You’ve heard the advice: read what you write. Do you write nonfiction picture books? Read hundreds of them. Are you a middle grade fantasy writer? Read all the fantasy MG you can get your hands on. Write dystopian young adult? You get the picture.
Let me be clear. This is good advice. Solid advice. It is imperative to be aware of what is getting published in the area in which you write. It’s important to study it. What makes those books work? Why did it make it to the shelves? What is unique about the concept?
But what writers often overlook is that it is just as important to nourish our reading souls as it is our writing knowledge. That means reaching for that book outside the genre in which you write and reading for pleasure. Grab that commercial book club novel. Dive into that mystery or psychological thriller. Itching to check out a sci-fi series? Go for it. Pour a glass of wine and crack the spine on that romance.
I write picture books and middle grade, and I read as much as I can in both those areas. For quite a while, that’s all I read. But since working in a bookstore and a library for nearly a year, I’ve been reading a lot more YA and adult books of all stripes. I needed to be familiar with what was on the shelves beyond just the children’s sections. When customers and library patrons come in, I have to be prepared to offer tips and guidance in a broader range of areas. And—Surprise! Surprise!—I discovered I could learn a lot from those books that–despite not being the type of books I write--offered a window into strengthening my own writing, regardless of the genre. I found myself considering pacing, character development, plot, setting: the elements that are required in any story, inspired from a different perspective. I wondered how I could try different styles and points of view, how I could switch up my characters and make them more engaging, how I could play with setting and voice. I was still reading for pleasure, of course, but I realized that even though a book isn’t specifically a mentor text to what I write, I can still learn about the art of writing from reading it. Eureka!
Of course, no matter what I read, I’m always enjoying myself. But often, I felt locked into a particular genre because it aligned with what I wrote. Now I read more outside my writing genres because it feeds my reader’s soul and, I firmly believe, makes me an even better writer. So yes, continue to read mentor texts and study the areas in which you write, but go beyond that, too. Make time to read whatever catches your fancy. Your inner reader and your thoughtful writer will thank you for it.