I’m looking at why writers should read outside their genre today.
I emphasize to all writers that they must read. Why? Reading takes you outside of the comfort of your writing and puts another writer’s prose on display. I’m convinced that it’s easier to spot strengths and weaknesses in another person’s writing because you don’t have the same closeness to it. It’s only when you look beyond that you start to see conventions of a genre, habits of writers (good and bad), and how to learn from it. But I’m taking that a step farther today and saying that you should read outside your genre.
All genres have conventions. If a writer focuses solely on one genre to the exclusion of all other genres, it’s easy to get lost in the expectations of your readers. This can be good, but it makes it harder to evolve as a writer. If you’re not evolving as a writer, you stand a good chance of losing readers (unless you’re already an established writer; then your readers have come to expect the conventions you incorporate into your work). By reading outside of your genre, you expand what you’re reading and, by default, expand your bag of writing tricks. This is because you’re seeing conventions turned on its head or developed well, and you’re removed enough to learn the lesson the writing tells.
One way you’ll see if your expanded reading habits has helped your writing is to measure if you notice an increase in writing solutions to your genre’s conventions. Suddenly, you realize that even though you’re not writing literary fiction your genre characters can have more depth. The same goes for literary fiction writers: suddenly your extremely introspective characters move forward in time with your plot.
I’d love to hear from writers what genres they write and what they read and if they think their varied reading helps their writing.