Over the years I’ve been amazed whenever I meet wannabe writers who proudly tell me: “Oh I don’t read.” Especially when they tell me they don’t read the type of book they
want to write. I simply don’t understand that sort of logic.
Some say they’re afraid they might “accidentally” plagiarize a story, think it was their own and not realize they had read it. I just don’t buy this excuse. Unless a person has a
photographic memory (and if he did, wouldn’t she remember reading the story?), even using a similar plot situation and characters would create a “new” story. The wonderful thing about writers is we each bring our own, individual personalities and life experiences to what we write. No two writers (unless intentionally) will take an idea and write about it in exactly the same way.
I never did catch on to how to diagram a sentence, but through reading (I don’t remember when I started reading, but I know by the age of twelve I was devouring books) I learned sentence structure, plot development, pacing, and all the elements of good writing. I know reading expanded my vocabulary, took me to foreign countries, taught me history, and gave me insight into other life styles. Reading also gave me the courage to write. I fully believe a writer should read the classics and books that are awarded for their excellence in writing, but I’ve found reading poorly executed books also helps. They’ve taught me what not to do. And, unprofessional as this may sound, they told me if that book could be published, then so could mine.
When I first started writing, I had an editor send me four books. “Read these,” she said. “They will give you an idea of what we’re looking for.” And I did read those four along with dozens more. In reading those books I learned what that publisher had liked in the past, the variety and/or similarities in the books, and if this was a publisher that was willing to accept new ideas or was married to a set formula.
Even if a writer wants to write something “new and different”, I say read what’s out there. Maybe the idea isn’t as new as you think. If not, then how is your book going to be different? Or if it is truly new and different, what publishing house would be willing to give it a try, or will you need to self-publish?
Readers don’t have to ask if a certain genre requires a dead body in the first chapter or a love scene by page fifty. Readers don’t have to ask if it’s all right to mix first and third
person pov in the same book, or write in present tense. Readers know if it’s been done before and if so, in what types of books and who published them.
As I said before, I think every writer should read some of the classics (I have one friend who read all of the Pulitzer Prize winners. Wow!), you can learn a lot from those books, especially the ones that are still popular, but writers also must read what’s being published now. Reading habits have changed over the years. Most readers today, with their busy life-styles, don’t have the time to sit down and read long passages of description or internal thoughts. We’re used to sound bytes, lots of action, and dialog. So if you want to write, be published, and sell books, check out what’s being purchased today (either in paper form or as ebooks) and give some a read, especially those similar to what you are writing. Don’t imitate, emulate.