Tuesday, August 3, 2010

What We Can Learn From Reading

I haven't done nearly as much writing as I would have liked to this summer, but I've done a lot of reading.

I read a variety of genres. The last 10 books I've read include:

2 Middle Grade Fantasy
2 Contemporary Middle Grade
2 YA Fantasy
1 Contemporary YA
1 Classic
1 Adult Memoir
1 Adult Fiction

I've read varying opinions about what we, as writers should read. Some people say you should read extensively in your genre, some say you should avoid your own genre (so it won't effect your manuscript and you can write something fresh), some suggest that you SHOULDN'T read while you're writing, and some say you should read new releases and NYT Bestsellers, so you can understand what people are reading now and write to the market.

I believe I should read what I feel like reading! Reading is something I do for fun, but it's also something I do to learn. I think I can learn more by reading a variety of great books, (and maybe a few that aren't so great), than I can by reading only one or two genres (or heaven forbid, nothing at all!).

A few lessons I've learned this month from reading that will help me with my writing:

-I like short chapters, they keep the action going.
-I'm not a fan of explaining or over-description. If a book takes 500 pages to tell a story that could be told in 250 pages, I will be annoyed.
-Non-linear story-telling is awesome if it's done well (I don't think I'll try it anytime soon though).
-Humor is a great tool for keeping the audience engaged. This is true for almost all genres.
-I love a bit of a cliffhanger at the end of a chapter.


Do you read while you write? Do you read outside of your genre? What do you learn from the books you read?

25 comments:

Laura Marcella said...

Great post, Natalie! I read anything and everything. I just love to read, and I always have to be reading something. I bring a book nearly everywhere I go. Let me tell you, several times my books have saved me from what could've been a really boring hour or so!

So yes, I definitely read when I'm writing! How can you not? If I didn't read while I was writing I'd never read anything because I'm always writing! I read whatever I'm in the mood for at the time, whether or not it's what I'm writing.

Nicole Zoltack said...

I find that I become too engrossed when I'm reading that I can't write while reading, I want to finishing reading the book first! So no, I don't read when I'm writing.

I'll read anything though, inside and outside of my genre. I write lots of different genres, I would probably only be able to read literary if I didn't read my genres! lol

Ted Cross said...

I read for enjoyment only. Like you, I prefer to write short chapters and underdescription. My book is 520 pages long with very little description! It's a very complex story...

storyqueen said...

I read whatever I want to, too!

And I read a lot within my genre when I am writing BUT if there is any book with a similar storyline/plot/hook/character to the one I am writing, I will avoid it like the plague. (I am not so much afraid of having it influence the writing as I am afraid I will lose faith in my own piece....)

Great post.

Shelley

Ann Best said...

I read a lot outside my genre. I think this is very important. It's like the saying goes: travel is broadening. So it is with books.

I think short chapters are crucial for YA and middle grade readers. Short posts, too. I try to keep mine short and to a point, or two or three, but always sharply focused.
Ann

Taryn Tyler said...

I read anything. Whenever I feel like it. Of course while I'm writing. I get a whole other mode of enjoyment out of reading when I can anylize the author's work from a writer's perspective. I learn so much! and sometimes a passage will blow me away so much that I have to go back and say, 'wait a minute, how did they do that?'. I don't think genre really has as much to do with well crafted fiction (or nonfiction) as people think.

Jemi Fraser said...

I do read - can't imagine not reading actually. I read a wide variety of genres - so it doesn't really affect my writing - I rarely read 2 in a row of the same genre.

Tamika: said...

I love reading while I write~ it makes me want to see my words on paper that much more! I typically read my genre, but lately I've ventured out some and I haven't been disappointed.

I even read somewhere that part of writing is reading. I need both to sustain my creativity.

Stephanie Thornton said...

I recently read The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton- she's a master at non-linear storytelling. It's awesome when done right, but I agree- I'm not going to attempt it myself any time soon.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I totally agree that we should read what we feel like reading. I read mostly MG and YA, but I also love Christian fiction and non-fiction.

Jessica Hill said...

