Should Writers Read Outside Their Genre?

Nic Widhalm - Author


It’s a cold, rainy afternoon. The kids are spending the day at Grandma’s, it’s too wet for yardwork, and your significant other is at a conference on aardvark mating habits. The fire’s been lit, the blanket dragged from your bedroom…all you’re missing is a good book.

Quick! What do you reach for? Come on, you’re a writer, you’re never far away from a book. You’re holding one now, while you’re reading this, aren’t you? Is it fantasy? Romance? Star Wars Slash Fiction? Is it the same genre you write?

Should it be?

What’s the advantage to reading outside your preferred genre?

Well, you’ll be exposed to new writing styles, for one thing.

Cormac McCarthy. Let’s start there. I write fantasy, specifically urban, and spend about 300% of my time (outside aardvark mating season) reading books by the heavyweights: Rothfuss, Martin, Sanderson, Weeks—I know, they’re all epic fantasy…

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I Was A Teenage Sandwich, Or How To Be a Great Writer



Know Thyself. No thanks, Socrates. You can go on in your smug, fraternity party robe and dumb beard, leading the youth along that cynical path. You pre-Nietzschean Santa Claus of glib wisdom born from insights into the contrary of things—as if What-You-Don’t-Know Avenue is the only rout to unproblematic knowledge! For academics, politicians, and many pharmaceutical scientists, this road may be a reliable highway. But for writers (or anyone else involved in imaginative or emotional forms of knowing), it’s a nettled foot trail. It’s jagged and hardly blazed. A better adage would be “Lose Thyself”—and everything else while you’re at it—and then go looking for you (and everything else that’s lost) in fiction.

Other helpful variants of a motto for writers would be: Forget Thyself, Suspend Thyself, Question Thyself, Misunderstand Thyself, and, of course, Put Thyself on a Shelf, in a Vial, with a Legible Descriptor Encapsulating Thyself Thoroughly in…

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Slow Reading

Becca's Byline

As is often the case, I have two books on the go at once, and these particular books, more than any two I’ve read together in some time, are a dichotomy in subject, in writing style, and in thematic material.

The Faraway Nearby, by Rebecca Solnit, is the kind of book that invites slow reading, practically begging the reader to stop and re-read a paragraph or a line, swirl it around in your mind like an oenophile would do with a sip of fine Burgundy. It invites reflection, it sets the mind racing in a kaleidoscope of directions. There are only a handful of writers who can do this, can pull the reader up short so they must stop, go back, say to themselves “Let me try that part again.”

And then there is the other book (which will remain unnamed at the moment because it is a book for…

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One Word at a Time

I find this very good for new writers

Julie Lawford

scissors-editI’m line editing.  After almost three years of writing words into my first novel, for the last month I’ve been taking them out, one by one.  With two line-by-line passes through my draft, I’ve shrunk 107,000 words to 98,000, dipping below that 100,000 word marker beyond which, apparently, novice writers venture at their peril.

Line editing is an interesting if tedious technical exercise and it’s involved a few tactics, amongst which:

  • Culling 99% of occurrences of these words: really, rather, just,quite, very, oh, so, well and suddenly. I said a silent prayer to the twin gods of Search and Delete.
  • Appraising every instance of verb + adverb and replacing many, many of them with… a more descriptive verb. Yes, you can’t escape that one. I love my well-thumbed Roget’s more than ever now.
  • Interrogating every adjective cosying up to a noun…

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I am the Sugar Man

Serpent Box

There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t wish I was doing something else. I’m a writer so all I want to do is write. But I have a regular man’s life. I have children. I have bills to pay. I have to work just like everyone else. I’ve spent years lamenting my ‘situation’. If only I had a benefactor. If only I had a cabin in Vermont. If only I could win the MegaMillions. If only my book had hit the charts. If only the big ship would come in and take me away to the island of happy carefree artists. If only I’d stop and realize that this thinking is wrong.

I am late in praising the power and significance of Searching for Sugar Man. But something tells me not to let this opportunity pass. There are too many people I know personally who can…

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~ On What Makes Breaking Bad and Other Good Stories Great


imageWhen asked how he pitched Breaking Bad to the networks, Vince Gilligan said that he wanted to take the audience on one man’s journey from “Mr. Chips (a fictional beloved school teacher) to Scarface.”    And it is this idea that makes the show compelling.  It asks the audience a question that we wish there was a clean-cut, straightforward answer to: how does a good person go bad?

Initially, we are given a protagonist (like the fictional Mr. Chips) we can all identify with, Walter White.  A man who, like many of us, desired to do what was “right” his whole life, making a few mistakes here and there, but overall, living honorably.   Unfortunately, in our society, careers centered around self-sacrifice and humility, like being a high school science teacher, are not often rewarded with riches and respect.   Yet, Walt seems content.  He loves his wife and son.  He has another…

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