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Should Writers Read Outside Their Genre?

 

It’s a cold, rainy afternoon. The kids are spending the day at Grandma’s, it’s too wet for yardwork, and your significant other is at a conference on aardvark mating habits. The fire’s been lit, the blanket dragged from your bedroom…all you’re missing is a good book.

Quick! What do you reach for? Come on, you’re a writer, you’re never far away from a book. You’re holding one now, while you’re reading this, aren’t you? Is it fantasy? Romance? Star Wars Slash Fiction? Is it the same genre you write?

Should it be?

What’s the advantage to reading outside your preferred genre?

Well, you’ll be exposed to new writing styles, for one thing.

Cormac McCarthy. Let’s start there. I write fantasy, specifically urban, and spend about 300% of my time (outside aardvark mating season) reading books by the heavyweights: Rothfuss, Martin, Sanderson, Weeks—I know, they’re all epic fantasy, hold on I’m getting there—De Lint, Harris, Gaiman, the list goes on. So imagine my surprise the first time I tipped my toe in the literary fiction pool, and grabbed some McCarthy.

Arr, who needs quotation marks to fight dragons?

Arr, who needs quotation marks when fighting dragons?

Holy Crap. Where are the quotation marks? Where are the commas? What is happening? Somebody better develop some magic powers right quick. It changed the way I look at style, at grammar, at narrative structure. I hated it at first. I mean, I was not a fan. But half-way through the book (this was “The Road” by the way, better book than movie) I calmed the hell down, and allowed myself to enjoy the novel.

When you’re used to reading genre fiction there’s a rhythm you start to notice. A way words tumble across the page, certain ticks that authors develop. Those ticks have a way of creeping into your writing. That’s great if you want to sound exactly like ever other urban fantasy/sci-fi western/aardvark-mating-advice writer out there, but I prefer original prose with a unique voice.

McCarthy helped me find mine (even if it mostly came through hating his style of writing).

And there’s a second benefit, a corollary if you will (fancy!)—you discover other ways of building narrative tension and developing plot. 

I love fantasy. I love science fiction. I enjoy a dragon destroying a village as much as the next guy, but there are other plot devices out there. A story can move forward without an alien invasion. Or sex. There are ways to interest a reader without—ok, that’s a lie. Every story needs sex.

The world isn't ready for a broccoli cupcake. Babysteps.

The world isn’t ready for a broccoli cupcake. Babysteps.

But if you haven’t read outside your favorite genre you may be unaware of the millions of different ways a story can be told. Sometimes all you need is an interesting character meeting another interesting character, and then one finds out they’re a burrowing-mammal half-breed addicted to cupcakes. Broccoli cupcakes.

I don’t know. I write fantasy.

But what do you think? Should you stay within your bailiwick? Focus on the greats within your field? Or should you sprinkle your library with a few literary quirks?

Sound off below.

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Image credits:
Books“ Creative Commons via cams-not-in-lux
Fight on Equal terms“ Creative Commons via Sabrina Campagna
Day 171/365“ Creative Commons via SisterMaryEris
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About nicwidhalm (46 Articles)
Nic Widhalm is a writer based out of Northern, Colorado, specializing in urban fantasy, and supernatural horror. He is happily married, has two beautiful, feisty kids, and spends his free time singing and providing vocal percussion for the professional a cappella group, Curious Gage. Visit www.curiousgage.com for more information.

159 Comments on Should Writers Read Outside Their Genre?

  1. I find that I write and research far more than I read these days. But I guess in part it is because I read so many Blog posts. I do read outside my genre. If a book is very well written then the subject can/does become very in teresting. Of course the right book has to hit me at the right time.

    • I have the same problem with blogs. And you’re right, it all comes down to a well written book with a great set of characters for me. Thanks for commenting.

  2. I get a lot of requests to review books and have since softened and opened up to new genres. The results have been inspiring. There are still some genres that I am not comfortable with but I have learned to appreciate writing on a much wider scale.
    I will always have a very soft spot for historical and literary fiction.
    As a writer I think it is essential to have an open mind and not get stuck. It keeps your mind fresh.

    • I think there are certain genres that will always appeal to us as readers, but I agree that allowing yourself to try new subjects can be enlightening. Great writing is always appreciated, regardless of genre. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Definitely agree with the sentiment of reading outside your genre. I’m typically fantasy and YA, yet I remember how blown away I was at reading “The Help.” I probably won’t write a story like that, but the way she introduced perspectives was fascinating. Also she would describe mundane sorts of things but still make them extremely interesting, and it made me think about my own approach to writing. I think we should definitely be studying our genre to write it well, but stepping out of bounds now and again can really be helpful to our writing. Great post!

    • Thanks for the comment, Jae. You’re absolutely right when you say it’s important to study your own genre. I think the masters in every field have plenty of secrets to share. It’s amazing, though, what you can learn from books and subjects you’d never expect. I’ve never read “The Help,” but I suspect I’ll have to give it a chance now.

      • I think you’ll really enjoy it. Even if it’s not your kind of story, watch for how she shifts perspectives between characters and makes it work, but especially how she can make reading about a maid’s life interesting.

  4. I’ve read several books and short stories outside my genre of horror. Sometimes they’re for class, sometimes for pleasure, but each has had a subtle influence on my own writing style nonetheless. In a way, I’ve definitely benefited from trying something new, especially when I read the Children of the Earth saga by Jean Auel.

    • Absolutely, Rami. So many things can influence us without our even being aware. That’s what my math teacher used to say when I’d ask why we were wasting time on something pointless like math. 😀

      • My math teachers said the same thing! Only now that I’m in college, rooming with an engineering major, and seeing all the things math goes into do I understand why I learned it in the first place.

