Reading as a writer changes us, both as writers and readers. When I first started writing (but a decade before I was published), I would read and re-read my favorite author to try to get a feel for her rhythm in pacing, sentence length, paragraph length, and chapter length, but the reading and re-reading wasn't active enough, so I started typing out the first 3 chapters of her book to try to get a sense of her pacing at the opening of a novel. Since I'm a fast typist, I started to get an intuitive feel for her natural patterns. She was an historical writer, and at the time I thought that's where my interest lay, and it helped me in big ways and small. I still have a natural feel for chapter length, scene length, and how to start a book.
What I was doing wasn't mimicry, but more like a painter who learns the brush strokes and techniques of a master painter before s/he is ready to paint her/his own masterpiece.
When I went into my MFA program, we had to read and write a critical response on THREE books each month (for two years). At the time, I was so exhausted, I didn't see what I was learning until it was over, but it taught me to read critically and in such a way that it's hard to turn off. I honestly don't want to read every text critically. Sometimes, I want to shut off the writer-mode and enjoy a good book in the same way I enjoy Rom-Com and Action Adventure movies. I just want to enjoy them for what they are. They're not critically acclaimed think pieces, but they give me some much needed laughter and relief from life stresses.
Years after I started the writing process, I finally acknowledged that I wasn't an historical writer. I wanted to be, and I still enjoy reading them, but I don't have the right voice and tone for historical, and it took years of trial and error to find my true genre home. I still read widely, as I did when I worked for the library, in nearly every genre (except horror...because I would never sleep if I did). When I've gone through several disappointing "new" books, I often turn to my favorite authors and re-read novels that I enjoyed, but when I'm reading them for the second time, that little writer voice in my head comes out and starts intruding on my reading time. I catch myself mentally editing, or noticing that particular writer's tic. And it dampens my reading pleasure.
I've learned my writing craft--honed my writer's toolkit--by reading and re-reading books and passages, but when it comes time to simply read, I often have to find a new book so I can read purely for enjoyment. Eventually, I'll get around to thinking about the book as a writer, but sometimes, a writer simply needs to turn off the criticism and enjoy the book for what it is.
In what ways has reading as a writer changed you as a writer? As a reader? And is that a good thing, or bad?
Happy Writer Wednesday. I'm cross posting a video this week as I'm on the road taking my daughter to college (cue crocodile tears). See my video and follow up with the link below for questions you can ask when you're critiquing or being critiqued.
Late post today as--after a full day of yucky chores getting the kids ready for back to school (what happened to starting after Labor Day?)--I headed to the gym. Not out of strong desire, but rather my son is on a M/W/F schedule, and I don't want to be "that mom" who drops and goes. So I go in. And if I go in, then I should probably, you know, work out.
Most of my life, I've had a love/hate relationship with running. I like it--after I've done it, but getting started is like pulling the cord on a lawnmower that's been sitting in the garage for 8 months. I know this about myself, so I always give myself a bailout. I start running, and after 15 minutes, if I really don't want to continue, I can bail. Typically, that 15 minutes is enough for some feel good hormones to kick in and I can finish the workout. I can't think of a single time when I started that 15 minutes and bailed, but that little white lie, "you can quit" gets me started every single time. I have to lie to myself for my own good.
Writing is often like that.
There are writing days when we really, really, really don't want to write. <fill in your favorite "reason" that today is a bad day to write>
Life puts demands on our time. Kids, family, day job, spouse, pets, and all we really want is a dose of Netflix and a glass of wine. When those days happen, I give myself the same bailout opportunity. IF I start writing, and after 15 minutes I still want to binge watch Dexter, fine. But I have to write for the full 15 minutes first. And like running, once I start writing, the endorphins kick in and I keep going. I just need to lie to myself to get started.
So when you have one of those days, <fill in your favorite "reason" that today is a bad day to write>, you only have to do one thing.
You guessed it. Lie. Tell yourself that you only have to write for 15 minutes today. I'm guessing that once you start, you won't want to quit after 15 minutes. :)
Happy Wednesday, writers!
This is probably the most controversial part of my RWA conference round-up, so I thought I'd put it first. :)
While at RWA, during the Rita ceremony (the Rita's are the romance industry awards), Suzanne Brockman gave a speech that polarized and edified at the same time. (minute :56 if it doesn't autostart in the right place).
And this additional acceptance speech by Kristin Hannah (I saved this at 1:53. I tried to get it to auto start there, but I'm not sure that translated).
