Monday, September 26, 2016

Writing Advice Examined: Should You Write What You Love To Read?

Stephanie Morrill is the creator of and the author of several young adult novels, including the historical mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street, which releases in February 2017. Despite loving cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, Stephanie would have been a terrible flapper because she can’t do the Charleston and looks awful with bobbed hair. She and her near-constant ponytail live in Kansas City with her husband and three kids. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

A few years ago, I was wholeheartedly pursuing publication of my contemporary YA novels, and it felt like running on a treadmill. I worked and worked and worked, but my energy never amounted to anything other than a pile of manuscripts that no one in the industry wanted to publish.

At a conference, when I received a particularly hard face-to-face rejection, and then another one just a few hours later, my agent suggested we step outside for a bit.

We went out to the deck by the pool. I didn't shed any tears, but I know I looked terrible. We talked for a few minutes about this dead end we had reached, and that some kind of change needed to be made.

After rehashing how my appointments had gone and grasping at some ideas of where else we could pitch, my agent leaned back in her seat and asked, "What do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors?"

I knew immediately she was looking for ideas of what other genres I might enjoy writing. Because not only is it advice new writers hear a lot—"you should write what you love to read"but it's also how a lot of writers get their start. Either they don't see books they want on the shelves, and they decide to write them for themselves, or they read books in a genre they love and decide that they want to do the same thing.

So, is it good advice to look at what you love to read, and consider writing the same type of books? Yes, but...

Don't limit your thinking to where a book is shelved:

I do think there's value in examining what sparks your interest as a reader and then applying it to your writing, but I don't think we need to limit ourselves when it comes to genre.

If you only read one kind of genre, then yes, that's probably the right fit for you. But what about someone hodgepodgy like me? I love Jane Austen. Sarah Dessen, The Scorpio Races, The Help, 11/22/63, the Harry Potter series, and the Heist Society novels.

What do you do then? While Harry Potter is high up there on my list of favorites, and while I haven't yet had a desire to write fantasy, there are still elements of those stories that I connect with as a reader and a writer. That's a valuable thing to take notice of.

Don't be afraid to try something different OR admit if it's not your thing:

For a while I tried writing novels for adults. I've read and enjoyed lots of novels for adults, and I happen to be an adult, so it seemed like this would be a natural fit. 

But I really struggled to come up with an idea. I would send several at a time to my agent and she would call me and say, "These all sound like young adult books." So I would try again.

I even tried writing the most promising one of my ideas, and I just got annoyed with my character. I wanted to tell her, "Hey, you are a grown woman, and you can take control of this situation but you're choosing not to. Just stop being stupid." 

This was clearly not a good fit.

You may love reading steampunk or epic fantasy or cozy mysteries, but those genres still may not float your writer's boat. There's no shame in trying several genres or in admitting that while you may love reading a certain type of book, writing them isn't your thing.

And don't expect to write it well just because you like reading them.

You have great taste in books, and you've read every YA regency mystery novel you can get your hands on. Now you want to write your own. 

This is where a lot of writers start. The struggle is that as a beginner, you are not yet able to create the kind of story that you're used to enjoying. It's kinda like when you grow up eating amazing food prepared by someone else, and then you try to cook for yourself for the first time. Just because you enjoy eating food doesn't make you a natural with preparing it, right?

Don't misunderstand meit's a huge advantage to have read a ton of books in the genre you're writing. Because I had read lots of mysteries before writing my first one, I was able to pinpoint what wasn't working. But it was rather disheartening to work so hard on a story, read it for the first time, and realize, "Nope. Still have lots of work to do."

If you're struggling with what kind of stories you want to write, I think it's a great idea to consider your favorite books. Maybe they're all different genres, but what kind of common elements can you find in them? What kind of style are they written in? Who are your favorite characters in those stories, and why do you like them? Do they have similar themes? How did you feel when you finished them for the first time? 

I think it would be super fun to see some of your lists! If you'd like, please share some of your favorite books and how the stories you write are similar.


  1. Currently some of my favorite books are The Humming Room by Ellen Potter (it's a modern retelling of The Secret Garden), the Story Thieves series by James Riley (these books were written for people who love to read. They're super fun and he plays with different genres in each book) and right now I'm reading through the Ranger's Apprentice books and they're steadily growing to be one of my favorite series.
    And while I write fantasy I find that when I'm reading and love a book, I focus more on deconstructing character interactions or how the author pulled off an amazing plot twist, and less on genre.
    Thank you so much for sharing!