  5. A writer should read as wide as possible so that he/she does not get trapped in the box of their genre…

  6. I honestly never think of genre when selecting what to read. It never occurred to me that others do. Still living. Still learning.

    • And see, I’m on the other side of the spectrum. I used to read exclusively in my genre. I wish I was better on being “genre blind.” I’m working on it. Thanks for the comment. 🙂

  7. I love Cormac McCarthy’s writing, the lack of puncutation is liberating, it’s like getting out of the pool where you can only do laps and diving into the ocean, where you don’t know what you might encounter where there are no limits, and the experience leaves you with a feeling of awe.

    I like to read beyond what I am initially attracted to and not just the well written, but those courageous writers who have self published and prove what you can do with perseverance. They are a reminder to keep going and get on with it.

    • Very well put, Claire. What a great analogy. And you’re right, once you get over your initial freak out (at least in my case), McCarthy is eye-opening. A true master of prose. Thanks for responding. 🙂

      • Can you tell I’ve just back from a week near the sea. The kids went for the pool and I took the inconvenience of the sea every time, especially early in the morning. Having just read your other post, now I am going to imagine that the morning alarm is calling me to take a morning dip, pen across the page, fingers across the keyboard.

        This was the right place to visit, thanks for your inspiration.

  8. As a full time writer Nic, when one of the writers I am on first name terms with produces their latest work, I make time to read it. Otherwise my reading is purely for research purposes. That is one of the drawbacks of becoming a writer I’m afraid to say. As for reading outside your genre – definitely. 🙂

    • Thanks for commenting, Jack. I agree you tend to lose out on reading time when you start publishing. It’s difficult to manage hitting your word count, doing your research, blogging, social media, and then finding time to read. Like you said, one of the perils of being a writer, I guess. That’s why when you *do* read you’d better hope the book’s a winner. 🙂

  9. Well, I disagree heartily that every story needs sex! I am quite put off with all that sex where it is not necessary. You cannot write fifty shades without … I admit that (I never read it, guess the reason) – but why should a regency novel need sex? Why should your normal whodunnit need sex? Why should a fantasy story need sex?

    If you opt for the teenage-reader, perhaps – they love it. But I can do without, or with only slight traces of it. I want to rule my own thoughts in that direction and not have somebody else tell me his, (when I read a book, I should add.)

    • You’re right, of course–not every book needs sex. In a lot of ways it’s like the movies. Can you imagine Bruce Willis taking a quick sex break in Die Hard? It would completely ruin the suspense..

      But it’s fun to joke about. Thanks for the comment! 🙂

  10. I owe a very large amount of my own development to McCarthy. So much so, that I had to stop reading him entirely for a while because his ‘ticks’ were overpowering my own! I am primarily interested in literary fiction as a writer. What I read, however, is rarely literary fiction. I read non-ficiton, science journals, and history. The styles are nothing like the style I want to cultivate, but the ideas come out int he form of an informed imprint in the fiction that might have nothing at all to do with say, quantum theory. Reading outside your genre might be better than reading within it. Staying in the bubble tends only to validate what you want validated. Going outside the bubble forces your convictions –your style choices, beliefs, etc. –into a testing ground where from something entirely new is grown.

    Great post, and congratulations on Freshly Pressed!

    • Thanks for the kind words, and I 100% agree about escaping the “bubble.” It can get a little cannibalistic after a while. My best idea’s always form after I’ve forced myself out of the comfort zone.

  11. I think it’s especially helpful to read an occasional classic. Great post! 🙂

    • Thanks, Chris. You’re dead right about the classics. I’m going through Fitzgerald again and man can that guy write. I learn something new every sentence.

  12. I have gotten some ideas from your blog. I like the way you write. My problem is time. My mind keeps going back and forth. I write on one subject and then another. But I do have a problem writing on a sexual nature. I even find myself to conservative to read about intimacy. Just my hang up. Meanwhile I write about this and that. I just finished my first novel and now am working on e-publishing it. It is a serial killer thriller. If you would like a first chapter just ask. I would appreciate your opinion as you seen to be an avid reader. sincerely, Barry

    • Hey, Barry. Thanks for the comment. I know what you mean about time. I write a lot about time management, and yet I still can’t take my own advice. I guess you just have to find it where you can.

      I wish I could take you up on your offer to read this first chapter of your new book, but I’m afraid with a kindergartener just starting school, my own book coming out, and trying to finish the sequel before March, I’m slammed. Good luck with the book, though. I’m sure it’s going to be great! 🙂

      • I understand I was a teacher for forty years and graded a zillion papers. Have a great year. By the way if you see anything on my blog and thing you could use it in the classroom be my guest. Just make sure it is okay. I wrote a short book called Abe and Little Blue about Lincoln and the Address. It is for fourth grade see if you can use it. Sincerely, Barry

  13. Quirks Galore!
    Genres are useless boundaries that limit us for no good reason.
    If Shakespeare and Johnson and Middleton had stuck to ‘genre writing’ well then there wouldn’t be any great drama. Yeah, they read a lot of everything–history, politics, religion and more. Their brains were not boring. Feed your mind all time. Life is not a genre. It’s messy and complex and diverse.
    Read Everything.
    So Long And Thanks For All The Fish!

    • Hah! Love it! And great points too. Shakespeare wrote fantasy, historical fiction, romance, drama, comedy, romantic comedy, the list keeps going. About the only thing he never covered were sparkly vampires.

