The most common advice I see given to writers who want to break into publishing is to read extensively in their genre. And it’s good advice. When you’re starting out, you need to find your place in the industry, know how you fit into what’s already been published and be able to articulate how you’re unique.
The problem begins when you only read in your genre and market segment. Have you noticed that after a while, books begin to sound the same, all using similar plots and devices, even similar language? Part of that is because what you read is integrally related to what you write. If you only put in one type of story, only one type of story will come out. You can become a good writer this way, even a financially successful one, but you’ll never be great.
Great writers fill the well of their inspiration. They’re endlessly curious, and they feed that curiosity by exploring the world through the written word. Literary fiction history, biography, memoir, the newspaper, even blogs on unfamiliar subjects–all widen the writer’s field of vision. The better a writer understands her world, the more empathy she develops by “walking” in another’s shoes, the richer her writing becomes.
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