A question for the authors out there

Recently I was discussing the writing process at a small conference in Reno, Nevada. One of the people I was talking to was saying she had trouble figuring out if her idea was her own or if it had been done before. I asked her if she reads within the genre she writes in and her answer was very interesting. “No, I’m afraid it will implant ideas in my head that aren’t really mine and I won’t know it.”

Logical in some ways, I suppose.

Still, this made me curious and begs the question:

 

Do you read within your genre? Do you think it helps you or does it harm you at all? Do you worry that you will inadvertently take someone’s idea and run away with it? If you don’t read other people’s work how do you know what is already being done?

The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.

” — Dr. Seuss

 

 

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35 thoughts on “A question for the authors out there

  1. I think it’s integral that you read the genre you write. I’d even go as far as to say that your primary reading is in that genre. At the end of the day, if you’re hoping to get published in a specific genre, you need to know what is expected and what works, as well as what doesn’t.

    Still, I can understand the fear that writer had. Although there is the argument that by reading the genre you write in, you’re more likely to see if there are similarities between your idea and another. You can never be guaranteed safety though. John Connolly (I think it’s him anyway) has creatures in one of his books who are identical to J.K. Rowling’s Dementors. His came first, so it could be assumed that she copied them. And they write in two very different genres. My point: These things can happen purely as a coincidence.

    In terms of my own writing, I try to read within it as often as possible but I don’t limit myself to it. A rule I have, however, is to avoid reading anything in it from this century while I’m actually working on it because that makes me compare my own work and that’s when the doubt creeps in.

    I write suspense/thrillers with a horror element, so my favourite books are off limits while writing a new novel. I can still indulge in much older books though, which are enjoyable and educational, as well as motivational as I find inspiration in seeing the roots of it all. I finished Frankenstein recently and it made me miss writing edgier stuff that makes you question who/what is or isn’t evil.

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    • Absolutely! Thank you for the in depth comment. I have to agree that I read a lot of my genre(s) as well. I find that when I get into a writing slump that I tend to benefit from the creativity of reading the works of others. It isn’t so much about the ideas, as it is just getting the mind working at a higher speed again.

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  2. Yes, I read in the genre I write. Everything has been done. The thing is, if I do it, it won’t be the same as if you do it. I have different memories, different ideas, different frames of reference.
    Ryder Islington, Author of ULTIMATE JUSTICE, A Trey Fontaine Mystery

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  3. I’ve read other people express that opinion, and it always confuses me.

    Of course we build on the work of other authors in the genre. Otherwise, everyone is busy re-inventing the wheel. I write the kind of books that I like to read. Sometimes I run across ideas that I wish that I had come up with, and sometimes those ideas inspire me to take my work in a new direction.

    Ideas, by themselves, don’t make a good book. What makes a good book is a writer sitting down and writing it. The exact same idea can be the basis of very different books.

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  4. I had a discussion in a lit class many moons ago where this very question was discussed at length… Are there any new ideas anymore? And let’s say you have an idea, how do you know somebody, somewhere else has the same one–but just hasn’t written it down? I’ve come to the conclusion that except for space and technology, maybe there AREN’T any new ideas out there. I do believe that Inspiration is everywhere and as long as you don’t cross that line, anything can be reinvented. As far as my current reading is concerned, I’m ashamed to admit that it’s mostly research on cancer, blogs on WordPress and the occasional fashion/beauty magazine. Any good suggestions for me? (I’ve read all of the classics and contemporary American poetry and fiction are my favorite genres. I need something new and fresh!) great post, by the way!

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  5. I read in the genres I write in because they are the genres I’m passionate about. I don’t think finding inspiration from other writers and stories is a bad thing, as long as you know the difference between “inspired by” and “copied from”. But reading helps me understand what works and what doesn’t work.
    That said, I do know that there are certain authors I absolutely have to avoid when I’m working on a project because I will start to sound more like them than like myself.

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  6. I read a lot within my genre, which can be a double-edged sword. You get inspiration from so many angles like ‘I want to do something like that’, ‘I think this way would be better’, or ‘this one aspect of the world was barely touched’. Many times it might be a single line that forges your own idea. You alter this to the point where it’s only influenced by the original idea, but you always have to be careful that you don’t absorb too much. For example, you might love a certain author and read their books for inspiration. As you write your own story, you find that you’re trying to copy the other author’s style and word mannerisms. So you’ll be seen as a ‘copy’ because the similarities are too close.

    That last question is exceptionally tough. If you don’t know what’s been done then you can find yourself constantly under criticism for stealing ideas. Most people believe that an author reads within his or her genre. There is some leeway, but multiple stories that have already been done would raise suspicion even if you’re simply ignorant of your genre’s history. It’s hard enough with people reading specifically to find what a new author has taken from earlier books and attempt a comparison. This atmosphere makes it even more important to get a sense of your genre.

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  7. I write poetry, not fiction so this isn’t quite the same. I read poetry and some erotica if only for a word or two that will inspire me. In fact, I tend to quit reading when a word strikes a chord with me because I’m afraid I will get hung up on what that author has said and repeat it. But I need the inspiration and somehow reading the dictionary to pull out words isn’t quite the same.

