read the type of books you write

5 Reasons to Read the Same Type of Stories You Write

5 reasons to read the type of stories you writeAside from writing itself, reading is the single most important element in a healthy writing life.

As Natalie Goldberg and Stephen King, respectively, point out:

If you read good books, when you write, good books will come out of you.

If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.

Specifically, you should be reading the type of stories we want to write. Why? Here are five reasons.

1. Because They Make You Envious

Yep, you read that right. If you’re not reading stories that make you drool with envy over the author’s ability to craft fascinating characters and string together beautiful word pearls, you’re not setting the motivational bar high enough. Read enough authors who make you think, Oh, I could never write like this, and you may one day surprise yourself by writing like them.

2. Because They Show You How It’s Done

You’ll find no better place to learn than at the feet of the masters. When you read a story you wish you’d written, take note of the techniques that worked and the elements you particularly loved. Then put those components to work in your own writing.

3. Because They Convince You of the Worth of Writing

Sometimes it can be easy to doubt the worth of writing, particularly after you’ve logged a long writing session in which nothing went right. When you find yourself asking “What’s the point?”, dig out a good book. After closing that back cover, you’ll probably have remembered why crafting stories is worth the struggle.

4. Because They Remind You How Your Dream Started in the First Place

As Susan Sontag points out,

Reading usually precedes writing and the impulse to write is almost always fired by reading. Reading, the love of reading, is what makes you dream of becoming a writer.

5. Because They Teach You to Avoid Clichés

By familiarizing yourself with the salient and common points of your genre, you can learn which elements have been overdone. It’s a mistake to believe reading widely in your genre will sap your originality by causing you to subconsciously copy other authors. The truth is just the opposite. Read widely, so you know what’s original and what isn’t.

***

A writer who doesn’t read is like a race car that avoids pit stops. You can’t keep racing forever without stopping to refuel. Just as you set aside a daily time to write, make sure you’re also setting aside time to read. When you read the type of stories you write, you’re doing legitimately important research, and don’t let anyone tell you differently!

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What’s the last book you read that inspired you as a writer? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. I’m finding that listening to books is helping my writing immensely. I listened to about 90% The Girl that Fell from the Sky, and the author, Heidi Durrow, made me fall in love with writing again. Her prose was beautiful and meaningful without being superflous. Her story seeped out in drops where it needed to and flowed in gushes where it needed to. It definitely inspired some good turns of writing while/ after reading it.

  2. Most of the books that inspire me these days are the ones that show me how *not* to write, and why a genre that I thought would be suitable for me is something to avoid.

    My writing generally involves male relationships, but doesn’t fit any standard genre. I wound up reading a lot of erotic romance before I figured out that most of the books in that category are simply explicit versions of the traditional female romance genre. Good writing is rare and bad writing seems to have no influence on the reviews or the success of the books.

    Sometimes, it’s not the best that can inspire you, but the worst.

  3. Charlie Higson, author of The Young Bond series, was the last author to really inspire me. I love his style so much and the flow of each book is fantastic. I write for teenagers, and I consider his to be some of the best.

  4. Michael Phillips’ Angel Harp. It reminded me of Daphne DuMaurier’s style, but fresh and hopeful.

  5. Love this post. 🙂

    The last book I read that had me thinking “I should just give up now because I will never EVER in a million years be able to write like this” was ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS by Stephanie Perkins, which I just finished little more than a week ago and I’m already thinking about when I can possibly squeeze in a second read.

  6. My AHA moment came just as I finished reading Christopher Moores “Island of the Sequined Love Nun”. I never thought I could be as funny as Chris (and dozens of other humor writers I read). However, he inspired me to pick up my pen and try. My memoir, The Art Of table Dancing: Escapades of and Irreverent Woman was published ten years later…
    http://www.theartoftabledancing.com

  7. I am currently reading Slaughterhouse Five, and the first chapter moved me. One part in particular was so powerful it gave me chills. Books like this inspire me to become a better writer.

  8. This is such a true post. I have to read. It inspires me, gives me fresh ideas and opens my eyes to new possibilities, and it really is invaluable to my writing. The last book I read, Across the Universe by Beth Revis, was absolutely amazing in every way for me. I’ll definitely be going back to Beth for help, especially with hiding clues and weaving in the subtle intricacies that blow readers’ minds at the end. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  9. The Demon’s Lexicon, by Sarah Rees Brennan. Every description works to create and enforce the tone and atmosphere of the book. Love it. Would love to be able to write like that.

  10. @MissM: In general, I’m not a fan of audio books (just a personal preference), but you can definitely get a whole new feel for a story by listening to it, versus reading it.

    @Catana: I wonder how many authors got started writing because they were sure “they could do better than that”?

    @Miss Cole: It’s always marvelous when you find an author who makes your fingers itch to write.

    @Cheryl: A hopeful DuMaurier – sounds intriguing.

    @Cat: Keep reading, and maybe one day you will!

    @Lydia: The good news is that the more times you read something that great, the more likely you’ll one day be able to match it.