  14. I’m a mystery reader and currently working on my first novel. I’ve started reading outside that genre last year. I read a pirate adventure novel. Go figure. I probably wouldn’t have, but a couple of co-workers know the author and had been readers for him. I’ve since read the trilogy and I’m looking forward to the fourth in the series. I’m hooked. No pirate pun intended. 🙂 I started reading a YA Fantasy series this summer. These were the first non-mystery books I’ve read since Harry Potter and I didn’t get around to reading HP until 2008. Lately, I feel like it’s opened up the possibilities for me to step outside my reading and writing comfort zone. In fact, I’d like to write fantasy eventually.

  15. Shoot! I should proofread better before clicking that button! 🙂

  16. Great post!

    I’ve definitely read all sorts of genres, although I do tend to stick to fiction, though I avoid most romance and memoir. But mostly because when I read books in that area, I’m not interested in the what the story is about, regardless if it’s great writing. However, even though I write science fiction/ fantasy, I enjoy horror, classics, young adult, and children’s books. (“Series of Unfortunate Events” is great!) I have gotten some of the best inspiration from books outside my genre.

    Good luck with your release! I plan to check out what your writing is all about. 🙂

    • Thanks for the kind words. It’s really enlightening, IMHO, how much you can learn from a book that isn’t in your usual wheelhouse. Lemony Snicket’s is one that I particularly enjoy, as his voice is crisp and unique without any useless words.

  17. Although a pop-author, Stephen King writes in his book ‘On Writing’ that in order to become an author you have to read and write for at least five hours a day. I don’t really have a point behind this leaving aside that the horror genre is limited so he must read outside of his genre. If he does it and he’s had over thirty bestsellers, then it must be a good idea. Random musing…

    • Thanks for commenting Luke. Boy, me and Stephen King see eye to eye on some things, and other…no. Not so much (which I’m sure he’d be devastated to learn). If you can dedicate five hours of every day to writing than my hat’s off to you, but I’d be willing to bet their are thousands of successful authors out there who would cop to fewer than three. And even then, not every day. Add reading and research to that and I’m not sure how you’d ever leave the house.

      Course, Stephen King’s sold over thirty bestsellers, as you’ve said, so I’d probably go with his advice. 😉

      • I know exactly what you mean. Five hours has always been a disheartening number. There has to be a scale, the more you read then theoretically the better your writing will be – theoretically – however, I agree, as an author you have to find your own happy point on the scale where you can remain cultured and yet produce promising work.

        • Absolutely. There should be some kind of graph. You read x amount a day and research y. The outcome equals the number of hours you write. Or something like that. 😀

  18. Writers, and all artists, should experience art outside their genre. Any writer who thinks that getting a good grip on visual art or music is irrelevant to them doesn’t know how to write. Same for all art forms. A good composer should read. A good sculptor should listen to music. There are just too many parallel ways in which all art forms are related.

    Think for example how a good sonata is put together. Introduce the main themes in the first part. Develop them and let things get slower, more complex, and a bit darker in the second part. Wrap it all up in the third, with a great wham-bam ending that brings them out of their seats.

    Funny — was that a description of a three-part sonata or the “Star Wars” trilogy? Or a three-part triptych painting?

    State your opener, then break it apart into three main “gimmicks.” Develop each one, then put them back together in the end to illuminate a new way to view the opener. Did I just describe a musical etude or the five-paragraph essay?

    What goes for one goes for all. The more you know how ALL forms of art work, the better you can scratch that itch in the audience with your own art.

    • You know, I completely forgot to talk about experiencing art outside your genre. Because you’re right–it’s not just about books. There are movies, paintings, music, conventions, plays, all kinds of things that are specific to a particular genre or nitch. And you can expand your mind by jumping out of that circle and dipping your toe in another.

      Very good points. Thanks for commenting.

    • Well said! It’s a weird quirk of our time that artists are so segregated within their various media. I think the quality of work and the degree of inspiration and innovation are diminished by this, by and large. When I look back on the early twentieth century, when there were no bounds, and the interplay between the arts was astounding, I get a bit nostalgic. And perhaps a bit jealous.

      • So true. Literature grows more segmented by the day. Makes me wonder what will happen the farther we go into epublishing. Niche upon niche. It’ll be interesting, and exciting, to see. Thanks for the comment.

  19. authormirandastone // August 25, 2013 at 2:33 pm // Reply

    I primarily write literary fiction, and while it’s the genre I most enjoy reading, I do read other genres. In my experience, literary fiction is more character driven, whereas genre fiction is more plot driven. In reading a horror or suspense novel, I can see how authors employ various plot devices to move the story along at a fast pace. I am glad you gave Cormac McCarthy a try. He’s challenging, but one of my favorites. I highly recommend No Country for Old Men. And if you’re feeling very ambitious, check out Blood Meridian. That book will stay under your skin for a long time.

    • That’s a great observation. Genre fiction is driven more by plot and setting typically, while literary fiction usually find’s its engine in characters. Great thing is there is value in both, which is all the more reason to read widely.

      I’ve read and enjoyed No Country, and hope to get to Blood Meridian soon. It’s been on my Goodreads list, so now may just be the time. Thanks for the comments!

  20. Generally, I’ll read just about anything. I grew up reading Sci-Fi/Fantasy. It’s still my favorite, and also what I want to write most. But I love a good horror story, own PLENTY of literary fiction from my college days, and occasionally find my nose stuck in ChickLit.

    It was really entertaining to read your thoughts on McCarthy. I really enjoy his writing style, though I would never attempt it myself. It’s as stripped down and barebones as writing can get, and I really appreciate his ability to make it work.

    Anyway, I think it’s important to read everything. Anything. All of the things that catch your eye. Whether it’s because of the story itself, a character’s voice, or the writing style. There’s something to be learned from every book. Either something you’d never seen before and really want to try, or you realize that, ‘holy crap, this got published?’ and get a nice esteem boost.

