Advice for Writers about Reading

Advice for aspiring writers is that they should read. Read often, read widely. Fiction, non-fiction, picture-books. Whatever, whenever, as long as you read.

I had a conversation a month or so ago with my mother on the subject of reading How-to-Raise-a-Baby books. There was something in the paper, and I idly asked her if she’d read them before my siblings and I were born, fully expecting her to say no. She’s not that sort of a person. To my surprise, she said yes, she’d got them from the library. The thing was, though, with those sorts of things, that you pick the ones which agree with your own prejudices. So really what you’re doing is finding an ‘expert’ to justify your own ideas on how to raise Baby.

The same, I suspect, applies to seeking advice for all walks of life. Whatever you want to find out How-to, chances are you can find a book which tells you How-to in the way you were going to do it anyway.

Including writing. So I’m probably going to expose my own prejudices on the subject of Writing, by talking about Advice from the Greats (ie, already published).

On the subject of reading, the late great Sir Terry Pratchett said something along the lines of writers needing to read everything but the genre they write – in case of unconsciously recycling what you read.

And this, of course, simply justifies me in my faith of my ability to write fantasy, when I don’t tend to read fantasy as a rule. A version of the advice was given to me years ago by my sister, when I was first attempting a novel. Of the comments she gave me, the one which stood out was “Stop playing Warcraft”, probably because I had stuffed the land with every mythical creature you can think of, including leprechauns, and everyone was a terrible stereotype. I subsequently stopped playing Warcraft and there isn’t even a whiff of gold at the end of a rainbow in my current WIP. Whether this makes it better is entirely subjective. I know there are people out there who happen to like cheesey, cliche novels. Must admit, I’d like it if Regency-romance writers would stop nicking Heyer’s characters and story-lines.

But writing, like raising a baby, is very subjective, and what works for one novel might not work for the next. So read, or not read, the genre you write. Presumably you write it because you enjoy it, and you should enjoy writing because it takes so long to create a good novel.

But you should remember this piece of wisdom from my mother-in-law, who read all the baby-books:

You might have read the books, but Baby hasn’t.

6 thoughts on “Advice for Writers about Reading

  1. Haha yep ‘it takes so long to create a good novel’ is beyond true. I can’t believe how easy I thought it was going to be, before I started writing mine out. I’m a writer btw, I’ve got a small-ish blog where I post short stories, and I’ve managed to turn a few heads with my novel’s prologue, and I’d love it if you could find some time to maybe read a few 🙂

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