Write well. Write often. Edit wisely.
The new year often brings determination to tackle new tasks, to develop new habits and eliminate bad ones.
Writers making a New Year’s resolution often commit to write X number of words per day or week, complete a scene a day or sit writing at their desks for a set number of hours each day, promise to finish a draft, promise to begin a new story, or even declare that they will submit to five agents every week until one of those agents signs them.
Other writers join writing groups for the first time or sign up for classes in fiction or grammar. Some commit to a course of study on their own, determined to delve deep into the fiction elements and hone their skills.
But my challenge for you this year (at least here at the beginning of the year) has nothing to do with writing and everything to do with reading.
I’m willing to bet that you’re a reader, someone who has a favorite genre or two and who is thrilled when a favorite author publishes a new book.
You’re probably energized by reading, even if you’re up until two or three finishing a book.
And not being able to relax with a good book for an extended period of time may even make you cranky
So, reader, I want to challenge you to tackle an endeavor you already enjoy.
I challenge you not to read more, but to read more broadly.
Set yourself a goal to read at least a dozen books in 2015 in genres that you don’t normally read. That’s just one book per month. Read a handful of different genres or choose just one or two and learn the peculiarities and rhythms and strengths of genres you’re unfamiliar with (or genres you’re convinced that you don’t like).
Read romance if you’ve never done so before (every story is not the same). Read horror if you’ve always turned up your nose at it (it’s not all gory). Read three or four positively reviewed (or classic) literary novels that you’ve stubbornly refused to read.
Go for futuristic sci-fi if you typically read historicals or try paranormals if you usually read westerns.
Read something different, at least 12 books—more if you’re game—that you wouldn’t normally read.
This is a challenge, so it may be tough. You may have trouble getting through one or two of your choices. Push in a little harder. If you still can’t finish a book, try something else. You’ve got a year; can you read 12 books from outside your comfort zone in a year?
I challenge you to try. I encourage you to stay with the challenge until you meet or exceed your goal. I’ll be pulling for you to not only finish the challenge, but to discover a new genre or author to love.
Why such a challenge? Why encourage you to attempt something that some will find terrifically easy to complete and others will struggle to get through?
I’m suggesting this challenge for the busy writer and editor as a means of broadening your interests and opening your eyes to the variety of writing styles and genres, plot lines and characters, that are available for our reading pleasure.
It’s so very easy to read the same authors and genres, the same settings and eras. It’s easy to dig in with the familiar until we’ve dug down so far, we’re living in a rut. Or deeper still, in a trench that’s hard to escape. A trench that limits or distorts our view or keeps us from seeing what else surrounds us.
Read as a means of getting out of that rut. Ruts can be comfortable, of course they can. But new and different can be exciting. And energizing. And simply fun. And the new and unfamiliar can tease you with ideas that the same old, same old can never provoke.
Reading in new genres can open our eyes to knowledge and experiences we can’t find in other genres. Unfamiliar genres can challenge our viewpoints and opinions. Reading in unfamiliar genres can simply keep us from growing closed-in on ourselves and our own thoughts and prejudices.
Reading in new genres can keep us from going stale, from becoming so set in our ways that we can’t appreciate anything that departs from the familiar.
We can all learn from genres we’re not familiar with—I challenge you to learn something new about the craft of fiction writing simply from reading novels you typically wouldn’t read.
Read something new this year, keeping in mind that new for you may mean the classics.
Read a few novels from a bestseller list. I’m not asking you to tackle the top 100 books of all time, just a dozen (or more if you want a bigger challenge).
Read two or three of the classics you couldn’t finish in high school.
Read an author from a country different from yours.
If you want to commit to read a dozen books outside of your favorite genres and need accountability, leave a note in the comments. We can revisit this article throughout the year to see how you’re doing. (Yes, a public declaration does help us to complete our pledges.)
If you want to tell us what you’ve read (or what you plan to read) and whether or not you enjoyed a particular book, that would be great too. Maybe you can recommend a book that surprises you.
Need a list of genres to choose from? I’ve included a list of the most common genres. Most genres have multiple sub-genres, so if you’re looking for something such as paranormal mysteries or time-travel historicals, you’ll be able to find plenty of offerings in that category. For more on the genres and sub-genres, check out the Breakdown of Fiction Genres.
I hope you’re accept this challenge and see it through. More than that, I hope you learn something new about writing or about the fiction elements, maybe about ways to appeal to the reader. I hope you’ll push yourself enough that by the end of 2015, you’ll be a stronger writer and/or editor, with a wider repertoire of skills and a greater appreciation for a variety of fiction genres.
Here’s to a productive, and creative, 2015.