    • Yeah, McCarthy is really something else, because you’re right–not everyone could pull off a barebones style like that. Maybe that’s one more reason to read outside your genre. To realize how you shouldn’t, or couldn’t write. Great comment. Thanks for posting.

  21. Reblogged this on In The Eye Of The Hurricane and commented:
    So. True.

  22. good luck for next one..:)

  23. ataugustine // August 25, 2013 at 6:36 pm // Reply

    As an aspiring fiction writer, I have to say that exclusively reading one’s own genre is intellectual inbreeding. I go as far as reading nonfiction to stimulate my muse.

  24. I believe a writer should absolutely read outside of their genre. Aside from the great points you mentioned, there are the characters and plots a writer would miss. Some of my favorite characters have come from other genres. Reading and incorporating plots that aren’t widely used in certain genres is a great way to freshen up a story and help it stand out.

    I had the same experience with reading ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy. It was the first time I’d ever read him and I was appalled by the lack of, well, grammar in the book. I cannot tell you how much it bothered me that no one had a name. I HATED it! But, a few days and weeks after I finished it, I realized I was still thinking about it. I couldn’t get it out of my head! The story was so visual and so powerful. It dawned on me that I actually really liked the book. I now consider it one of my favorites.

    • I had the exact same experience with the Road. Once I saw there were no quotation marks I slammed it down on the coffee table and vowed never to return. But you’re right–it sticks with you. I picked it back up and allowed myself to just relax and not overthink the grammar. Glad I did. I learned so much about silence from that book.

  25. As with music, if you actually AVOID listening to your genre of music/reading your genre of writing, you will avoid sounding like those who you are listening to/reading. You won’t sound like a bad cover band with somewhat original songs. Instead you’ll be more inclined to create your own, new sounds….or in your case, writings.

  26. I love reading books about dragons, time travel, and vampires, but that hasn’t stopped me from reading in many genres. Heck, I don’t even write in one genre. My first book was historical fiction; the second a suspense thriller and the third will be a memoir followed by a mystery.

  27. Definitely read outside your genre. I think I enjoy most science fiction or fantasy with an anthropological bent. Where can you get that influence? Historical fiction, social times fiction. Like The Help, Geisha, The Good Earth, James Michener. Biography and autobiography which helps the reader understand the times and culture. Sea Biscuit is a good example.

    • I can’t think of anthropological sci-fi without thinking of The Sparrow. Talk about two disparate genres. And yet the author weaves them together beautifully to create something unique. It might never have happened if she never read outside anthropology. 🙂

  28. Reblogged this on Writing Red Baron and commented:
    I always think you should explore outside of your own genre, and she talks about Cormac McCarthy which makes this post even more awesome.

  29. I love this. Read it all…but never forget to come home to some good-ole, magical fantasy!

  30. I really appreciate this post. Once upon a time, all I would read were nonfictions, but gradually I navigated into the world of contemporary novels. Next came the classics, and this is where I was blown away. Picking up a Faulkner was the eye-opener for me. I was awash with dialog and narrative that careened through pages before a period, an end; the stopgap. Later I would find myself back to the contemporaries and totally immersed by David Foster Wallace.
    Yes, we must move beyond ourselves if we are to reach for the sky.

  31. ~ Definitely! If I’d only be reading about what I am doing, my learning would be limited. Just like in the news/newspaper, if we only read about our favorite sections, we would not know what happens in the other sections, etc. It is like going out of our comfort zone, too. Congrats on being FP! Yours is such an informative article. 🙂 Cheers! – Bliss, The Lurker’s List

    • Thanks! I’m glad you liked the post. I love your analogy of the newspaper. If you only read the sports section (as tempting as that is) you’d be missing out on so many stories. Thanks for commenting. 🙂

      • ~ Hahaha! Can I use myself as a real life example? My work today has no relation with the course I took when I was college but now I love it. Who knows we might like another genre/style and in turn it could give us another viewpoint we have never thought before? Congrats again and more power on your new book (is it in the works?) with a different genre! We never know it could be your future hit! 😉

  32. Great perspective. I feel that anyone should read outside their comfort zone. One piece on writing that I recently read recommended that authors make the extra effort to find what they don’t know about what they don’t quite care for. It stretches horizons or something… If only I had the time to research peewee football and electric engineering and endangered species of Latvia.

  33. I absolutely agree. Read the rainbow!

  34. I read fantasy, urban (tons of it), some YA stuff and historical fiction when I can get my hands on it. When I write, I write way too seriously and about God, so I say read everything that sparks an interest. Great work going on here, BTW. I’ll be back. Blessings.

    • I hear you about the urban fantasy. I’m pretty much always reading something urban or contemporary in that vein. I just add different things on top now and then. Thanks for the comment. 🙂

  35. It’s so ironic that you wrote about The Road. I vaguely remembered my son reading it a few years ago. I was looking for a new book to read and I went up to his room and found On The Road by Kerouac. Oopsy. It was the wrong road. What a trip kerouac’s book is. I can’t believe I’ve never read it since I live in Colorado. His narrative first person style is nothing like the paranormal ghost story I am writing, but I love the words he used to paint a scene.
    They were “far out” for the 1950’s!

    • Ah, a fellow Broncos Fan. You can come back around these parts anytime. 😉

      Definitely a difference between those two “Roads,” but both great books, so you win either way, right? Thanks for commenting.