I definitely read while I write. I can't imagine not doing so. I also read anything and everything, but I also enjoy experimenting in different genres with my writing, too. I think I can learn from any book I read and any are a potential source for inspiration, whether it's in the same genre as what I'm working on or not.

Jade said...

I like short chapters too. I find that I'll read a book with short chapters at a much faster pace. If it's got really long chapters I'm always flicking forward to see how much I have until I break.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I read. Always have. Always will. I've never let what I'm writing stop me from reading, which I do over all genres and age levels. I simply like good stories and learn from how the authors handle them.

Jessica Nelson said...

I ALWAYS have something to read, and yep, I think we should read what we feel like reading. :-) Reading for me is a wonderful pleasure, not a chore. The great thing is that even pleasure teaches.

Roxane B. Salonen said...

Natalie, I tend to go deeply into reading mode, then I resurface and go into writing mode. Summertime is a good time for me for writing, generally, and wintertime, a great time for holing up with a book. Then again, I've done a lot of reading the last couple summers, at the pool, at the Y, wherever I can squeeze in a chapter of two. I agree that we shouldn't limit ourselves too much. I do read in my genre, because that's the kind of book I most want to write and write well. It inspires me, rather than detracts from what I might produce, I think.

Patti said...

I totally agree with you. I read what I want, but I also read what's hot in my genre just to see. Sometimes I really like the book, sometimes not so much. I also read in all genres because I think you can learn a lot from every writer even if it's just what you like and don't like.

I agree with the over descriptive books, drive me crazy.

Sara B. Larson said...

Great post! I do read while I write, although it varies on how much. I mostly read in my genre, because it takes all the extra time I (don't) have just to try (and usually fail) to keep up with all the books/new releases/award winners/etc in my genre as it is! However, if I hear a book is amazing outside of my genre, it's always fun to step outside the YA box and read something different.

DL Hammons said...

How do you define short chapters?

VR Barkowski said...

Love your lessons, Natalie. Perfect! I totally read what I want, when I want. IMO, reading widely is key to developing voice. No matter how talented, writers who restrict themselves to reading a single a genre (no genres mentioned, but I write mysteries) limit themselves and often end up sounding as though they're recycling rather than creating something new.

Mary Campbell said...

I've been reading a ton this summer too. I'm way into dystopians right now. The dystopians interesting protagonists with strong voice. The Moon Series is awesome - Life As We Knew it etc., Birthmark and Gone were good ones too. I love dystopians because they are full of what-ifs and action and usually some good romance. I definitely think you should keep reading when you write and I agree with you that you should read what you like and a variety of different genres. There's something to be learned from every book even if it's what not to do.

~Nicole Ducleroir~ said...

I'm a chain-reader. I finish one book and open the next. Good writing does wonders to inspire me, but bad writing is so encouraging! *grin*

I'm with you on short chapters. Long chapters makes the whole book feel too long, don't they?

Mystery Robin said...

I've been thinking about this! I just read a couple of books that weren't so great, and I'm thinking I really need a good, beautifully written book to draw me in. I write YA and read YA, but I don't read specifically in what I'm writing - so I'm not reading steampunk right now, except for classic stuff, like Verne and Doyle. When I wrote mystery, I wouldn't read YA contemporary mystery, that sort of thing.

But I really feel like I need some literary fiction in my life right now. Or Jack Reacher. ;)

Sandy Shin said...

I definitely do think that reading books you enjoy (or feel like reading) is the single criteria. :)

Reading books I enjoy has definitely solidify what I look for in fiction -- and what I want to work toward in my writing. Over-description is definitely one of those things I can only read in small amounts. And I greatly enjoy intrigues in my YA novels. :)

Talli Roland said...

I'm with you! I read what I feel like. It can be anything from YA to fiction to crime (although I don't usually read a lot of crime...). But hey, why limit myself?

passinglovenotes said...

Don't you hate it when you spend $20 on a hardcover that you've heard is a fantastic read, but once you've paid for it, you discover it was just okay? Wouldn't you love to have 100 people to poll about what's a good read and why they like it?

I have that. I teach reading. Every Monday, I ask my students to show me what they're reading and tell me what they like or don't like about it.

For this summer's vacation I brought home 15 or 20 books that came highly recommended by my seventh graders. It's been a fun summer...