    @dc: That’s the kind of story we all like to hear! And I’m sure Chris would enjoy hearing how he inspired you.

    @Heather: I have Slaughterhouse Five sitting on my shelf right now. I hope to start reading it soon.

    @Amanda: I’ve heard great things about that book – and the cover servers amazing.

  11. City of Thieves by David Benioff. The publisher says: “From the critically acclaimed author of The 25th Hour, a captivating novel about war, courage, survival and a remarkable friendship that ripples across a lifetime.”

    The funny thing is, I’m working on a non-fiction book about dancing across Canada, so the book is so totally unrelated, but it has inspired me to craft my words much more specifically. Definitely a surprising influence. 🙂

  12. As much as I’m a proponent of reading the type of stories we want to write, I’m also a huge advocate of reading widely in other genres. We can learn a little something from every type of story, even those we will never write ourselves.

  13. The last inspiring book I read was
    The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, read it last summer. Since then I’ve read many entertaining books, but not really inspiring >:)

    Cold As Heaven

  14. I can also recommend reading OUTside your genre- it really helps understand the formulae of another style, and can be vital in ferreting out the blind spots in any given idiom.

  15. The Preacher’s Bride by Jody Hedlund. Very well written and a lovely story. I haven’t read much of this genre but I love her style and it did inspire me to do a better job at character development. Im trying to do more reading – one of my goals for the 2011.

  16. Currently Joely Sue Burkhart is my go to author for characters. She blows my mind every single time I pick up one of her stories. And, love her to death, she pushes me.

  17. @Cold: It takes a particularly special kind of book to rise from just good to great.

    @Logan: I definitely agree. It’s one of the best ways to develop an original voice within your own genre.

    @Jan: Writers can’t go wrong with a goal of more reading.

    @Sherri: A writer who can consistently blow our minds is one who has obviously perfected their niche.

  18. As a writing teacher, it makes me crazy when students write books in markets they don’t read, and a surprising number do. Talk about a disconnect from the reality of the market as well as the targeted audience.

    A writer should read widely in her own genre as well as other genres, not to mention a bit of nonfiction in surrounding areas to keep the muse of neat ideas fed.

    The smartest advice I ever heard from an editor is that a writer should read not only the bestsellers in their market but the newer authors, as well, because the newer writers give a better sense of where the genre and audience are at the current time as well as what the editors will and won’t accept as genre benders.

  19. Well-read people make better authors. I firmly believe that the more we read – and the more broadly we read – the better we will be able to write.

  20. “The last book you read that inspired you as a writer?”

    The Morgaine Saga by C. J. Cherryh ( for the fourth time 🙂

    I just had to post a link to this post on Facebook & Twitter ’cause it’s not just the same old chewed-over cud…

  21. Thanks! I appreciate the links. And I’ll have to keep my eyes open for The Morgaine Saga if it’s that good on re-reading.

  22. The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko

  23. Thanks for commenting. I’ll have to see if I can find the book for myself.

  24. This comment has been removed by the author.

  25. Reading is certainly one of the essentials parts of learning to write well, especially broad reading, just like Marilynn Byerly mentioned earlier. Inspiration is everything. I myself read everything from Stephen Hawking, Stephenie Meyer, Paul Auster, Stephen King, Virginia Woolf and many, many others. They all inspire and educate.

  26. In a sense, reading and writing is like a conversation. We listen by reading, respond by writing, and are perhaps read and responded to by the same people we listened to in the beginning. It’s a beautiful circle of inspiration.

  27. Loved this post — thanks! I write contemporary YA, and that’s mostly what I read, too. The last contemp YA I read that really inspired me was Jandy Nelson’s THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE. She handled complicated emotions really well, and the writing is gorgeous!

  28. Nothing better than reading a book that simultaneously thrills you as a reader and offers inspiration for improving your own writing.

  29. The last book that inspired me the most was Iron Queen by Julie Kagawa. It was an arc though, so the book won’t be out for another month.

  30. I’m almost always far behind on reading new releases. The good part of that is that I don’t usually have to bite my nails in anticipation while waiting for the sequel to be released!

  31. I liked this post and I loved your comment about reading and writing being like a conversation- it’s so true. This year I started a genre of the month series on my blog to focus my resolution to read more widely and it’s already paying off. I started with YA because I’m toying with some YA ideas and now I’m even more excited about them. The last book to inspire me is a current read, The Time Traveler’s Wife, because I can’t fathom the amount of outling and/or editing that went into organising this non-linear story into an understandable tale with engaging reveals.
    – Sophia.

  32. A wonderful post. I recently read G.K. Chesterton because he inspired Tolkien and Lewis…if you read what your heroes read, it helps you understand their influences.

  33. @Sophia: The Time Traveller’s Wife was actually a big influencing factor in my WIP.

    @Galadriel: It’s always interesting to trace the “6 degrees of connection” to see who knew who, from a historical standpoint.

  34. So, so true! These are all such excellent points. I consider the authors I read to be my writing mentors, in a sense. Reading is training for authors!

