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December 5, 2019

What Can Our Reading Choices Tell Us about Our Writing?

Close up of man reading outside with text: What Can We Learn from Our Reading Choices?

(*psst* Did you catch my annual mega-ultimate list of gift ideas for writers last time? My newsletter program didn’t want to send it out because it had so many links, so if you missed the post, check it out! Now back to today’s post…)

If we’re a writer, we should also be a reader. I know that between day job, family obligations, and our desire to write, it can seem like we don’t have any time to read.

But for most of us, our love of reading stories is what brought us to writing in the first place. In addition, there are many benefits to reading once we’re a writer, so we should probably try to include reading in our lives.

However, the genres and stories we enjoy reading aren’t always the same ones we write, so that made me wonder what makes a genre appeal to us—either for reading or writing. Let’s take a look at reading, writing, and genres…

Why Should Writers Read?

Even though fitting reading into our busy schedules can be difficult, reading can help us in many ways:

  • learn from the classics of our genre
  • see what’s driving the newest bestsellers
  • keep up with new trends in our genre
  • refill our creative well
  • provide us with ideas to spark our imagination
  • practice self-care, reading just for enjoyment
  • and so on…

I usually read for the reasons in those last few bullet points, especially just for enjoyment (with the other benefits often tagging along as an extra bonus). So reading isn’t a thing we “should” do and suffer through like an “eat your vegetables” type of “should.” *smile*

“But I Can’t Prioritize Reading Because of…”

I get it. Reading doesn’t always fit with our plans.

Should writers make an effort to fit in time for reading? Click To TweetWhen I was a newbie on the learning curve for becoming a writer, I needed to discover my own voice. That meant I avoided reading other voices too much during those early years.

But at some point, we should reexamine our priorities to see if we can rekindle our love of reading. Now that I don’t need to focus on learning everything about writing craft anymore, I’ve included opportunities for reading in my habits and schedules.

How I Add Reading to My Life

The last few years, I’ve participated in the Goodreads Reading Challenge to keep track of my progress and motivate me to keep those habits. In 2017, I read 87 books (lots of time in doctors’ waiting rooms with all my health issues that year!), last year was 64 books, and so far this year, I’ve read 65 books.

Yes, that’s a lot of books for most people, but around one book a week fits into my adjusted habits and schedules.

  • Habit: Install the Kindle app on my phone and carry my Kindle around, so I can read during downtime like waiting for doctor appointments, waiting in customer service lines, etc.
  • Schedule: Read for a few minutes after waking and before going to sleep. (For me, this translates to reading while I do my physical therapy exercises in the morning and while I ice my feet’s nerve damage at night.)

I used to love setting aside a whole day to just disappear into a book, but if I waited for that type of opportunity now, I wouldn’t read at all. Instead, I’ve gotten used to reading a few pages here and there, and those pages add up over a week.

The situation isn’t ideal for immersion, but it’s better than missing out on all the books I have read with this approach. That interrupted reading experience also means the books I’ve loved and that really grabbed me, really grabbed me. *smile*

Reading vs. Writing for Genres

Most of the books I read are romance stories, the same as my writing genre. That’s no surprise, as I love the promise inherent in the genre.

However, it’s less common for me to read in my subgenre of paranormal romance. When I read in my subgenre—whether I intend to or not—I often pay more attention to what I can learn and less to my pure enjoyment of the story.

So other romance subgenres it is, especially historical and contemporary romance. But why do I love romance stories so much?

What Makes a Genre Appeal to Us?

I’ve shared before how I believe love is the strongest force in the universe: healing, overcoming obstacles, inspiring people act against their instincts or selfish interests, and so on.

Also, I love the promise of a happy ending waiting at the end of the angst and conflict of a story. (The romance genre requires a “happily ever after” (HEA) or at least a “happily for now” ending.)

But the genre means so much more to me than just those things, yet I struggle to explain why.

What Do We Want a Story to Deliver?

So I really resonated with a recent tweet by romance reader Amanda:

“we talk about romance as “escapism” but that’s not the right word for me. romance is HOPE.”

Yes

I want stories that uplift me with hope. Hope for the characters and for my life and for others’ lives. Hope for that happy ending despite all the trials the characters (and we) experience along the way. Hope for happiness even when the characters (and us) are imperfect or “broken.”

Stories in other genres can offer hope as well, of course. Most of the non-romance stories I read still fall into this hopeful category (I don’t need depressing interfering with my self-care enjoyment). But only romance guarantees a hopeful ending.

What Can That Teach Us about Writing?

With this knowledge of what I want my reading to deliver, I can apply that information to the stories I write.

What can we learn about writing from the reading choices we make? Click To TweetAs writers, we often say that we write the types of stories we want to read, but that’s not necessarily about genres or subgenres or plots or characters. Really what we’re trying to say is that we want more stories that deliver what we’re looking for, whether that’s an emotion or trope or type of character or whatever.

So the better we understand what we want the stories we read to deliver, the better we’ll be able to make sure the stories we write meet that goal. As a result, our stories might be better at appealing to similar readers, or at least we might be happier with our work. *smile*

Do you read and write in the same genre(s) or are they different? Why are they the same or different? What makes the stories or genres you read appealing to you? What do they deliver to you as a reader? Can you apply that to the stories you write?

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Deborah Makarios

I read a lot of mystery, moderate amounts of fantasy, some general fiction and quite a lot of non-fiction on whatever topic happens to interest me at the time. i’ve written two fantasy novels and drafted a mystery novel plus a mystery play, so I guess there is some overlap there.

When do I read? Whenever I can. 😀 Including while I eat, cook, brush teeth etc.
Actually, I’ve been trialling a daily schedule which sees me sit down with a book for an hour in the afternoon before getting into writing, and it seems to be really helpful – rested body, fresh mind!

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