Writing tips: Write what you want to read

Updated Thursday 21st December 2006

Advice on becoming a writer: write what you want to read, part of the BBC/OU's Writing Lab

This may seem obvious, but you would be surprised how many people set out to write a best-selling romance – because they think (wrongly) that it will be easier – when all they ever read are thrillers. Similarly, lots of people decide to write short stories – because… well, because they’re short – when they never, in fact, read any modern short stories. The same goes for poetry – most poems are even shorter than short stories, and people tend to look back fondly on the poems they learned in school, not what is currently being published.

With this in mind, try the following exercise, which should take no longer than half an hour – depending on the size of your book collection. (If films or plays are what interest you, then try the same exercise with your Video/DVD collection.)

Down the left hand side of sheet of A4 paper list all the types of book you can think of (such as Detective Thrillers, Romances, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Literary Fiction, Biography, Short Stories, Poetry Collections, Non-Fiction etc).

Now go through your bookshelves and make a note of how many books you own in each category. Only record those books that you yourself have read or intend to read. (If you get most of your books from the library, this could take longer. You could try keeping a similar record over a few weeks, or else try to create your borrowings from memory. Be as honest as you can.)

Compare the results with your expectations. What are the top three types of book on your shelves? Is the type of book you wanted to write one of them? Is it number one? Did other types of book come out higher? Did you come across a type of book that wasn’t on your original list?

If there is one outright winner, and that’s what you’ve always wanted to write, then nothing’s been lost, but if you’re at all surprised at what you have discovered – and many people often are – then you’ve learned something very important indeed, and may have saved yourself a lot of time and frustration.

All genres of fiction – in fact, all different types of writing – have their own conventions: the characteristic elements that mark them out as Romances or Science Fantasy or Detective stories. Why struggle with an unfamiliar genre, when you’re perfectly at home with the conventions of another?

You can also download these tips and tasks in PDF format: 'Write what you want to read' PDF file.

Download all the tips and tasks: Get Writing zipped file (1.6 MB)

 

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?

Other content you may like

OpenLearn Live: 20th April 2016 Creative commons image Icon Dutch National Archive under Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 license video icon

History & The Arts 

OpenLearn Live: 20th April 2016

The book that captured civilisation in collapse. Then more free learning through the day.

Video
5 mins
Essay and report writing skills Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission free course icon Level 1 icon

Education & Development 

Essay and report writing skills

Writing reports and assignments can be a daunting prospect. Learn how to interpret questions and how to plan, structure and write your assignment or report. This free course, Essay and report writing skills, is designed to help you develop the skills you need to write effectively for academic purposes.

Free course
15 hrs
National Storytelling Week Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Connie Larson | Dreamstime.com article icon

TV, Radio & Events 

National Storytelling Week

Are you a natural storyteller or do you fancy writing a novel? Look no further than here where we have an abundance of free resources for National Storytelling Week.

Article
Ian McMillan's Writing Lab: Get writing: Tips and advice Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC article icon

History & The Arts 

Ian McMillan's Writing Lab: Get writing: Tips and advice

From getting inspiration to getting published - take your writing to the next level with our tips and advice.

Article
Reading in and out of the nursery Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: The Open University video icon

History & The Arts 

Reading in and out of the nursery

Learn how Victorian children would have enjoyed an expensive book like Edward Lear's collections of nonsense verse.

Video
5 mins
Why I'd say yes, yes, yes to the Bad Sex award Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Dreamstime article icon

History & The Arts 

Why I'd say yes, yes, yes to the Bad Sex award

Is there a magic ingredient to writing good sex scenes?

Article
So you've written your novel, what now? Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Sabri Deniz Kizil | Dreamstime.com article icon

History & The Arts 

So you've written your novel, what now?

Literary agent Joanna Swainson shares her top five tips for hooking an agent. 

Article
Ten top tips for writing a novel Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Dreamstime article icon

History & The Arts 

Ten top tips for writing a novel

Got a novel bursting to get out? These tips from novelist and lecturer Sally O'Reilly may surprise you...

Article
Reading and child development: Research findings: The background Creative commons image Icon Walters Art Museum Illuminated Manuscripts under CC-BY-NC-SA licence under Creative-Commons license article icon

Education & Development 

Reading and child development: Research findings: The background

Humans appear to be the only species that can record their communication - and this is a very powerful ability.

Article