Writing Tips

9 Famous Authors Explain Why You Need to Read Shitty Books

January 18, 2017

Last week, I told you to write your shitty novel. This week, I’m asking you to read shitty novels – as many as you can get your hands on.

Anyone who thinks writers should only read “the greats” to avoid contamination is either:

A. Boring
B. Racist
C. Bitter
D. Fifteen years old
E. All the above

You don’t have to read books just because they’re popular. But I promise you will become a better writer the day you stop avoiding them.
Books become popular for a reason. Steal their tricks.

Usually, at least part of that reason is a massive marketing budget. Yet even the most well-publicized book won’t succeed if the author can’t connect with readers. Find out how she does it.

"There's truth even in tainted knowledge if one reads carefully." - N K Jemisin

Twilight is a garbage book, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun to read.

Bella is a successful protagonist because she lacks personality. She’s a blank space for the reader to occupy. Readers get catharsis without the need to pause for backstory or character development.

Does that mean you shouldn’t give your protagonist depth? Of course not. It does mean you should trust your readers’ desire to empathize with your protagonist. Don’t try to twist their arms. Let it happen naturally.

"There are more valuable things in life than safety and comfort. Learn. You owe it to yourself." - Nnedi Okorafor

Or do the opposite.

Part of what made 50 Shades of Grey resonate with so many middle-aged women is a cultural fear of women’s sexual agency. That doesn’t make me want to write rape fantasies.

It makes me want to write women characters who terrify the people who loved 50 Shades of Grey, and it tells me how to do it.

(This is where I’d cite some examples from popular male authors, but mostly what they’ve taught me is that I don’t care about explosions and deeply-interesting man pain.)

9 Famous Authors on Reading Broadly

“Read. Read. Read. Just don’t read one type of book. Read different books by various authors so that you develop different styles.” — R.L. Stine

“The only important thing in a book is the meaning that it has for you.” — W Somerset Maugham

“There’s truth even in tainted knowledge if one reads carefully.” — N K Jemisin (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms)

“Books shouldn’t be daunting, they should be funny, exciting and wonderful; and learning to be a reader gives a terrific advantage.” — Roald Dahl

“We want to get closer to the heart of things, and sometimes even a few good sentences contained in an otherwise unexceptional book can crystallize vague feelings, fleeting physical sensations, or, sometimes, profound epiphanies.” — Maureen Corrigan

“There are more valuable things in life than safety and comfort. Learn. You owe it to yourself.” — Nnedi Okorafor (Akata Witch)

“Read a thousand books, and your words will flow like a river.” — Lisa See (Snow Flower and the Secret Fan)

“We don’t need a list of rights and wrongs, tables of dos and don’ts: we need books, time, and silence. Thou shalt not is soon forgotten, but Once upon a time lasts forever.” — Philip Pullman (via FlavorWire)

"Read. Read. Read. Read everything - trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it." - William Faulkner

“Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it.” — William Faulkner (via ShortList)

Have Harlequin Romances, Star Trek serials, or Dan Brown influenced your writing? Tell me in the comments.

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