Read Fiction


All writers are readers. Not most, not some. ALL.

It’s one of the few times you’ll ever hear me make
an all-encompassing blanket statement.

If you want to write, you have to read.
If you want to write well, you have to read a lot.


Not to learn voice—you have your own, and you don’t want to borrow someone else’s.

Not to get ideas for stories. If you don’t already have more ideas than you can write in a lifetime, you will sooner or later.

Not to know what’s “hot.” If you’re chasing “hot,” go home. What’s hot on the shelves now was the new “hot” two years ago, and now it’s the old “hot,” and the new “hot” is what’s going to be on the shelves in two more years.

You read other writers, and in droves, for two reasons:

1) To find out how they surprise you, and then to go
through their books and figure out how they pulled it off,

2) To know what’s been done, so you don’t do the same damn thing.


I don’t know if it’s true anymore, but at one point in the science fiction genre, every new writer came into the
genre with this great idea. He’d have two young kids survive a spaceship crash on an alien planet, or get lost
on n expedition and get left behind, or wander through a forgotten teleporter into a strange new world …

…and the punchline of the story was that his name was Adam, and her name was Eve.

I think the seven zillion bad variants on this story passing week after week after week over editors’ desks contributed to the high alcoholism rate in SF editors, and to a couple of editor lynch mobs going to new writers’ houses and stealing their typewriters.

(Yes. A joke. Well, the bit about the lynch mobs, anyway.)

There are stories in every genre that have been done to death. And unless you know what they are, when one of them pops into your head, you’re going to think it’s a great idea.

Once you know what’s been done to death, though, you can twist it into a new shape, into something compelling that will knock the socks of an editor because he or she has NOT seen it before.

You will bring joy and radiance to the life of someone you WANT to make happy, and in doing so you will make your sale.

But first, you have to read. All genres, both genders of writers, every fiction aisle in the bookstore, ancient stuff AND old stuff AND new stuff.

When you know what’s out there…

…You know what isn’t. And that, amigo, is pure gold.

Write with joy,


Tell A Writer
Holly Lisle

Novelist, writing-nerd, dissector of thought processes, writing course creator and site owner here, Holly Lisle has a cat that plays fetch and a whole lotta stuff on for both readers and writers.