Reading diversely expands writers’ knowledge of literature, various writing styles, tone, etc. Without reading, we wouldn’t know how to write well. What captures readers’ attention? What creates tension or multi-dimensional characters? What makes a story a bestseller? Without reading all sorts of books, we wouldn’t be able to answer these questions.
Goodnight Moon is the first book I remember reading. When I was a child, I was obsessed with Nancy Drew, the Baby-Sitters Club series, and the Magic Tree House series. As I got older, I read Harry Potter, Anne Rice, Laini Taylor, and more. I found myself gravitating toward the same types of books, namely fantasy and science fiction. I loved escaping into different realities, but eventually I started wondering if reading the same types of books was enough.
One thing important to writing is finding your own voice. I’ve heard people say that there are no more original ideas in the world. I can see where those people are coming from. Looking at the fantasy and science fiction novels I’ve read, many of them have similar premises, but they are not the same. What makes them unique is how the story is portrayed. How can you find your distinct voice if you’re only reading the same types of books? Without stepping out of your bubble, your knowledge base is limited.
So, I started expanding. I read Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, The Mercury 13 by Martha Ackmann, Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, books by the Bronte sisters, C.S. Lewis, Virginia Woolf, Maya Angelou, James Joyce, and more. I even read some poetry, and found that though I’m not a fan of poetry, it greatly helped me understand the art of condensed writing. Poets don’t have the luxury of a novel length word count. Every line – every word – they write is deliberate and important. That’s why it can be challenging to interpret poetry because there is so much information crammed into such a small space.
Reading widely has given me a fuller picture of writing. It’s helped me to develop my voice in writing, both by showing me aspects of writing I enjoyed and ones I didn’t. As I started reading more diversely, I found myself able to better analyze novels, short stories, and poems. Reading widely made me a more attentive reader. For writers that is extremely important.
What types of books have you read that you normally wouldn’t have?