I’m looking at why writers should read outside their genre today.
I emphasize to all writers that they must read. Why? Reading takes you outside of the comfort of your writing and puts another writer’s prose on display. I’m convinced that it’s easier to spot strengths and weaknesses in another person’s writing because you don’t have the same closeness to it. It’s only when you look beyond that you start to see conventions of a genre, habits of writers (good and bad), and how to learn from it. But I’m taking that a step farther today and saying that you should read outside your genre.
All genres have conventions. If a writer focuses solely on one genre to the exclusion of all other genres, it’s easy to get lost in the expectations of your readers. This can be good, but it makes it harder to evolve as a writer. If you’re not evolving as a writer, you stand a good chance of losing readers (unless you’re already an established writer; then your readers have come to expect the conventions you incorporate into your work). By reading outside of your genre, you expand what you’re reading and, by default, expand your bag of writing tricks. This is because you’re seeing conventions turned on its head or developed well, and you’re removed enough to learn the lesson the writing tells.
One way you’ll see if your expanded reading habits has helped your writing is to measure if you notice an increase in writing solutions to your genre’s conventions. Suddenly, you realize that even though you’re not writing literary fiction your genre characters can have more depth. The same goes for literary fiction writers: suddenly your extremely introspective characters move forward in time with your plot.
I’d love to hear from writers what genres they write and what they read and if they think their varied reading helps their writing.
I’ve been thinking about writing process these days. Credit it to the Stephen King NY Times article where the generations talk about being writers (the entire family writes, either for a living or as a big part of their life), but I’ve been thinking about what it takes to produce a novel and to produce more than one at a time. For me,first there is the grain of an idea. That kernel that you can’t get out of your teeth and try to tease apart in your brain. (I use my morning commutes for this, typing out my ideas on my phone while on the train to work). Then comes the need to outline. That’s what separates an idea from a novel. If you can’t make an outline work, then chances are it will take you much longer and much more effort to write it.
As an agent, I’d often ask writers to send me their synopses or outlines along with their manuscript. The outline showed me that they’d worked out the kinks of their story and the manuscript showed me their writing ability. I’d gauge how much work a story needed based, not only on the manuscript, but the outline as well. A good outline doesn’t have all the details worked out, but it does contain world building information, character information, and plot points that will help a writer pull a story together in a way that make it seamless for the reader to enjoy the book. They don’t have to keep track of what’s going on because you’ve laid out the manuscript in a clear way.
I work with outlines especially when revising a manuscript. Whether for my own writing or for someone else, outlines hold the key to revisions. How? They’re the blueprint that you used when constructing your book. They measure how closely you followed your plan and if you veered off course, by changing the character or adding insight to your world. I like outlines because they build up your ability to write more than one book at a time (if you’re into that kind of thing, as many writers want to focus). That steady production makes it easier to write regularly that can translate into writing full-time since you’re nearly always producing something for your readers.
Be sure to comment on whether you outline or not. I’m curious to see what works for writers out there.