    1. Fascinating, Deborah! Good book recommendations too :)

    2. I LOVE THE STORY THIEVES!!! That's such a good series!

    3. I know! I can't wait for the third book to come out! So. . . far. . . away. . .


  2. Hi, Mrs. Morrill! I didn't realize until recently that I do write what I have always loved to read. At the time I started, though, I began writing for one of the reasons you listed: I didn't see a book that was absolutely right for me, so I decided to create one. As it turns out, I have always loved speculative fiction; I just never heard it called that. The thing that was missing from all those books I read, though, was the foundation of a Christian faith (at that point, I had not discovered Mrs. Williamson's books yet). In my case, I wrote what I wanted to read, and because it is speculative fiction, I could create whatever bizarre storyworld I wanted to set it in. I am very happy with my genre...especially now that I know what genre it is! Thanks for the article, Mrs. Morrill!

    1. That's so fun to hear, Olivia! I think that's a great reason to start writing. We are our story's first reader, and it's important that we're happy!

  3. Ok I'm going to bring up Tolkien again...sorry! Before I ready LOTR I wrote lots of short contemporary stories that never made it past 10k and were always pretty awful. Then I got into fantasy and tried writing that instead. And I loved it! I suppose the problem with writing what you love to read is making sure not to replicate your favourite books--that will always be a danger. But I think the key is just finding something you ENJOY writing, and then you're definitely on the right track :)

  4. Some of my favorite books include the name of the wind, wheel of time, lotr, and inkheart. I have never actually finished a novel but have tried historical fiction and fantasy. I definitely like fantasy best to read.

  5. I've heard that when you're querying it's good to drop a few names of similar titles to your own novel. While I have books/authors that I look up to and inspire me, I don't feel any of them are an appropriate comparison. Do you have advice for someone in my position? I've definitely kept an eye out for things in the genre/niche that my stories generally fall into, but so far I've had little luck.


  6. Some of my favorite books are the False Prince, Everlost, and anything by Jonathan Auxier. While I mostly read fantasy, I do switch up genres every so often. And I think every story I've at least plotted had some type of fantasy element in it. so all in all, I adore fantasy

    And I think it's a good idea to write what you read, but more importantly write what you want to read (I started writing three years ago because I was mad that a book series ended and I wanted my own story that I could do whatever I want with). Nice post!

  7. The Seven Realms by Cinda Williams Chima, Knight and Rogue novels by Hilari Bell, and Gates of Threads and Stones novels by Lori M. Lee all have a similar feel to what I love to write.

    1. The Heist Society is also similar to what I write (like with Seven Realms novels and Knight and Rogue novels ) in that I prefer less.... law abiding citizens for MCs.

  8. I like to think my writing is a mixture of Jane Austen in style and wit and Flannery O'Connor in form and the fact that our stories are often set in the South and feature odd, funny situations.

  9. Masterful characters balanced in a relatable world with lessons to teach seems to be what attracts me to a book upon reflection. Some of my favorites are The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska Orczy, An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott, If I Run by Terri Blackstock, A Time to Die by Nadine Brandes, and I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. They all share those traits in common.

    In response to whether you should write what you enjoy reading, I would have to agree and say not necessarily. I am soon to publish a novel in the Christian Contemporary genre. I read that genre a lot when I was younger and now stick mostly with Amish novels or classics (so not contemporary) because most Christian Contemp bothers me now in some way or another. Thus, I NEVER thought I'd write it. But here I am, and not only did I really love the genre as my first novel, but my beta readers have loved it, and I'm considering a series. So definitely don't let genre confine you :)

    Thanks for the great post!

  10. This is still my hardest thing: What genre do I write? I know I love short stories... But I do have a few novel ideas. But I have books in every genre. But what do they all have in common? They are all about real people trying to deal with real things. I like to deal with deep and interesting things. I want to allow my readers to enjoy themselves, laugh, think, and be ready to do things to change the world about them... to embrace reality by being encouraged through a bit of fiction. If only I could figure out my audience and genre, lol :)