Should writers read, read, read?

A participant on one of my recent writing workshops told us that she’d got stalled with the book she was working on, possibly because she had grown disheartened after reading several particularly wonderful books in the same genre.

It made me think about the advice most authors give new writers, to learn from the best and read, read, read.

I realised that although I do read a lot, it’s never in the same genre as I’m currently writing. When I was a new graduate working in a public library, I gorged myself on children’s fiction, catching up on all the books I’d missed as a non-reading child, but when I started writing children’s fiction in my late thirties, I  moved away from reading children’s books and immersed myself in adults’ books about self-help and popular psychology.

By the time I started writing self-help for children in my forties, I’d stopped reading it and moved on to books about spirituality, dreams and the creative process.

Over the last few years, when I’ve been writing mostly about dreams and creativity, and working on my first dream-inspired fantasy fiction, my reading has been mostly memoir, and I have a few ideas for autobiographical writing firming up in the back of my mind at the moment, which I think may be my next big writing project.

Of course, by the time I start to write any memoirs of my own, I’m sure I’ll be reading in some new genre altogether.

I think I’ve always instinctively avoided reading the same kind of book as I’m writing, in order not to be influenced or discouraged by other people’s work. I’m inspired by it, but usually in the months and years before I decide to have a go myself.

I’ve no idea what my longer-term future writing will be,  but it occurs to me now that the clue will be in whatever I find myself reading while I’m working on these fiction and memoir ideas.

This is how it works for me, and my first advice to would-be writers would not be read, read, read so much as write, write, write. Diaries, articles, poems, stories – write whatever you fancy writing. Write your way into your own voice.

Read whatever you fancy reading too; don’t feel you have to stick to the same kind of thing as you want to write, because you never know where inspiration might come from. Enjoy other people’s writing, but take a break if it puts you off doing your own.

When it comes to what I’m reading and writing at any given time, I prefer different genres. How about you?


7 thoughts on “Should writers read, read, read?”

  1. Writers should read as much as they write. It’s not so much to seek inspiration or wondering how the competition is doing. It’s more for the pleasure of it. We want people to read our works; why shouldn’t we accommodate our fellow writers and do the same? Besides, reading other writers’ stories will certainly help us avoid duplicating their ideas and methods!

  2. Reblogged this on The Boy Who Couldn't Smile and commented:
    When you write you have to read lots of things and not just what you are writing about for it enriches your writing to see and experience how other authors compose their work. I read many genres. However, when I was writing my memoir I read many memoirs to grasp a feel of what I needed to do to write my memoir in a compelling way.

    1. Yes – I guess I just noticed, when I was pondering the question, that there’s always a timeslip for me of several years. Maybe I need a long time to digest all that I learn by reading in a genre before I’m ready to start writing in it. One reason I love blogging is because it helps me clarify my thinking, especially when people share their own insights in the comments. Thank you!

    1. That’s an important point too – I read less than I used to these days because I write more, and there just isn’t time for everything. Between writing projects, I binge read!

  3. I certainly think writers should read a lot and widely but I agree, Jenny, that it’s a mistake to read the same kind of book you’re trying to write while you’re trying to write it.
    I’ve had the experience of being crushed by reading someone else’s work that seemed so much better than mine. After a while I recovered and started to see that my work was worth continuing – but why sabotage yourself?
    Now I tend to read non-fiction while I’m writing fiction – or, at least, fiction in a very different genre than the one I’m trying to write in.

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