Brockman had very specific and personal complaints about the way in which we shy away from diverse characters in the romance writing industry, as did Rita winner Kristin Hannah (see 1:53 in the video).
I do value diversity and believe we have to work to create a diverse environment in our real world and our writing world. In addition to my teaching at SNHU, I also teach at a community college. We deal with some of these same issues, so I start every semester with the video below. I want my students to know my expectations for the ways in which we treat each other based on "labels" that cannot begin to define a person.
Is there a connection between our lives and the story we are writing?
In an obvious sense yes. And no. Yes, of course it revolves around the writer's experience, but no, it is not a poorly disguised autobiography. I'm reading The Hidden Machinery by Margot Livesey, a gift from my MFA mentor. In the first essay, she discusses both Henry James and E.M. Forester. Forester, she claims, could have finished A Passage to India when he first started the book in 1913. The pieces were all in place, he had four novels under his belt, so he had the skills, but Forester was never happy with it. Until he was.
Why did this novel take Forester longer?
"He needed certain things to happen--a war, a massacre, the discovery of his own sexual nature and of how he too could be corrupted by the white man's power in India--before he knew where the [book] was going." --M. Livesey
He had to mature, essentially, to the point where the novel made sense. He first had to experience the things which would became central to the story.
The writer's life informs and reforms the writing. I could only write Untouchable after going through a hellish divorce. I have a novel in a drawer that languished, waiting for me to get over the hurdle at the first turning point. And since I didn't get through the barrier in my life, the character failed to thrive.
"Both inner and outer events were required before he could write [the] novel."
It's not just physical events, like Forester's return trip to India. It's internal change in the mind and spirit of the writer that impact the writing. I've written eight novels. Seven are published and they are the result of who I was and what I believed at the time they were written. But that one book that's not yet published makes me wonder.
Where do I need to be, what do I need to experience, what must I observe before the book is ready for birth?
What inner or outer events must take place before I feel satisfied with this book? And can I nudge those events into place faster so I can finish it already?
I haven't gotten that far in Livesey's book, but I'm guessing that no, I can't shove myself into the fire to force the inspiration. Instead, I must keep writing and writing, putting in my time and wallowing in the characters, before those internal and external events converge.
Short stories to develop a character for a novel? To bring about a serial? To reach readers?
Good idea or not?
Writers, what say you?
Between my last MFA Residency (July 27-Aug 6) and the start of the new semester (Aug 29), I had big plans to write "lots." Yep, my plan was definitive. Lots. After all, I'm used to writing significant amounts in the found spaces of my life. I wrote 6 of my 7 novels while working multiple jobs and studying/writing for my Master of Fine Arts, so 3 weeks in limbo sounded like a finished novel. Right?
Ha. We plan and the writing gods laugh.
First, I had surgery to remove kidney stones (I'm still recovering, but in denial).
Second, I needed a break. The past two years were an amazing feat and I'm thrilled that my first book published in July 2015 has turned into two book series and seven novels, but my creative well is bone dry. I couldn't plot my way out of a B-rated horror movie right now.
Third, I had business stuff, like writing some nonfiction articles and teaching my novel writing class (if you guys/gals are reading this, I love you and I do in fact enjoy it), but that's one more "to-do" that isn't writing.
And the new semester starts Monday. 😲 Somehow I lost 3 weeks and I'll never get them back! I don't feel well rested, I didn't get a suntan or a vacation, and I didn't catch up with housecleaning (my desk is worse than normal peeps!).
I have 3 days until the new semester begins. I'll teach a full load of 6 classes. I'm thankful. I love my students and my kids like to eat, so it's a win-win situation, but... writing? New plan.
It reminded me that I didn't write those last six books with "a lot" of spare time. I wrote it in the spaces of an already crowded life. I used writing sprints, 30-40 minutes at a time to write one sentence, page, scene, or chapter at a time.
In a way, I feel as if my lost time was a waste, but maybe it was good for me to realize that excessive amounts of time actually lead me to excessive amounts of internet. I work best when I'm rushed, pressured like a lump of coal turning into a diamond.
How do you work best?
10 meetings, 1 novel writing class. 21C Writers this one is all for you. Here's the plan:
Writer Reference (Blogroll)
Genre by any other name
He for She
A Little is Enough
Writing 17 minutes at a time
The Unlisted List:
The best women nonfiction writers.
Aubrey Hirsh' Beginner's Guide to publishing with format templates and more
Agent Query 15 posts on writing query ltrs
Platform Action Plan
Writer, college professor, lover of story, fan of all things bookish. Plus chocolate, because who doesn't love chocolate.