  36. I agree. Writers should always be exposed to new ideas. It’s the only way to avoid becoming stale. If we always read within our genre we’d just regurgitate the same things over and over again. I find that the books I read that are at first annoying because of the different format, style or voice, end up teaching me the most by the end. However, when I am writing my own book (rather than editing or working on a marketing plan) I tend to stay within my genre to avoid picking up styles that vary too greatly from my own. But nothing helps me shake off a recently finished manuscript like picking up a different type of book. It’s a great way to flex my literary muscles, and to get some inspiration for my next project.

  37. I think it’s a great idea to read other genres. I’m more in the literary fiction category when writing (or at least aspire to be), but I always struggle with plot. Description, dialogue, character-building-got that, but I could never really seem to string together a plot very easily. I started to branch out and read some young adult and genre fiction and this helped me significantly with plot development. Plus, there’s just so much out there not to try and read as much of it as we can! The world’s a big place, why put yourself in one corner! Great post. Thanks for sharing.

  38. I definitely believe in reading to develop a unique voice in your writing style. It’s so important to put as much of you into your writing as you can so that the readers don’t just connect with the characters, and the plot but also with the author. It changes the pace for the readers expands the writers craft and you improve as a writer. Well! Great post. Got me thinking! And I like thinking 🙂

  39. I am co-writing a debut novel with my business partner Stephen King (not the already established author!) I have found it difficult to find the time to read as writing, holding down full time work and raising a family can be a little time consuming! However where we can we both read literally any genre of book. I personally feel that elements of each genre have a tendancy to creep into your work through one plot point or another. We are writing a psychological thriller, but it has an element of horror, murder mystery and even a spot of romance. So for us as ‘beginners’ reading any genre has helped us develop a style of writing that we are happy with.

  40. I think that it’s important to read as man different generes as you can, just in case there ever comes a day when you need to turn your hand to writing something different. I think that coming a across all kinds of different characters is also a great way to help you come up with more of your own.

  41. Definitely… It gives you refreshing ideas which will help you with your own writing.

  42. Definitely, read outside your genre. I am your opposite: I love literary fiction and try to write it. Recently, I took a lit course on fantasy literature and of course had to read several books outside my typical habit, which was a great experience and has affected my writing too.

    • You can definitely find fantasy with a literary fiction bent. But regardless, I think you can always find inspiration even if the book is horrible. New ideas come from the strangest places. Thanks for commenting.

      • Any recommendations (of literary fantasy)?

        • Well, it’s technically sci-fi, but I’d check out the Sparrow by Mary Doria Russel. Also, if you haven’t read Cloud Atlas yet I’d give it at gander, as it’s a mishmash of all kinds of genres. If you’re going more toward Epic Fantasy/Literary Fiction (think Tolkein) I’d look at the Fionaver Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay. I’ll have to look through my Goodreads bookshelf and get back to you on more, but those are a few of my faves.

  43. Insightful and instructive. McCarthy was brilliant, and reading great writers helps regardless of your genre.

  44. Well, a very good perspective shared. My opinion, though a writing style can have certain traits but I feel reading should be versatile as it is nutrition and adds a variety of spices to our work. Good luck and congratulations!

  45. I think it’s extremely important to read outside ‘your genre’. Okay, so Harry Potter will always be my go-to-when-I’m-sad-bored-or-lonely book series… and any fantasy is good fantasy in my opinion, but crime fiction, thrillers, romances… they all have something uniquely interesting about them. The satirists, the thinkers, like Vonnegut, CS Lewis… those styles cannot be taught – they have to be felt and experienced. It can only help us grow as writers.

  46. Often the best times that new ideas are sparked is when I’m a bit out of my element, getting exposure to things that are not routine. It could be a conversation struck up with the woman at the pet store about get togethers at the doggy park, which lead to us both agreeing we’re not really social that way, to picking up a magazine I wouldn’t be caught dead reading while waiting in line at the grocery store– these things can (though not always!) cause a jumpstart in my creativity.

    I find that the simplest shift can help me fully formulate an idea I’d been having, and sometimes even bring my own storytelling into a direction that I wasn’t expecting.

  47. I vote YES for reading outside your favorite genre. I had a whole metaphor planned about how you can’t truly enjoy chocolate cake unless you have plenty of vegetables too, but that plays into the stereotype of sci-fi/fantasy not being ‘nutritious’ enough while classic literature is dry and stale… oh well. I’m (still) reading “The Girl with the Glass Feet,” and “The Book of the Pearl: Its History, Art, Science and Industry,” and enjoying both.

    Congrats on being FP’d, and I plan to enter that book giveaway of yours.

    • Hey Alison. You know, that metaphor can still work. I guess it’ll just depend on the person reading it. For me, the cake would be my much loved contemporary fantasy, and the vegetables everything else (especially non-fiction research…oh boy).

      Thanks for your kind words, and if you enter the giveaway I’ll cross my fingers for you. Best wishes.

  48. I write in a variety of genres, but I know that I am a fantasy writer at heart. I studied literature and creative writing in college and grad school. I read tons of different things from historical fiction to epic/urban fantasy to Gothic literature. My writing style is certainly unique because of it. Particularly, my fantasy writing 🙂 I definitely support reading a variety of things and making the genre you choose to write in uniquely your own! Thanks for the interesting post!

  49. Absolutely!

    I’ve commercially published two NF books, one about American women and guns one about low-wage labor, retail specifically. I write for a living (NYT, etc) and read widely…the last three (!) were all books written by economists. And all three were riveting and well-written and really helped me better understand this economy today. And I’m a former English major. 🙂

    I’m (arrgh) forcing myself to read The Bourne Identity because it is SO not what I normally turn to. I love the films of his books and want to better understand his work, his ideas and how a dense book becomes a well-loved screen franchise.

