One of the beautiful things about writing is that it doesn't require a license, a special degree, a certification, or a secret handshake to do it. Anyone can pick up a pen or sit down at a computer and start. Does that mean what the person writes is good? Not necessarily, but it doesn't automatically mean it's bad. It's not like me walking into a hospital and picking up a scalpel to try my hand at surgery--guaranteed failure. We each have a chance at succeeding when we sit down to write. However, as we all know, many times we fail. It's hard. Really hard.
So what do we do to improve? We read writing books and blogs, join critique groups, attend workshops, write our butts off, and basically become information whores. But what is sometimes overlooked is the fact that we should be reading extensively as well, particularly in our home genre. Not doing so is like walking into a foreign country and not speaking the language. Sure, you may be able to figure out how to order that chicken dish you want using hand motions or something, but you may end up with fried pig entrails instead.
Some argue that you don't have to read in your genre because that will keep your mind clear and prevent you from being derivative. Heck, you can be truly creative, right? BUT, if you don't know the expectations of readers in that genre or don't know what's selling, you may create something that no one wants. Or, more likely, you'll create something that's already been done to death, but you don't realize it because you haven't read those books.
So what has been suggested is that you read a hundred books in your genre before you write one. That number seems daunting (and I don't think you need to stop writing until you finish), but it's like getting a masters degree in your genre. Emily Cross (in the spirit of the Fill-In-The-Gaps challenge) has created The Basics Challenge. This challenge requires you to make a list of a hundred books you want/need to read in your genre, then giving yourself five years to get through them.
I haven't officially signed up because I'd have to come up with a list first, but I'm thinking this is a great idea. I have a long list of YA I've read, so I've probably taken a big chunk out of that hundred already, although there is room for more. (Update: I just made a list of my YA off the top of my head, and I've read 65.) However, with romance, I used to stick strictly to romantic suspense, so I have huge gaps in contemporary and historical romance. So I'm going to think about putting together a list. And all you romance readers, I'm asking for your help--tell me what I MUST read if I plan to make a career in romance writing.
If you're interested in joining this challenge, visit The Basics Challenge website. Here are some lists I found online in different genres to get you to thinking of books to add to your list. Keep in mind, every list is subjective. You need to make a list that fits you. I would suggest including classics of your genre along with what is selling now. (For instance, YA has changed drastically in the last ten years, so don't base your knowledge just on what you read when you were a teen.)
And I bought this at the used bookstore and it has been a wealth of suggestions for me in all genres. I've enjoyed every recommendation so far.
So what do you think of the "read 100, write one" philosophy? Does the basics challenge interest you? Think you could go the distance? And all you romance readers, what book do I just HAVE to read (can be any subgenre of romance)?
**Today's Theme Song**
"The Distance" - Cake
(player in sidebar--go ahead, take a listen.)