Writers Are Readers: five reasons to read everything you can get your hands on.

read-bookshelfThere’s a lot of discussion in the writing world these days when it comes to preference and taste. Genre fiction is shallow and commercial. Literature is stuffy and morose. It seems people on every side of the debate enjoy a good slathering of vitriol, for better or worse.

I’m no different, by the way. I’ve got my own very distinct list of preferences and opinions. But that doesn’t mean I’ve closed my mind off to everything outside of my wheelhouse. On the contrary, I try hard to mix it up with what I read.  I wanted to take the time today to share with you five reasons that I believe reading and writing in a variety of genres and venues is crucial to becoming the best writers we can be.

1.) Reading is a creative enterprise.

By this I mean that in order for the writer’s world to come to life, the reader must first imagine and conceptualize the words on the page into a world within their mind. Reading is all about imagining, and the better we are at imagining, the more rich and compelling our stories are likely to become. The larger the variety of venues we choose to apply that imagination within, the wider the  breadth of creativity we’re likely to develop and put to use in our own work.

2.) We can learn the most from the things that interest us the least.

Sometimes knowing what we want to do is all about knowing what we don’t want to do. By reading  in venues or genres outside of our preference, we discover what doesn’t work for us and why. This develops a clearer path toward the things we want to create, without so much trial and error along the way.

For example, say I read a Fantasy book where the narrator’s voice is really rich, self-indulgent, or long-winded, and it bothers me. From that point on, every time the qualities of that voice that I didn’t like start to creep into my work, I recognize and eliminate them. Through this process I am using what I don’t like to form my own unique voice by directing myself toward what resonates with me the most.

3.) Reading in unfamiliar genres develops well-rounded skills.

Many genres that writers tend to turn their noses up toward actually have a lot to teach the developing writer. By understanding the tropes of genres that have a tendency to cross over into each other, writers learn a stronger command of story.

For example, understanding the tropes of Romance stories can lead to writing a more complete, satisfying relationship arc between two characters in a totally unrelated genre. The same is true of Mystery; writers can develop an excellent sense of pacing, tension and suspense by reading and experimenting with Mystery’s tropes.

4.) Reading a variety of genres and venues expands horizons by allowing the reader to experience a wider variety of ways to construct a narrative.

As the saying goes, there’s a hundred ways to skin a cat. It’s hard to have our own unique way unless we’ve made a proper effort to experience as many different ways as we can. By understanding and analyzing the application of narrative skills in writers totally unfamiliar to our own style, we develop not only the power to wield technique for ourselves, but also to subvert convention with a deft hand.

The example I always give on this is that nobody would have appreciated Picasso and Cubism had he not also had a strong grasp of how to construct a more classical painting. It was his understanding of technique from a variety of styles that allowed him to subvert convention and develop his own approach and style.

5.) Reading in genres outside our own wheelhouse develops and refines our own taste and judgment.

Simply put, by reading outside of our comfort zone, we often come to discover new interests and preferences, which then affect what we choose to do with our own writing. Sometimes just by being open-minded we come to discover something we love even more than the thing we’re already doing. Often it is this new thing that presents us with our best opportunity to create work that is innovative, inspired, and engaging for our audience!

What do you think are the benefits or drawbacks of reading and writing outside of your personal wheelhouse? I’d love to hear your comments below!

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