Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Learn from Other Writers

by Linda Gilden @LindaGilden

“Read widely in the genre that you want to write!” 

I have heard this over and over in the last thirty years. But until recently I didn’t fully understand what that meant.

I have always been a nonfiction writer. I read lots of nonfiction and enjoyed it. But often I put down my book and wondered what exactly the lesson was from my reading. I studied the techniques of writers I admired and highlighted and marked as I read. What was I missing?


But then I decided to try my hand at writing fiction. A story began to develop in my mind and little by little the plot took shape. Once again I decided I would put the challenge to the test and read in my new genre – fiction. I wanted to learn from the masters. My targeted genre was romantic suspense so I read lots of books in that genre. Lynette Eason, Lynn Blackburn, Anne Greene, Andrew Huff, Susan Sleeman, James Hannibal, and DiAnn Mills became some of my favorites and are all prolific novelists.


Within the pages of the books I read was a gold mine. I finally caught on as to what writers meant when they suggested I read books in the genre I wanted to write. Not only did the pages come alive, but I saw why. When I began my novel I was armed with having studied techniques others were using that worked.


The first chapter in  my novel was good but just average good. Because I had read many novels in that genre I knew why it was mediocre and I realized what was missing. There was not enough action and suspense and I knew my readers would never stick with me until the end of the book. I analyzed the characters in the books. Why were some incredibly deep and I laughed and cried with them. Others were okay, but here again, I saw what was missing and fixed it.


Now if people ask me about reading in their new genres, my reply is, “Absolutely, there is no better way to learn.”


A few good reasons to study great books in your genre are:

1. You are a word lover. 

To take your writing to the next level you must learn to string your words together so they are beautifully written. When a scene requires suspense and excitement, short, punchy sentences will carry that feeling through. When you have a deep, intimate scene between two characters, your words should be slow and intimate.


On vacation I read a New York Times bestselling author’s book. I sat on the sand reading. I came to a passage that was unbelievably communicative and well done. I stood and started following my sister around. “Listen to this passage. Isn’t the writing amazing?” Not being a writer, she didn’t share my excitement. But It was a turning point for me as I began to see the difference in good writing and not-so-good writing.


2. Reading books is a good influence on your own writing.

Several opinions exist on how much influence we take from other writers. You see people listing on book proposals, “My Bible Studies are in the style of Beth Moore. I write just like her.”


We don’t need another Beth Moore. God already made one. However, Beth Moore’s writing is excellent and has many traits that can help us learn to write well and use effectively in our own style. The romantic suspense writers I mentioned each have individual styles I can learn from and apply to my writing. Editors are not looking for copycats. They are looking for creative writers who can take what they learn from others and make it their own.


3.To learn what doesn’t work. 

The opposite of reading to learn all the good things from other writers is that reading widely will help you recognize what doesn’t work. You can avoid beginner mistakes by seeing them used in others’ books. And unless you have read the really good books, how are you going to recognize something that doesn’t work?


Character development is so important, especially in fiction. When you see a  character that acts outside the realm of what is expected of his or her personality, you immediately recognize that the author either doesn’t know or hasn’t developed the backstory fully.

Many more good reasons exist for writers to read widely. Possibly the biggest question for writers to ponder is this—if writers don’t enjoy reading books written by others and learn from those who have gone before them, how can they be sure others would want to read the books they have written?  What books have changed the course of your life? Wouldn’t you want to write a book like that?


Learn from Other Writers - @LindaGilden on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Linda Gilden is an award-winning writer, speaker, editor, certified writing and speaking coach, and personality consultant. Linda is the author of 19 books and over 1000 magazine articles. She enjoys every meeting with editors and knowing we are all part of the same team. Linda’s favorite activity (other than eating folded potato chips) is floating in a pool with a good book surrounded by splashing grandchildren—a great source of writing material!


  1. Yes, Linda, you are right. I recently read something way out side my nonfiction preference: a suspense novel. I was surprised to find I enjoyed it!

  2. i am addicted to reading. I write historical and contemporary romance. I read a lot of the genre. Reading genres I don't write adds to my toolbox for crafting stories. Those great lines, wonderful character development and believable settings should be part of every novel no matter the genre.

  3. I am thankful for other writers who share their experience, wisdom and tips. I am very blessed that God has placed wonderful mentor writers in my life.

  4. Keep up the good reading. It will change your writing!

  5. I write middle grade mysteries and it is so helpful to read other authors in the same genre. While I love grown-up cozy mysteries, I read the others to see how to write for kids.

  6. This is so good, Linda, and so true! It's so important to READ! That's the one thing I often end up telling the young writers I work with. There's no better way to learn the rhythm of story than to read other authors who know their stuff.