Being a promiscuous reader: Brisbane Writers Festival

Stack of books with spines open

Image source: Resource Freak

“I’m a very promiscuous reader; I believe we should take all kinds of genres to bed with us.” ― Lauren Beukes

Lauren Beukes

Lauren Beukes
(pronounced something like “Beeyohkes”)
Image source: The Audio Bookstore

Today I went to my first Brisbane Writers Festival session and thoroughly enjoyed it!  Lauren Beukes, South African author of science fiction and crime noir novels, says we should read everything we can get our hands on, no matter what genre we write for ourselves.  Here’s why…

'Zoo City' by Lauren Beukes (2010)

‘Zoo City’ by Lauren Beukes (2010)

One of her best science fiction novels, Zoo City is about criminals who have symbiotically-linked animals for pets, causing them to be ostracised from the community and live in criminal ghettos.  This segregation was inspired by historical accounts of apartheid in South Africa.  Her varied reading and life experiences all went together into inspiring and creating something altogether different that nevertheless conjured many of the same themes.

“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. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.” ― William Faulkner 

William Faulkner

William Faulkner
Image source: Barcelona Review

I met with a new client on Tuesday (we’re keeping her a secret until the book hits the shelves, sorry!).  After talking about her own (inspirational and God-wrought) story, she exclaimed, “I just keep getting so distracted reading all these other great books!” She asked how one finds the balance between reading and writing – a difficult thing, especially if you’re a pantser who may be prone to procrastination in your writing.

I follow the Stephen King train of thought – if you are to write, you must first read.

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” ― Stephen King

Stephen King Image source: British Fantasy Society

Stephen King
Image source: British Fantasy Society

In uni, we were forced to read a broad cross-section of work while writing our own short stories, poems, and novels at the same time.  There was no gap, no distance between the two, and we were better off for it.  I read haikus and the poetry of Naruda while I wrote children’s stories.  I read the horrors of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and it heavily influenced how I later wrote about a missionary surgeon in East Africa and their experience of burn-out.  I read The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles while writing a YA novel, and it changed how I framed the story, because I was so intrigued by the style of metafiction used.

But when to stop reading and start writing?

“The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.” —Samuel Johnson

Samuel Johnson, a portrait by Joshua Reynolds from Creative Commons

Samuel Johnson, a portrait by Joshua Reynolds from Creative Commons

Well, for example, in writing this blog post, I thought I’d better read first what others had said about the topic.  But after opening up twenty new tabs of blog posts and journal articles to read (yes, I’m a true lover of research!), I read five in full, then made myself close fifteen of them after no more than a brief skim.

When you’re writing, there is definitely such a thing as too much reading.  It can kill your creativity if you look outside and find yourself thinking, “Everything about my topic has already been written.  What more could I possibly add?”

But that’s a lie!  There is always more to be written; there is your truth, which is very different to my truth or any other writer’s truth.

How much is too much?  I would have to say that to improve your writing, you should read more than you write, but to write your writing, you should write more than you read.  Thoroughly unhelpful?  You’re very welcome.

Now, to get back to that story you were working on before you read this post…

Are you a promiscuous reader, or do you stick to your favourite, tried and true, classic genres?

Come along to this week’s Brisbane Writers Festival!  Join any of the free Brisbane Writers Festival sessions at your local libraries (BWF in the ‘Burbs), or join us at the State Library for the incredible paid ticket sessions.  Look me up; I’ll be at many of the sessions, drinking in more knowledge, hearing more stories, finding more inspiration!

29 Reading - BWF hero image 123032_home_hero


This post was written by TJ Withers-Ryan © 2014. Reblogging is highly encouraged as long as you credit me as the author.

3 thoughts on “Being a promiscuous reader: Brisbane Writers Festival

  1. Hi sweetie,

    I’ve just browsed your website quite thoroughly and have to tell you how impressed I am.

    I love your most recent post (promiscuous reader). A delightful read.

    You are made for this – writing and editing. You are very talented and insightful – a great combination!

    Love you.


    0448 228 322


  2. Wow that was strange. I just wrote an really long comment but after
    I clicked submit my comment didn’t show up.
    Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Anyhow, just
    wanted to say excellent blog!


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