Fantasy to write a post like that. (I'm relatively sure the only Epic/High Fantasy novel I've ever read was The Lord of the Rings and that was a long time ago.

Thanks for the suggestion, though. Glad you enjoyed the post! ^_^

Ava Jae said...

I've heard that quite a bit and to be honest, I'm not sure what to think of it. I suppose I see both sides, but not reading in your genre at all is a very dangerous game to play.

Polish man said...

Denmark is in usa, ithink ?

Ava Jae said...

Um...nope! Denmark is it's own country. In Europe.

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