    I think every ambitious writer MUST, routinely, read beyond their genre. How else can you truly appreciate and learn how others handle dialogue, pacing, structure, language?

    • I hear you about “forcing” yourself to read a bestseller. It’s crazy, but I’m always thinking “I know this novel’s been on the NYT list for the last three weeks, but I just want to curl up with my new Kevin Herne book!” Still, I’m glad every time I dip my toe outside the fantasy fiction pool. I learn something new every time. Thanks for commenting. 🙂

      • Well, I admit there are entire genres I just don’t have time for, including (sorry!) sci-fi, horror, fantasy and romance. Too much non-fiction awaits. But my lack of interest is my own narrow-mindedness, not a comment, clearly, on the value of those genres.

  50. When I was young and backpacking around the world, to keep my pack light I would carry one book. When I finished it, I’d trade for whatever book another traveler would offer. It was a wonderful way to get out of my own reading rut and explore the wide world of books.

  51. I like ‘bailiwick’, good word, just off to make some broccoli cupcakes

    • Thanks! Funny story, I’ve been mispronouncing that word for years. I mean, seriously, probably ten years of saying it phonetically. “Bal-i-wick.” Just found out a few weeks ago it’s “Bale-ee-wick.”

      Whoops!

      Now enjoy those broccoli cupcakes. And make sure to send me the recipe. 😉

  52. My problem is always that I end up wanting to write a different genre depending on what I’m enjoying reading at the time. I usually lean more towards “real world” stuff, but if I read a Stephen King book, suddenly I want to write a horror novel. When I finished the Song of Ice and Fire series, I wanted to jump on the fantasy bandwagon. Reading just inspires me to write, in general.

    • I hear that. I constantly have that problem with writing style. After reading De Lint I found I was using more commas. After Novik’s Tremaire it was semi-colons all over the place. Must be the mark of a great novel. Thanks for the comment. 🙂

  53. Great post! Thank you!

    I believe that every single human being should read and inform himself in other areas, as they enrich our own imagination and give us incentives we often can not find in our profession and art.

    Einstein got his greatest ideas whilst playing violin, Churchill whilst painting. And so should you read different things – for the best of your creation that is still to come.

    Keep on writing!

  54. Never limit yourself or your reading. Personally, I hate fantasy fiction and put it on my no go list along with romance novels, westerns and detective novels. Yet I read these on occasion and delight when writers manage to create literature within a genre. Examples are The Lord of the Rings trilogy (fantasy), The Oxbow Incident (western) and The Maltese Falcon (detective novel). Haven’t found a transcendent romance novel yet because I can’t bring myself to actually read one, or buy one or be seen reading one, but I’m certain this happens there too.

  55. I haven’t done any proper writing for ages but when I do I’m pretty sure I know what genre if be writing in however I stumbled across a paranormal story whilst browsing on wattpad the other day and I absolutely loved it! Luckily for me the sequel is out, unluckily only three chapters are up. I’ve been working my way through the other paranormal stories on offer but I haven’t managed to find any that I liked quite as much. I think reading new genres is very interesting and can give you plenty of inspiration

  56. HELL YES. Genre’s are only a way of categorizing work and as such shouldn’t be considered until the work is finished. My two favourite work, ‘A Scanner Darkly’ and ‘A Clockwork Orange’, branch way beyond the science fiction and futurist motifs and are richer for it. We all read a wide variety at school and therefore internalize some aspects of different genres unconsciously

  57. It’s good to get outside you’re comfort zone. Mostly I’m a reader of drama, suspense, or the occasional cop drama. After getting into the tv series, I first got into the Game of Throne series. It’s good for an author to step inside their genre because you never know if it may start a chain reaction of ideas in your own work.

  58. Of course you should read different genres! You should read anything (good) you can get your hands on, and then try art, dance, photography, ceramics, design– whatever other creative thing you can. Hell, you might even find it useful to learn accounting. You never know. It’s all about broadening your horizons in order to hone in on exactly what you love.
    I don’t particularly enjoy classics, for instance, but I force myself to read one every now and then just for the learning experience. Same goes for fantasy– It’s not my thing, but if my husband says it’s an amazing book, I’ll give it a try.

    I just got into reading Cormac McCarthy. It definitely took me a bit to get used to his style, but holy crap his books are great!

  59. I’d say that not only should writers read outside their own genre, but they should selectively read some good non-fiction. Keeping the brain lubricated with a knowledge of how our real world works in terms of science, technology, history, politics, whatever–can help inform the fictional world of your thriller, horror, fantasy, or sci-fi work.

  60. I encountered Charlie Chan when I was 10 and that has been my real genre all my life, but in the meantime, I’ve read everything that fell into my hands. I mean fell too. I found Hombre and First Blood as well as Fools’ Parade all just lying about. During a brief stay in a hospital I read True Grit and Rosemary’s Baby, and so on. I used to go to the library and just wander along until a title caught my eye. Lots of fiction, autobiography and non-fiction; it’s all fodder. Now that I’m old and decrepit, I actually get tired after reading a page or two, so it’s slow going at this stage. I do think the more general knowledge you can stow away, the better you’ll write, no matter what the genre. http://cm-albrecht.webs.com http://cmalbrecht.wordpress.com

  61. Reblogged this on BAZILMUZIK and commented:
    This is a very interesting questions with some very realistic proofs of the capability of expansion in your thought process and writing style .

