Well-Rounded Readers Make Well-Rounded Writers

I’m pretty sure you all know the importance, as writers, of reading books within the genres you write, yes? Obviously, this is a given. How are you to know the trends and meet the expectations of your genre’s audience if you aren’t also a member of your genre’s audience?

By reading within your genre, you learn which tropes to include, and which tropes to avoid. You learn your genre’s average pacing and plot structure, what’s been done and what hasn’t, and how to skirt that line between providing unique characters and a unique plot, while still adhering to the qualities and characteristics of your particular genre that will keep readers coming back for more.

But there’s something to be said for reading outside your genre as well. I used to be timid about doing this. For the longest time, I nearly exclusively read SFF books because that’s what I was drawn to. That’s why I chose to write within that genre, after all. I love SFF. I can relate to it, and at the same time, it transports me away from normal, everyday life.

Lately, however, I’ve been making a concerted effort to read more widely. And you know what? Not only have I found that I enjoy a much larger selection of stories than I thought I would, my writing has improved as well. Tremendously. I know it’s improved, because I now find myself looking at my characters differently, and being more creative about the situations I put them in, as well as how I have them react to those situations. I’ve also honed my writing voice more—with different genres comes different ways of wording things, and my exposure to this is coming out in my own style of writing.

wellrounded

As mentioned above, I mostly write SFF. More specifically, I write urban and contemporary fantasy. However, so far this year, I’ve read mysteries, historical fiction, magical realism, contemporary romance, and dark, twisty thrillers with unreliable narrators. Each one of these books has influenced my writing for the better.

Mystery has helped me figure out what information I should (and shouldn’t) reveal to the reader, and when. Historical fiction has taught me the importance of understanding the socio-political landscape in which my characters have been placed. Magical realism has influenced me to slow down during certain moments throughout my stories and really focus on the sensory details, drawing the reader into my character’s experience as far as I can. Contemporary romance has been a terrific study on the push and pull that takes place in character relationships, and how to add delicious tension. And thrillers with unreliable narrators have helped to remind me that every character is the hero within their own story, and they’re all going to want to portray themselves that way, whether their portrayal is accurate or not.

I have books in other genres waiting on my to-be-read list as well. Horror, for instance. And comedy. And I read plenty of non-fiction as well.

“Wait . . . non-fiction? You mean besides books about writing?”

Heck yes, you should read non-fiction! And not just for story research, either. Right now, for instance, I’m reading (well, actually listening to) a book about the quirky ways in which the brain works.* How is that helpful? Well, in understanding how the human brain works, I can better understand why my characters do what they do. I’ve also been reading biographies, which make great character studies, books on time-management, which are helpful for managing my writing life, and of course (since I have a degree in the subject) history books. History is the ultimate plot bunny source, let me tell you. Even if you’re writing a contemporary book, or a book set in the future.

So I challenge you now, if you’re hesitant about reading outside your writing genre, to go do exactly that. Ask trusted friends for recommendations, scroll through Goodreads, or take yourself down to your local library or bookstore and walk past your favorite shelves, over to new, unexplored territory. You can thank me later. No, seriously, after you’re done reading. Pretend I’m not here. I don’t want to interrupt you.

. . . Puts finger to lips and tiptoes away. . . .

 

*THE IDIOT BRAIN, by Dean Burnett
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When she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard (it’s all the same, right?), Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele (badly), knitting (rarely anymore, unfortunately), or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys (pretty much constantly) with her husband. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. (Go Huskies!) Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here.

Pausing to Reflect

After tomorrow, 2016 will be a quarter of the way over. If your year has gone anything like mine, you may have found that you are running, constantly. While I’m pretty sure this is a semi-regular norm of modern society, I also think it is one of the greatest detriments. Taking a few minutes to pause, reflect, and let the frenzied thoughts of our mind have a moment to settle can be highly beneficial.

With this in mind, I’ve asked several of our contributors to share the one thing they’ve learned about the writing journey so far this year. Take a few moment to read through their lessons, and feel free to add yours in the comments below.

Tasha Seegmiller

I’ve learned that sometimes it feels like you will be the one waiting FOREVER for something to happen, to finally figure out how to make it to the next stepping stone. But if you keep working and learning and writing and supporting while you are waiting, your chance to leap to the next stone WILL come.

Helen Boswell

Whether you have a good day or a bad day is largely dependent on your attitude and perspective. Whether you have a good WRITING day or bad WRITING day is the same. Just as it’s not healthy to compare your day with how someone else’s day went, your writing progress, accomplishments, and growth should be measured by one standard: your own.

Elaine Vickers

I’ve learned that there’s a difference between “writing time” and “developing a writing career” time. If I let the latter eat too much into the former–if I spend my precious writing time answering emails or fixing my website or working on an ARC list–I begin to feel the same emptiness as when I’m not making time for my author self at all. Protect your actual writing time, my friends.

Liz Isaacson 

I’ve learned — through something really painful and disappointing, actually — that an author needs to stay true to their vision for their own story. That just because someone wants your story to be something else doesn’t mean you have to make it that way to please them. After all, authors have a right to have a vision for their characters and story that shouldn’t have to change if they don’t want it to.

Sydney Strand

Be creative outside of writing and it will​ help you think more creatively. I’ve been actively doodling and joining doodle challenges since November/December. This has helped me revise better because I’m seeing plot points that are not the easier route I took for the initial draft. By making myself do these other creative outlets, I can see (in these quicker, non-75,000-word pursuits) how much better an odd choice can make a doodle better/more memorable.

Jenilyn Collings

I’d heard this before, of course, but I’ve learned that everyone struggles with the ups and downs of being a writer. Everyone has moments (or days or months or even years) of self-doubt. But just because you struggle with that (and everyone does) it doesn’t mean that what you are working on isn’t worth it. It doesn’t mean that you are the worst writer in the world or that you won’t ever improve. 

What have you learned so far this year? 
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Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and high school English teacher in Southern Utah. She writes contemporary women’s fiction. Her loves include Diet Coke, owls, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is the managing editor for the Thinking Through Our Fingers blog as well as the Women’s Fiction Writers Association quarterly magazine, where she also serves as a board member. Tasha is represented by Annelise Robey of the Jane Rotrosen Agency.