Does your inner writer need a palate cleanser, too?

Creative brain, from iStockPhoto

Many writers suggest one shouldn’t read in the same genre one’s writing. I’ve never followed that advice, because the SF and Fantasy genre is just too big, too varied, that I don’t need to eschew the genre—it’s difficult to even compare one’s work against another’s. For instance, when I was writing the Major Ariane Kedros series, which I think of as SF with a military flavor, I found books labelled as “Military Science Fiction” still didn’t come close to what I was writing. So I shelved that advice, thinking I marched to a totally different drummer.

The stated reason behind this advice is that the writer may pollute her own ideas with the work of others. But I’ve never had that happen (to my knowledge). What I have noticed, is that my work is most affected by SF/F that I read when I was young—books or stories that were really significant to me at the time and are still burned into my mind with a vibrancy that overwhelms my current bedside reading material. Why do the older works affect me more? I don’t think it was the stories or even the quality of writing, but the receptiveness of my brain at the time.

But what if your own genre is feeling stale?

A while ago, I mentioned that an SF novel had, literally, left a bad taste in my mouth. I went on a reading binge and devoured the few thrillers and cozy mysteries on my reading pile. After reading those books, I became more energized and excited about my own work in progress (WIP). Although I liked that result, I was worried. Did I feel my own genre was getting stale? Maybe my creativity, that magic that comes from those flickering neurons, was fading.

As an experiment, I picked up the next SF in the pile, a quasi-military-SF novel, and started reading it. I do my reading just before I sleep, and I measure my interest in how much sleep I’m willing to forego. Yes! I enjoyed the book and I was still pushing energetically through my own WIP (which bears no resemblance to quasi-military-SF, but that’s par for the course).

We don’t know what stimulates creativity (although it could have been Dan Brown—really!)

Maybe I did need a breather from SF/F, like a genre palate cleanser. Or maybe it was my grumbling about the SF novel that wasn’t to my taste, the one that started all this, that energized my own writing. If I really knew for sure, I should be writing non-fiction advice books and making a lot of bucks. 😉

It also could have been the Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown (yes, really). While it’s set in a different century than my fantasy (and, of course, doesn’t have magic), it has the same backdrop: the Vatican, the Curia, and the Roman Catholic Church. I had been getting worried about how many terms I could throw out and expect readers to understand through later exposition. If I can use the Da Vinci Code as any indication—I can expect readers to pick up things quite handily. So that book might have given me more confidence at the keyboard and I’d never have read it, if I wasn’t attempting to read outside my genre. When in Rome…

Any opinions?

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