In many of my recent Sunday Links posts I've talked about #storyeverynight, a Twitter hashtag that Nicole Cushing started and I picked up on. The concept is very simple. Read a short story every day/night and tweet about what you read. From talking to Nicole, this was inspired by a statement of Ray Bradbury's that a writer should read a poem, a story, and an essay every day. For now, I'm "just" trying to fit in the story. I could definitely see trying to add the poems at some point. It's been a long time since I read any poems (quite possibly since I was last assigned to do so for a class) and it's a form that I'd like to reacquaint myself with. Maybe I'll find that it resonates with now-Me. Maybe not.
Getting back to the daily story-reading... I'm a firm believer that reading, particularly within the genres you want to write, is an important input into the writing process. This could either be a genre that you already have a reasonable amount of familiarity with or a genre which you want to write in, even though you're not particularly familiar with it. I think there's also benefit to branching out and reading things that are beyond what you're specifically interested in writing. There are slightly different benefits from each of those.
I suspect that rather frequently, people are already familiar with the genres they want to write in before they start writing. That the impetus to write in the genre comes from an affection for and familiarity with it. That probably gives writers a decent "head start" within that genre since having that sort of long-time relationship with its literature would probably mean a reasonably diverse set of experiences within it. On the other hand, most of that time you may have been reading for pleasure and not necessarily tuning in to thinking about the stories with any sort of "writer mindset." Does that matter? I'm not entirely sure, though I do know that I've tended to read with a more conscious focus on the prose since I got back into writing seriously. If nothing else, I am much more likely to try to put my finger on what exactly it is I really like (or dislike) about a story. (And that aspect, at least, would often by genre-neutral.)
What things do I think a writer would get out of reading in an unfamiliar genre or subgenre before writing in it? Ultimately, I think it comes down to getting a sense of what the typical reader in that genre is used to -- both so you aren't directly copying something (giving readers the "I've been here before" feeling) but also so you're not violating their general expectations. Admittedly, when you're dealing with a really broad genre like "Fantasy" or "Mystery" it may be hard to get an overall sense of this "feel." This level of detail is probably most helpful when you get down to the subgenre. "Cozy" and "Noir" are both categories you might find within a "Mystery" section, but they'll have vastly different moods, tropes, etc. If you were intent on writing a "cozy" and had never read one, then reading a few would be likely to give you a much more nuanced sense of the typical reader expectations.
Lastly, as far as reading beyond the genres of what you expect to be writing, I think that this is a great thing to do from time to time to broaden your overall reading experience. All of this reading and story-experiencing goes into your writer's brain and can help you develop your own stories down the road. One example of this that I can point to in my own work was my story "A Minor God of Mischief." My first draft for this was probably rather dreadful.
No, no probably about it. I'm sure it was dreadful. But, the day before it the submission deadline, I came upon a different approach to telling the story. It's short, if you want to read it first, I'll wait.
... This is me waiting ...
The whole story is dialogue but only from one side of the conversation and without any form of attribution tags, quotation marks, etc. The other half of the conversation is all left to the reader's imagination based on the reactions. I felt it made for a fun little piece and the folks at Kazka Press agreed.
There's certainly nothing original about this. It's the same conceit that Bob Newhart always used for the comedy routines that I loved listening to so much as a kid. You'd hear one end of a conversation, say, someone talking to Sir Walter Raleigh about tobacco. But -- and I can't recall now if this was conscious or unconscious -- the place I'd run into it most recently before writing that second version of "A Minor God of Mischief" was in one of my #storyeachnight readings. Ring Lardner, long before Bob Newhart, wrote a story called "Who Dealt?" with this technique. I remember reading it and enjoying it, especially all of the things left unsaid by the story. It certainly inspired my use of the technique for AMGoM, whether I recognized that at the time or not.
So, yes, I definitely believe that writers should read, both things which they want to write and things unrelated to what they want to write.
What about you? What are your favorite things to read?