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?