In order to be a good writer, you must be a good reader. What do I mean by that? I mean that you need to read a wide-range of creative pieces.
While it’s important to read books in the same age group and genre you write in, it’s also vital that you read outside what you write.
I’ve met countless individuals, who adamantly refuse to read outside a limited range of writing. One such conversation I had with another person, when like this:
Me: I just finished a fantastic book!
Person: Yeah? What’s it about?
Me: These shadow divers—deep wreck scuba divers—who discovered a mysterious sunken German U-boat about two hundred thirty feet deep and some thirty miles off the New Jersey coast. No one knew the U-boat was there, and no one could identify it. That U-boat was considered one of the last great mysteries of Word War II.
Person: Wait. Are you talking about a non-fiction book?
Me: Yeah. It’s incredible and hard to believe that something like losing a U-boat could happen.
Person: I only read fiction. I like books that allow me to escape.
It stung to hear that person say that to me, mainly because a few years ago I’d have said the same thing. I was adamant that because I was a fiction writer I couldn’t learn anything from non-fiction. After all, fiction, especially fantasy and science fiction, wasn’t grounded in reality. Non-fiction was, and it was often dry and hard to get through.
I was wrong on multiple counts. One: Fiction is based in reality. The story may be situated on a different planet or have supernatural creatures, but the core of the story is grounded in human traits and emotions. Fiction is often used to explore controversial topics that are occurring in reality.
Two: There are many aspects of reality that are unbelievable, so much so that they seem to be fiction. Some of the atrocities I’ve read about in non-fiction have inspired my fiction pieces.
Another example conversation occurred during a writing workshop and went something like this:
Person: [shuffling my submission given to them the previous week] I don’t read fantasy or young adult, so my feedback probably won’t be any good. [A few others in the room nod in agreement.]
Me: That’s okay. I’m sure you’ve provided better feedback than you believe.
[Person stifles a frown.]
The person in this conversation was someone who only read and wrote literary pieces. More so, this person looked down on people who wrote fantasy and young adult. That translated into every interaction I had with that person, and that person’s attitude made it difficult for me to remain objective, when critiquing their pieces. I’m not a huge fan of literary works, however I still read them and try to glean the message beneath them.
While literary fiction holds value, so does fantasy, science fiction, contemporary, adult and young adult. Every story introduces you to a new interpretation of an aspect of reality. When you dive into a story, you put yourself in the characters’ shoes. You never know what you’re going to learn or what’s going to inspire you.
Fiction and non-fiction—any well-written story—can deliver meaningful lessons that have a powerful and lasting impact on readers. Don’t limit yourself because of pre-conceived notions about what you believe is good and what isn’t.
What do you think about reading widely?
(Photo courtesy of Isabelle Blanchemain.)