My advice to all writers: read voraciously. I know, it is hard to find the time when you are busy with your regular life as well as the actual act of writing- but the fastest way to hone your craft is to take in the art form of others. Don’t stop with one genre- read them all, dabble in them the way you would dabble in chocolates, leave no stone unturned. And don’t stop with just novels: there are newspapers, magazines, textbooks, blogs- so many things out in the world for us to enjoy, grab them with both hands and run with them. Find your voice by listening to the voices of others. Not only will you discover the style best suited to you, but the content of your work will be richer and more diverse for it. The ideas of others will feed your imagination. We are not islands unto ourselves, we are best when we are challenged by other beings.
Artist tend to view the world through a different lens than most, we want to pick it apart down to it’s elements in an attempt to understand it, and then piece it back together again without a crack. We watch people and events and allow our experiences to bleed over into our work giving the world a fresh perspective that only we can provide. We soak up the world; isn’t it only fitting that the words we absorb will also influence our constantly churning minds. Consciously or not, we tend to write what we read.
For example, if you immerse yourself in the world of old Victorian classics, there is a good possibility you will begin to see some flourishing descriptions wiggling into your work, with an eloquent style of speaking that could be considered slightly stiff to the modern pop culture novel. Or you may go in the opposite direction and find yourself entrenched in the most current paranormal romance, in which case you may find a touch more humor imbedded in your work, or a cruder dialect and detailed descriptions of physical activities. We tend to inadvertently use similar word choice or stylistic tendencies when we read specific types of literature over a long period of time.
When I decide to attempt working in a new genre, I like to immerse myself in it, to glean the style most suited to myself while still delving within the correct parameters for the work. Let’s take my current project for example: this is the first time I have ever tried my hand at an urban fantasy. I have read other books in this genre, and I knew the general style. But the last project I worked on was a sequel to a twisted fairy tale- which was distinctly different (that in itself found inspiration in several marathons of the tv show Once Upon a Time). So I started reading, watching and listening to everything I could get my hands on that would put me in the right frame of mind. A few of the prominent influences: the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris, the Belador series by Sherrilyn Kenyon, The Blood Gospel by James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell, American Gods by Niel Gaiman, Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice, among others. And those are just the books: I tend to watch shows and movies that fall into the same category as well.
I am addicted to learning new things, and I love when I can carry that into my writing. I am constantly trying to push the boundaries of what I know. So I make a point to read new science articles and history books. I can’t tell you how many ideas started with a tiny spark from an article that I read or a historical connection that I made. It’s exciting when you learn to tie fiction with reality in a seamless manner. I’m subscribed to several science e-mail lists and magazines, I read opinions of current events, I follow other blogs of varying subjects, I have mountains of books falling in every genre. We live in a world where virtually everything you could possibly learn is at your finger tips- a lot of it for free. Why don’t we take more advantage? Don’t feel like reading? Watch a show, a documentary, a pod cast. Listen to an audiobook (Audibles was surprisingly life changing for me). Take the time to absorb the world. You wont regret it.
The written word is a gateways into other worlds, new realities to color our own experiences and our work. Delving into the imagination of another will help you make new connections in your own. Your work will be stronger through the work of others. Strong writing is usually a reflection of strong reading. You can twist your style, play with the words to find your own unique voice. You can dabble and play, have fun with the craft and revel in the hard work of others that carry within their hearts the same literary calling as yourself. Read voraciously, open your mind to the world and the ideas it carries within. You will be better for it, your work will be stronger. Never stop learning, never stop reading.