Monday, April 20, 2015

Diversify Your Reading, Diversify Your Writing

Let's face it. We all get in a rut. Usually it is out of comfort and unintentional, but we all fall into patterns--and our reading patterns are no different. For years and by necessity (due to school), I read almost nothing except Victorian novels. This was a strange experience for me, because I had always read widely and across many genres.

My reading life during graduate school suffered in many important ways. I felt no freedom, and I had to be really careful about how I approached my course reading. Because I had to specialize, I missed out on so many other areas and fields of literature that I just didn't have time to study. In other words, my reading was necessarily restricted, and you couldn't call it diverse at all. There was a time I really think I started "thinking in Victorian," as I called it. Sure, it got me through my dissertation and all, but it was all a little too much after a certain point!

In any case, I recently was reminded of this time during my life. A friend of mine is graduating, and she, too, is excited to finally read things she has put off for a long time. As we discussed her newly found freedom, I started thinking about all of the things I have read since graduation. As I ticked off the books on my list, I was a bit horrified to realize that my reading life has entered a new kind of rut. I decided right then and there to change my reading habits to include a more diverse selection of writers and subject matter.

Then, perhaps in some kind of crazy universe-inspired synchronicity, I started binge listening to several Book Riot podcasts, and there were lots of great episodes centered around the site's efforts to help readers make their reading selections more diverse. Their conversations challenged my reading habits and their recommendations drove me to run to the library and grab books by several "new-to-me" authors.

Book Riot's website and podcast have some great posts and episodes about diversity in the publishing world and how to make a conscious decision to read more authors of different backgrounds. You really should check out their FAQ and recommendations. I was pleased to find that one of their writers is Swapna Krishna, a blogger I had read for years, and she has some great ideas about diversifying your reading. (She still runs her blog, too.) Also, a quick Google search will also help you to find more diverse selections. There are several Goodreads and Amazon lists, and lots of librarians have put together amazing recommendation guides.

You can consider all kinds of aspects when it comes to diversifying your reading. You can choose to read more authors of different races than your own. Or, you can choose books by authors from different countries or genders or backgrounds. Also, you can diversify your reading by experimenting with books from different genres than you usually read--or even a different sub-genre.

*Whatever route you choose, you are sure to enrich 
your reading and writing life by stepping out of the box.*

I place this in bold, because I really believe it is true. Diversifying your reading, of course, makes you a stronger reader and better observer of your world, but it also can be a great way to inspire you as a writer and a great way to energize your writing. I know that when I get stuck in a reading pattern--as much as I may love a particular author or genre--eventually my reading stops activating my imagination. But picking up a new book by an author with a totally different perspective than I am used to or a book in a genre I know nothing about really does wonders for my writing and energy level. I get excited about trying new things in my writing and exploring new topics.

So try something new every now and then! It has been a great experience for me, and I think it will be for you as well. And don't get discouraged if what you pick up the first time doesn't do the trick. Go to the library and check out several books at once. That way, if one just doesn't do it for you, you can always try something else. Being conscious about diversifying my reading has really made a big difference in just about every area of my life!

Susan Sierra is a historical and contemporary romance writer. She loves books and old letters, adores her dog and family, and has a deep and committed love affair with coffee. She spent time as an undergraduate studying (having fun) in Mexico, went on to work for a large regional magazine as a copyeditor, and then decided that she hadn’t tortured herself enough in she went to graduate school. After many years, she walked away with a PhD and an unhealthy relationship with Charles Dickens. She hopes to complete her first full-length novel in 2015. FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER!


Heather said...

My biggest problem is finding the "new" experience to read. There are too many choices. With all the new titles and authors, it is hard to know where to start. Due to feeling overwhelmed I run back to my comfort zone of familiar genres and authors. I will definitely check out the Book Riot podcasts.

Ali Hubbard said...

I really admire your dedication to your school work, to immerse yourself like that. Can you talk with an accent? I bet you think in one sometimes!

I love this post! It's so true. I'm frequently guilty of finding something I like and then "going through the phase." The Twilight books were the first books I'd had time to read in 5 years (the literary dead zone of a demanding job and infant, sweet as she was). I think I read every vampire book ever written once my well was primed. lolol.

I like to read all genres. There's really nothing I don't like. But, I definitely have go-to authors for comfort reads. Since joining RWA, I've branched out and that has only been a good thing. I've been happily surprised. I love this community of writers and how you can discover someone you love to read as they are beginning their careers.

Book Riot sounds great. Will check it!

Cari Hislop said...

Great post! I tend to go through phases, but I keep a literary diary so every time I read a book I write down the title and the author and genre and how I liked it or not. This allows me to see visually how varied my reading diet has been over the month or year.

If you love quirky vampire novels I read one this last week that made me laugh. It's called, "Fat Vampire" by Johnny B. Truant. It's a free novella I found combing ibooks (I've become addicted - I often find new books and authors that way these days though at heart I'm a library-girl. I'd live in a library if I could. Have my bed in the can dream.

Ali Hubbard said...

Cari-I love the idea of keeping a journal of everything you read. I never thought of that! Imagine the list over a lifetime for a serious reader!

And thanks for the recommendation of "Fat Vampire." I'll check it out :-)

I'm right there with you on the library *sigh*

Susan said...

Heather, I know what you mean! I feel so overwhelmed sometimes!

Susan said...

Ali, I am bad with an accent...but my advisor can do an awesome Scottish one! LOL I have lots of comfort reads, too. I just have a really bad habit of not stepping outside of the box as often as I should. But I never regret it when I do!

Susan said...

Cari, Thanks! The literary diary is a great idea! I keep up with my reading on Goodreads and sometimes on my blog...but I am bad about that! I will have to check out that vampire novel! Sounds fun!

Cari Hislop said...

The great thing about a private literary diary is I can include everything - even books I don't want to review or admit I've wasted time reading ( A favorite author published a new book the other week and I bought it and read it the day it came out, but I decided not to review it because I didn't really like it, but not because it was badly written or anything...the story just wasn't for me so I've left it off my public shelves). I think the diary was spawned by wondering how much I was reading (as a kid) and my horrible memory...what was that book I really liked? What was that author's name? ;)