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  8. At the moment, I’m writing neo Victorian novels, because I love 19th century literature. I have read and constantly reread many of the authors and works, however I also read many different genres. I love poetry (from Anglo-Saxon to contemporary), twentieth century, contemporary, romantic, crime, and literary fiction. Shakespeare is a constant source of inspiration, although I’ve never planned to write a play! Recently I have been reading many independent and debut authors, because the literary market is undergoing many changes, and I want to feel its pulse. The more you read and write, the better you read and write, it’s as simple as that. The genre you decide to write will benefit from everything you read. When I finish my current trilogy I plan to write other genres.

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  9. Yes and no. I have read extensively in thriller fiction. I have now (thanks to meeting some nice folks) have ventured into Literary, Fantasy, and Poetry. The last thriller fiction I read was four or five months ago.

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  10. I am a newbie author. As a reader I read a variety of genre including the one I am writing in now. I have read tons of crime fiction. Michael Connelly is vastly different from Tim Dorsey. I love them both. I don’t like to compare my work to other authors because everyone is a unique storyteller. There is probably not one crime that hasn’t been done to death. Yet, crime fiction has certain conventions, and when you break them you get booed out of the stadium. There are soooo many different styles of crime novels out there, it would be hard to say one copied another. I used to think Dean Koontz wrote copies of other author’s work and changed the names and locations because his work was so strikingly similar to other work I was reading at the time. He probably was influenced by some of the same stuff I was reading, but he had his own take on it. Was it original? Is anything? Some may be more creative than some other, but every individual author puts their own spin on things. So I keep reading. And writing.

    As to whether or not I am afraid of being influenced by someone else’s work. Tell me one person who hasn’t been and I’ll show you a liar.

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  11. I read in many genres, including the ones I write in/for and I agree with the other commenters. I do, however, have this to say: my characters are my own, they talk to me and created a world in my mind that I transferred to paper in story form. If my characters show similarities to those that come from somewhere there are really just two main possibilities. 1) you and I are similar creatures and might get along to some degree OR 2) your work was some of that which I devoured in my youth and you, therefor, have a small part in making me the woman who writes about crazy fairy queens, sweet dragons, and a lighthouse loving little lemur. 😀

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  12. I read all sorts of things and write in all sorts of genres, so I don’t know how to answer that question for myself. I do think that it is somewhat ridiculous to claim not to read in the genre that you’re writing in … if you don’t read the genre how do you even know that you’re writing in it?

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  13. I read in all genres, including my own. There are no new ideas, so for a writer to think she can isolate herself and not be influenced in some way seems naive. Better to both study authors we admire and indulge in those we enjoy. Both will enrich the quality of our own work, and hopefully we will do the same for someone else.

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  14. Not to imply that what is popular is always right, but…I’ve never once read an expert in the field say that you should avoid reading in your genre! The opposite is encouraged and for good reason. To me, not reading in my genre would be like saying I love to play piano but never listen to music featuring a piano. When I read a good memoir, I want to go write more. When I listen to good music, I rush to my sheet music and butcher it to the point the dogs hide in the closet because I want to play, too.

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  15. I believe that ideas are a dime a dozen. It is rarely the idea itself that is compelling; the allure is in the execution. We could both write a story with Pastry chef + Unlikely love interest + Airship + Buried Treasure + Rags to riches + Cooking contest, but we would write totally different stories. Or if I said I had an idea for airships that float because of magic dust, we would incorporate it into the story differently. (If you like those ideas, feel free to use them)

    I probably don’t read enough in my genre – steampunk – but I do read a lot in the bigger genre of SFF. I only have so many hours in the day, sadly.

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  16. Standing on the shoulders of giants. That’s how innovation occurs. Whether it’s in computers or biology or astronomy. And yes, even in writing. You are able to expand because you don’t have to start from scratch. Maybe you’re embracing a new genre or style, maybe you’re rejecting it. You can’t create in a vacuum.
    Couple Ted Talks to contemplate:

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  17. I do read within my genre and sadly I have not read anything in quite some time. My thinking goes the same line as the woman you discussed. As much as I love insight I’m terribly frightened of subconsciously stealing another’s work or idea. I haven’t read a vampire book in oh so long because of it. I can just imagine taking someone’s unique take on things.

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  18. To piggyback on what others have said, there are no new ideas and Shakespeare did them all first. I absolutely read in my genre (psychological suspense/thrillers), because as others have pointed out, I’m passionate about it and love reading and writing those types of stories. I also read across a lot of other genres and find doing so enhances my writing as well.

    I do, however, understand not wanting to be unduly influenced by the work of another author, especially during the writing process. There are a couple of books on my TBR list that have similar subjects to two of my WIPs. Though I’m dying to read them, I’m going to wait until long after my books are published to do so, as I don’t want to accidentally pick up anything as I finish my own work. But yeah, in general, I think reading in your own genre is pretty important.

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  19. Pingback: If You Were a Book . . . ? | Leigh's Wordsmithery

  20. I read and write in the same genre sometimes. It helps me to come up with my own ideas reading the thoughts of others. It is also a form of research…helps me to understand my characters and their conflicts better! 🙂

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  21. I read in so many genres, and I think all of them make my own poor efforts stronger. Oddly, the critiques I get complain that my books are “too different”, and don’t fit neatly into their genre. Sigh…

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