If you want to write Literary Fiction, read anything else

For literary fiction writers, one of the most common bits of advice goes like this: if you want to write great fiction, you have to read great fiction. Read the masters: Melville, Tolstoy, any Russian, really, especially the ones bent towards depression and despair.

And I agree… up to a point. I studied the greats in school (even if I didn’t always finish them), and I will continue to read and reread the classics. They’re still around for a reason, after all.

But I heard a contrary piece of advice for writers (I’m kind of an advice junkie) that I liked. It goes like this: Whatever you want to write, read anything else but that. If you want to write like Hemingway, read a harlequin, read fifty shades of grey, read Dale Carnegie, read Cosmo magazine.

Because if you want to write a novel like Tolstoy and capture what it’s like to live in your time, then it helps to get in touch with your culture. You have to read what everyone else is reading. You have to relate to others and their tastes or else you’ll just write a novel about people who like to read novels. And that just sounds like masturbation to me.

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