If you ask advice about how to better yourself as a writer, most likely anyone will tell you that you have to read. You’d be hard pressed to find a writer who didn’t love to read. That’s probably what started us all on this crazy path they call being a writer. A love of words, and so, a love of books. So, of course you should read. But what?
I went through a phase (when I worked at a book store and got a decent discount) where I bought dozens of writing reference books. The how-to’s of dialogue, first pages, characters, plot, etc., etc. They accumulated in piles on my bedroom floor once the bookcase was full. And while I never read one in its entirety, I would pick them at random (or if I was having a specific issue) and skim through, searching for answers. And if I’m being honest, I didn’t find any. Sometimes advice is good, but those sorts of books aren’t going to tell you how to write your book. Only you can do that.
But that’s not to say you can’t seek out some kind of influence. When I used to write ridiculous, Gothic fantasies, my favorite writer hands down was Anne Rice. I adored The Vampire Chronicles. But it’s sort of like the chicken and the egg. Which came first? Did I write vampire stories because I loved to read them, or did I read them because I already wanted to write them?
Nowadays I struggle to name a favorite author, even a favorite book. I’ll occasionally jump on the bandwagon and read something that everyone else is reading, like The Hunger Games or the Millennium trilogy. I sometimes try to read poetry or short stories, but I crave novels more than anything. I don’t read nearly as much as I should, mostly because I’d rather be writing in my limited spare time.
But it should come as no surprise, really, that in the past couple of years I’ve been reading a lot of gay fiction. Obviously this time the writing came first. But I do find it interesting that I still crave to read the same genre as whatever it is I’m writing. I think it’s more than just being aware of how your genre works. It’s almost like wanting to be around people with whom you have things in common. If you like to write a certain genre, chances are you like to read it as well.
Of course, there’s the possibility for overkill. You want to absorb the influence of the books you read, but in the end, your work should stand on its own. There’s a chance you may get discouraged, if you start thinking that every idea has been done before. But you still have a story to tell. The most important thing I take away from reading is the drive to write. Sometimes I can’t get through a page without my thoughts drifting off into my own story. And that’s perfectly fine. That book will still be there when I close my laptop.