  62. i think it’s good to step out of the proverbial ‘comfort zone ‘ every once in a while…

  63. I definitely think you should read all over the place. I would have never discovered Science Fiction/Fantasy if my mom didn’t push me to read it in my 20’s. I was so against it, but once I did I fell head over heals with Anne McCaffrey and Heinlein and others. Now in my 40’s I never limit myself on what I read, but I also never push myself to read stuff I have tried and don’t like. And as a writer, researching your genre can get you burnt out fast! I have read so much YA lately that I have started feeling hatred against every single teenager I see. I need to cuddle up with a good ol’ fashioned horror book to relax after all that emo writing.

  64. Absolutely, though I tend to get stuck on a genre for a little bit, I can’t read a biography and then transition to epic fantasy smoothly, I get a twitch in my eye, if I attempt that.

  65. I read various genres and would try not to rule out any. As a teen I loved soppy romance stuff and crime writers like Dick Francis. Then I moved onto French literature, more of the classics. I think you need to explore as widely as you can. Now I love contemporary Japanese fiction. I wouldn’t necessarily rush to read science fiction but I wouldn’t rule it out. It depends on what appeals. I don’t often read non-fiction but I agree it’s a good thing to from time to time. The more you read, the more it enriches your writing and helps you find your own voice.

  66. I read many genre. But I think the concept of a universal paradigm allows a write opportunity to admire the fabric of many things. if your technique of generating an idea isn’t justifiable from one metaphor, leave it out hoping you’ve provided enough idea to influence a reader’s expectation.

  67. Such a lot to be learned from reading across genres, I think. Plus you never know when it will come in handy… Thanks to my husband’s love of Asimov and a few holidays where I’d pinched his books after finishing my own, there was at least one author being talked about at a recent writers’ group that I’d actually read. Saved me from feeling completely illiterate!

  68. SleepyDragon1320 // August 27, 2013 at 11:20 am // Reply

    Reblogged this on Sleepy Book Dragon and commented:
    I agree with this article but I would also say to try reading more widely within your OWN genre. Every writer has his or hers own Voice and way of doing things and creates such a range of writing styles that it can be worth stepping away from your favourite authors and trying news ones.
    Kindle Samples and reading books from a different section of your local library are probably a good way to begin with this process.

  69. An eclectic all round book-gorger myself, I absolutely recommend reading anything and everything you can! Widely within your own genre, and just as widely outside it. I prefer to see books in terms of voices instead of ‘that’s my kind of thing’ because I love to hear people’s stories, and to appreciate their art. Whenever I’m editing someone’s MS, I usually recommend 2 or 3 books for them to read and usually only one of them will be ‘their genre’ so they learn to think outside the box. Locking yourself inside boundaries can only harm your writing rather than give you the freedom to absorb everything and pluck something new out of it! I totally agree with you.

  70. Well put. I write science fiction and urban fantasy and tend to read mostly in those genres. I’ve had a story idea for a while that just wouldn’t click for me. Then, on a friend’s recommendation, I read Junot Diaz’s The Short Wondrous Life of Oscar Jao, definitely out of my genre. But when I saw how Diaz developed his characters and the way the main character’s literary obsessions work their way into his life,I realized I could use a similar tactic with the story I was stuck on. I haven’t started writing it yet (a few more projects in the queue first), but at least now I know what to do with it, and I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t gone outside my genre.

  71. Reading outside one’s genre is definitely useful, but reading inside one’s genre is sometimes even more so. The uses of knowing what all genres represent and are like (both classicals and moderns) have advantages for the writer, so I would definitely recommend it. Nice advice.

  72. I was wondering if it is truly a bad thing if writers don’t read that often. I really enjoy writing, however I don’t find myself reading as much as the average writer usually does. I would like to think that reading would give me more insight into how to right and different ways to do so. Is not reading, and then writing a bad thing? I sometimes like to think that it keeps my things original, however that is just to make me feel better.

    N~
    http://ncbek.wordpress.com

    and

    http://throughtiredeyes.wordpress.com

  73. writingsprint // August 27, 2013 at 7:41 pm // Reply

    Our genre is the human race. All genres should be read! I believe that the only genres you shouldn’t read are those that don’t interest you, out of some sense of obligation. That’s the short road to drying up. Otherwise, read. Read nonfiction, autobiography, history, philosophy, whatever inspires you. Here’s one right now: James Reston’s “The Last Apocalypse” and “Warriors of God.” You’ll never look at history the same way again.

  74. Do we exercise all our muscles, or just the ones we think are the most advantageous? Aside from targeting some areas, we generally try to get a well-balanced routine. When reading, as in writing, we are sharing in a long timeline of human expression. It can only benefit us to broaden our scope; it may not be necessary, but it’s certainly beneficial. Those are my two cents anyway. 🙂

  75. I, too, am I writer; more trying to be.I initially started to write Young Adult novels because I read so many. However, I am now writing a more introspective adult novel. Yet, I barely read contemporary fiction alone. My favorite genre is still historical fiction, but I find that to love reading, you need to experience it all. I have an open relationship with my favorite genres; as do I with my favorite authors. I love certain authors, but we are not exclusive. I think to be a really good, or great writer, you need to be open. I am glad you are becoming so.

  76. I am definitely not a writer, for such a dedication may require one part of the mind traveling “out there” and the other part interpreting the information. I say yes, perhaps try a “different genre binge” and write a post on that?

  77. I know neither my field, genre, voice or style. I’m not even sure I have a preferred genre. I’m NEW

  78. Very precise & an eye opener . Thanks for sharing .” Broad your horizon ” … gud thought 🙂

  79. good read, thank you so much. im new here, just posted my first little blurb, hope to meet and make new friends along the way.

    Again, thank you.

  80. Great article. I like your blog. (I just found it). I’m a big fan of reading and writing outside one particular genre. I always fancied myself a literary fiction writer, but when that plan failed I tried my hand at thriller and got published within a year of finishing the book. Writing something with severed limbs really pushed me out of my good-Lutheran-girl comfort zone, and it was a great experience.