  35. See…I read a lot, but I read more along the lines of “coming of age” or “adventure” stories. I’m writing what I think is a romance, but I’m very interested in my character’s maturation as a woman. I hate romances where the only problem is “will she get the guy” or “can she afford the shoes?” Can anybody recommend some less-traditional romances?

  36. @Kate: The great thing about the interconnectivity of the Internet these days is that you actually stand a good chance of getting into personal contact with your favorite authors, via Twitter and Facebook.

    @shay: I’m not much a of a romance reader myself, so I’m afraid I’m going to be of much help in recommending any titles, but I agree that the best romance stories are those that carry a little more meat than *just* the central relationship.

  37. This is why I am raiding all my boys middle grade fiction from their book shelves. Currently reading Savvy and it is soooo good.

  38. Do they mind sharing? :p

  39. When I first began writing, I was afraid to read novels for fear I’d be influenced by another writer’s style. Now find that reading good writing helps me with mine. I found the character development in The Inheritance by Tamera Alexander to be outstanding. Not only do I get the enjoyment of reading a wonderful story, but I also learn from great examples such as this one.

  40. My WIP has a soulmate, time travel component so I just finished and enjoyed “My Name is Memory” by Ann Brashears.

  41. @Keli: I wish like anything I’d spent a good amount reading fantasy book after fantasy book before writing my own fantasy story. Doing the research in reverse isn’t nearly as easy.

    @Parrot: You had me from the words “time travel”!

  42. I think it’s important to read widely in your genre, but equally important to read outside of it. The combination gives you raw materials that you can mix in fresh and unexpected ways in your own writing.

    The last book that really inspired me as a writer was Matched by Ally Condie. I was blown away by her beautiful use of language and mastery of subtext. My Kindle copy is full of notes and highlights of things I wanted to capture and learn how to pull off in my own stories.

  43. Michael Arditti’s “Enemy of the Good” was the last book I’ve read that reminded me the great novels of the 19th century. Lots of lessons in it of how to write a multiPOV novel.

  44. @Jessica: Definitely agree about reading broadly as well as specifically. Kindle keeps sounding more and more useful. Gonna have to splurge and get myself one soon!

    @Jeyushka: Love the title.

  45. Thank you for posting that! I always do read in the genre I’m writing, for ideas and inspiration, and then feel guilty about it because all I ever hear is how you shouldn’t. 🙂 So now I can enjoy it. 😀

  46. You should, you should, you should! There. That should counteract all that bad advice. 😉

  47. Excellent reminder! It’s always good to see what else is out there, esp to know what’s being published recently. Easier to tell if your shiny new idea is really all that unique. 🙂

  48. Oh this is good input.

    Confession: I don’t read enough, and I especially don’t like reading books in my genre, because I’m afraid I’ll become jealous, depressed or will lose my originality. I need to get over this. All your points are right on.

  49. @Carol: Yep, and it’s so much better to figure out an idea is *not* unique while it’s still a concept, rather than after you’ve written the first draft.

    @Steve: Better get cracking! 😉

    • Should someone who wants to self publish only read self published books in their genre when it comes to see what’s been done in the genre? Because there are lots of traditional books I like to read as well as self published but I don’t want to limit myself to reading only indie books if I see an interesting blurb on a book in my genre that happens to be traditionally published

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

        No, definitely read trad books too. Genre is genre, regardless the publishing medium.

  50. Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables.

  51. Haven’t read Les Miserables yet, but I’m very much looking forward to it.

  52. Beckett’s “Endgame” has so many perfectly intertwined themes and motifs that I do wonder if I could ever top that.

  53. You can only try! You may end up exceeding even your expectations.

  54. This is so true! When I first read HUNGER GAMES I thought heck, I can never write a book that good. But I sure learned a lot from that book.

  55. Books that make us uncomfortable, in the sense that they challenge us to be better writers, are often the most useful tools in our libraries.

  56. Some points you’ve made might have the opposite effect, that you will end up losing your own style and inheriting someone else’s- while it’s true you can learn a lot by examining others, it can be a double-edged sword.
    take care,

  57. I have to disagree. The more we read – in both our own genre and others – the more likely we are to gain a broad view of literature in general and, in so doing, discover and refine our own unique styles.

  58. @Steve Garufi “I especially don’t like reading books in my genre, because I’m afraid I’ll become jealous, depressed or will lose my originality. I need to get over this.” My thoughts exactly.

    The books that influenced me to want to be a writer when I was a kid: The Neverending Story, The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles and Half Magic. I read those books over and over again in my little corner of the library.

  59. “Little corner of the library” – sounds great to me! Much as I love the digital revolution, the potential fading of libraries into the dusty background is a decided disadvantage.

  60. Loved your first point; I didn’t think jealousy could be so positive.

  61. Whenever possible, I like to take the negative emotions and flip them on their heads. Never know what new things you make glean as a result!

  62. J.R.R Tolkien’s stories are what really made me sit back and think, “Wow, I wish I could do that!” and the author KCS on FanFiction.net really inspired me to actually write down a few of the crazy stories running around in my head.

  63. And just think about all the up and coming authors you could inspire yourself in a few years!

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