I’ve written several times on this blog about examining what you like to read, and writing that. For the most part, it’s common advice that I think is a pretty solid place to start when it comes to figuring out what you want to write.
But it’s much easier said than done.
First of all, there’s the challenge of identifying just what you like to read. What if you like more than one kind of story? What if you only like certain parts of stories, and not the rest of them? What if what you think you’d like to read the most doesn’t exactly exist? (The last one sounds like a great opportunity to create something new, until you realize that you have no examples to go on.)
Second of all, you can stare all you want at what you like to read, and all you’ll have is a vague idea of how to write exactly that story (or fanfiction). While there’s nothing wrong with that for writing, for a career in writing you actually have to write something new and original (at least marginally). And when you venture out to write your own thing, you realize that now you have to come up with that genius plot twist, or that effortless prose, or those loveable characters. Just because I can listen to great singers all day doesn’t mean I can open my mouth and not cause hearing damage to any unfortunate listeners.
And third of all, you might come up with ideas or want to write something that’s nothing like what you want to read. Maybe it’s just a random idea that popped into your head and you can’t stop thinking about; maybe it’s something you want to try writing for fun or growth or for someone else.
So while I think that looking at what you like to read is a great tool for figuring out exactly where your tastes lie, it isn’t the ultimate answer in what to read. If it can help you find something to write, awesome; but it shouldn’t stop you from writing something that interests you if it doesn’t match what you like to read.
Write what you want to write.
I absolutely agree! We do tend to be best at what we like to read though, since reading is the best education we can get in our craft. I tend to write fantasy because it’s what I like to read and I love the stories, but I’ve written across pretty much every genre. I just write whatever stories come to me 😉
I think ultimately I write because I like to read–and I want to write what I would want to read… Like I can write my own reading material? But I think writing whatever comes to you is the best strategy. 🙂
When I was in high school we were given a list of books to choose from for some writing project. We had to choose a few I think. I picked up “Cat’s Eye,” by Margaret Atwood, and I loved it. I was 17 at the time. Her prose is really beautiful. Then at 25 years old a fanfic friend introduced me to Cormac McCarthy, and it was love after the first page. I don’t care what he writes about actually, I love his prose that much XD I also love sci-fi but don’t really have the desire to write it.
But I’m stuck now between writing literature and fantasy when I start on a novel. I have read very few fantasy books. I read “Lord of the Rings,” and it was okay. My dad had the whole trilogy, but I never wanted to read the other two. I’m reading a fantasy/sci-fi/horror book right now that’s interesting. But for now I’m writing short stories, and it’s a lot of fun. Maybe I’ll figure it out eventually. I have ideas for both. My short story ideas are mostly literature, for now at least.
Reading Cormac McCarthy really helped me change the way I saw writing. Whenever I read I try to absorb the prose. Not sure if that makes sense XD But I’m always on the lookout for abstract or different pieces of writing. Experimental pieces are more common in short stories. I read one by Timothy Findley that was genius. I like Timothy Findley, but had never read a short story of his. Now I’m reading through short stories in literature journals, and that has been inspiring 🙂 Many of them are amazing, so I just feel like I’m learning so much as I read.
I think writing is similar to ballet in a sense. Only with writing the teachers are replaced by books. I improved so much from just reading good fiction. Perhaps I couldn’t write good fiction, but I finally knew what it was. I was lucky enough to be friends with some great writers in fanfic and they beta-read for me. Now that I’m writing original fiction I joined a literary critique group, and it’s been a really great experience.
If you’re up for it it’s called, “Critique Circle.” It’s password protected so it doesn’t prohibit you from submitting to literary journals. But since you are writing a novel that’s a bit different. If you are worried about someone stealing your work, you can just post a few chapters at the beginning to get a feel for your weaknesses. I’ve posted three pieces, and made similar mistakes in all of them XD I come from a fanfiction background, so the reviews I get over there are like heaven. They are super detailed and point out my mistakes, but they aren’t mean. I just received a 1300 word critique on a 3,000 word piece that was super helpful. I have not seen one flame on the site yet. The moderators are awesome too, so if you end up having a problem with a member they can help mediate it. I think critique sites have a certain personality to them, but this one works well for me!
For me, I definitely enjoy good literary fiction–but I enjoy cheesy commercial fiction so much more. 🙂 So it’s about balancing my desire to write well with my desire to have fun (not that other readers/writers can’t do both at the same time, but I struggle with it).
I’ve never really been one for writing groups, mainly because I don’t write often enough to really participate–but I will keep that one in mind, thank you. I’m still a little too all over the place for direct critique to really help, I think. 🙂
Thanks for the comment!
No worries 😛 Different things help different people.