Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it. Then write. If it's good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out of the window.
--- William FaulknerWe've heard this advice over and over. I know, at some point, reading became another item on my checklist. Sure, we try to read within the genre we prefer to write, but eeking out time to read when some of us struggle to find time to write can be a chore.
Read outside your genre.
How many of us have heard this piece of advice? I know I had to the point it became just another item on my checklist. But then, I started to think about it a little deeper. Why are we told to do this? "To strengthen your skills. To look at how other authors use the same story elements."
All good things, sure. Do I walk over to the westerns and pick something up? Where should I start?
Reading with purpose helps you decide where to look and what to pick up.
Look at your writing to help you decide. What areas of your manuscript need some sprucing up?
How's your pacing? Too fast? Pick up a classic of nearly any genre to slow down on the foggy moors. Not fast enough? Thrillers are known for slamming their foot on the gas and asking, "what brakes?".
Is your setting falling flat? Check out fantasy and sci-fi to add a little bit of wonder and flare. Stilted prose? Grab some poetry. Too wordy? Snatch up a short story. Are your characters doing the 2-D two-step? Literary fiction dives so deep into the character that it makes submarines jealous.
Historical fiction, young adult, romance, mystery, horror--each area has strengths and weaknesses. So, when you decide what to read, read for those.
Don't limit yourself to the fiction section to read outside your genre.
Read a history book. Read a language manual. Read about business practices, knitting, and humor. (Seriously, do yourself a favor and pick up a humor book, we all need a laugh.)
Biographies could inspire your next character. History could reveal a new setting or an intriguing artifact to base a plot around. Can you kill someone with knitting needles? Also, who isn't a fan of witty banter?
Business executives need a lot of creative thinking to stay ahead in their fields, and they are exponentially more productive than I am, that's for sure.
Heck, even an SAT prep book can give you a plethora of random facts and a nice jolt to your vocabulary.
Now go a little farther.
Don't think you need to stop with just reading outside your genre. Every art has something to offer and views the world differently than we do.
Movies are known for their dialogue. Actors take characterization to crazy levels that frequently make the news. Artists see the world in colors and lines, musicians in notes and rhythms, and chefs in flavors and textures.
JC Lynne pulls headlines for stories as well. The Esau Continuum
A Book That Started with Pictures
April J Moore discovered a box of photos that inspired a true crime tale. Folsom's 93
Jeffrey Eugenides And Tiresias
Jim Campain chooses history to frame his stories. Mysterious Miss Snoddy.
By Miranda Birt
Miranda Birt frequently pretends to know what she’s doing; sometimes it even turns out to be true. She went and got a massage degree, dropped out of traditional college a few times, and owned a small business. After a lot of work and heartbreak, she decided none of it was for her and started over yet again.
Now she spends much of her time at a day job in an attempt to fund her writing habits. Also, to pay down her student loans. Oh, and bills. Because, you know, important things.
Miranda is currently working on a fantasy novel along with puzzling out how exactly one goes about writing these “short” stories.