  81. briehaddock // August 29, 2013 at 7:35 pm // Reply

    I think reading anything opens up the mind to new experiences. You may focus writing in one specific genre because that may be a focal point because it follows as a strength. Reading other genres could be out of pure pleasure but open up the mind to new ideas, circumstances and experiences that you, as a writer have never thought about. Eventually, in a piece later on, a book you read years ago will pop into your head and a moment in the book will inspire something deep down inside of you. I think it’s best to dive in head first not knowing what you are getting yourself into and enjoy each moment, or word.

  82. William.Kidd // August 30, 2013 at 12:13 am // Reply

    Reading something out side or your norm is a healthy habit. The mind works in mysterious ways and that fact is widely underestimated. Even when I ready books under my genre and get new ideas sparking just from a few words. So reading something new all together only makes your imaginative world grow larger.

  83. I so agree with you about reading outside your genre. Not only do I gain insight into different ways of writing, I gain ideas. Sometimes a character will show up in a novel I am reading. I find that character so interesting that maybe, just maybe. I know. I can’t borrow that sucker. But I can use her as a starting point for the story I am working on. Not only do I believe this is essential to writers. I think it is essential to musicians. To help them keep things fresh creatively speaking. I find that a little jazz can help a country musician, a little rock can help a classical musicians. When you go outside your genre, you gain a new perspective which makes your work exciting. Great blog and lots of room for thought.

  84. I definitely agree that you should read different genres. It helps you develop your voice and also makes you think about what might be possible within your own genre. I loved The Road by the way although it did take a bit to get used to his style.

  85. well said. I love reading different styles of book and writings. its a tool that can be used to improve everything. just an open mind and a different outlet and you got a whole new sense of writing and its all lintertighted with old trick.

  86. I make a conscious effort to mix up the genres I read. I write fantasy/fiction for young adults. I also happen to teach classrooms full of my target audience everyday. However, I only read that genre every other book. In between I fit in thrillers, historical fiction, and well-written biographies. It certainly helps me to analyze my own writing.

  87. I will read anything I can get my hands on, except for porn. That includes bodice rippers. 🙂 As well as being inspired by some writers, others can teach you how not to write.

  88. I read mostly literary fiction and non-fiction, but I can remember when I scathingly picked up James Herbert’s The Fog, which my sister was reading, expecting to give rise to the snob in me, but instead being astounded by the beauty of his carefully crafted sentences. That was a long time ago, but you’ve jolted me to get back out of my comfort zone and check out other genres. There’s talent everywhere.

  89. I think it’s a really good idea to read different styles of writing because it can broaden your thinking and is fun to write in new and interesting ways.

    The issue is of course that your genre is your genre because you have an interest in it so for me it would have to be a good one to grab my attention 🙂

  90. isbjournalist // September 1, 2013 at 11:33 pm // Reply

    Reblogged this on The Aspiring Journalist.

  91. I love the way you explained this. I am still finding myself in the terms of genre, but definitely enjoy reading all sorts of books. And learning how they’re edited and formatted.

  92. Great advice. Most of what I read falls under the children or young adult category, since that’s what I teach. As far as genre, I enjoy fantasy and science fiction. However I’m beginning to break away from those books, hoping more adult books will push me farther in my own writing.

  93. Yeah I think it might be better for writers to broaden their ‘metaphoric’ horizons. This is because they might just be focusing on one piece of literature when there are 100 more! But we don’t want our fantastic authors to come of the path of their awesome ideas, so maybe reading out of their genre is a bad thing. Anyway this was a great blog-well done

  94. I’m basically a reader, but not of SciFi or Fantasy. But I think to be an interesting writer you need to think outside the box.. Sometimes you have to look inside someone Else’s box and see what they’ve got!

  95. Just as writers should read outside their genres, so too should all of us in our everyday lives. Do something different, experience something new, as it helps us to break out of the little boxes society has invented for us! Nice post, am off to read something new now!

  96. Definitely read outside your own genre. It keeps our writing from feeling too much like everything else. Plus I think boxing yourself into your genre inhibits your writing.

    • agreed. besides, when it comes to getting the inspiration say for you character’s voice it may be beneficial to explore beyond your style to add a little bit of cross-genre characteristics. just to make that character sound that little bit odd.

  97. anythinglanguage // September 6, 2013 at 5:18 pm // Reply

    Nice selection of books in Russian.

  98. I didn’t start reading other books out of my preferred genres until I began homeschooling my children. I found that I had to teach a lot of subjects, so I had to start doing more reading than I was used to. I am happy to say that it has helped me grow as a reader as well as teach them to be open to reading different genres also. They are both strong readers now also!
    But recently I began writing again, too, and I have been trying to write differently than I used to, so again I am finding interest in reading lots of different authors which definitely helps in my writing (I HOPE)!!

  99. I tend to only read non-fiction, but I’m observant by nature; so Im inspired by people. However, I agree with your premise.

  100. Reblogged this on Mind's Eye .

  101. Fantastic! As a writer, I’ve always been happier writing Science Fiction, Supernatural or Dystopian novels; as a reader, I’m a great fan of Transgressive Fiction. It was when I started doing this that I found myself becoming more confident in my writing, and willing to experiment – some worked, some didn’t, but the importance of reading outside your genre is never to be discounted!

  102. Great post! Read out of your genre, read out of your own culture, out of your own time period. It’s surprising how much one may learn by stretching a bit.

  103. Reblogged this on gustyadek.

4 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

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  4. Should Writers Read Outside Their Genre? | Messy Life

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