Reading What You Want To Write

Concept of science.

Think Outside the Bookshelf


Whenever I teach a group of writers about craft, I always start by asking about each student. What do you want to learn? What do you want to write? What do you read?

Many aspiring writers do NOT read in the genre they want to write. As a starting point, that’s okay. We all need to come to education and development from some place. There is never a “right” place to start. The motivation to start, having curiosity, developing interest–these are always “enough” and “right.”

But beyond the first steps on the the journey to learning anything has to be real engagement in the canon, in the community. How can you learn to write historical romance if the only book you’ve ever read was a Kathleen Woodiwiss title snuck from a relative’s bookshelf back in middle school? Assuming you’re now an adult learner, you don’t have to sneak!

Find the best work published today in the genre you want to write. Ask friends, use social media and the internet to find out which authors are writing and selling what you want to write and sell–and doing both of those well. If you can’t afford to buy the books news, borrow them from a library, from a friend, buy secondhand.

Then read those books. Study them. DO NOT COPY THEM. Study them. Remember there is a difference between taking someone’s words or scenes or even parts of words and scenes and rephrasing them as your own (THIS IS NOT OKAY) and understanding what the author did.

If you want to understand how to craft a believable universe without “dumping” the information all at once, in one paragraph, or in Chapter One, look carefully at what other authors do. Do they write one paragraph of present action (meaning the real-time story/scene) and then tell some backstory? Do they weave in world building through scenes that are skillfully imagined to reveal–rather than dump–those details?

Humans are naturally storytellers, but when you want to apply your ideas to the craft of writing a novel, remember there are literally hundreds if not thousands of teachers available to you: the best of the already-published books in your genre.


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