Reading as a Writer

We’re writers, but we’re also readers. Some of us were readers long before we had the idea to become writers (raising hand). Some of us read a lot, some a wee bit less (hand creeping up again).

I admit that I read less these days. Partly because life is so busy that by the time I sit to read, I struggle to stay awake for more than a few paragraphs. I used to make Fridays my reading days but that hasn’t been happening as much lately either. But I still read. Every. Day. And I almost always have multiple things going, because there are different types of reading:

  • Reading to learn
  • Reading to keep up
  • Reading for inspiration
  • Reading for the sake of reading

It’s the last two I want to talk about, though.

Most of the books I read these days are in my genre, not only because I’ve always preferred women’s fiction, but also because most of my author friends write women’s fiction.

When I’m working on a project, I seek out books that deal with similar issues to the one I’m working on and authors with similarities in our writing styles. I know there are authors who won’t read anything that resembles the project they’re working on for fear that the other author’s words/voice will seep into theirs. That’s never been a fear for me. I read them for ideas, for inspiration.

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A few years ago, I was reading a review, and while the book sounded interesting, it was this line from the reviewer that stopped me: “I am constantly on the prowl for something that will distract me from the ‘task’ of reading and remind me of the joy of reading.”

I just finished reading a novel that reminded me why I love reading. And why I love writing. Okay, so first, it made me question whether I should give up writing and become a unicorn farmer because the more I read, the more convinced I became that I would never, ever be able to write that well. Which, of course, led to massive panic about the proposal chapters I’d recently submitted to my agent, a slightly-very neurotic email, and a gummy-bear filled pity party.

Yes, dear friends, that’s one of the pitfalls of reading in your genre. There will always be authors who are better than you.

But once I stopped freaking out and relaxed into reading this beautifully written story, I loved every word. I couldn’t put it down and I didn’t want it to end. And as soon as I stopped comparing my inadequacies to her brilliance, I was able to pin-point the thing that had been bugging me about the project I’ve been working on.

When I read a book that takes my breath away, makes me pause to reread a particularly perfect phrase, I copy it into a notebook that’s titled “inspiration.” I refer to that notebook often when I’m writing, not for ideas but as a reminder of my goals.

I’m not an analyzer. I don’t like to dissect books to see what worked and what didn’t. I prefer the books to work their magic – or not, as the case may be. I used to think that made me less of a writer. But like with the writing process, what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. Breaking a novel apart doesn’t work for me. It’s like plotting … I’ve tried it, it stresses me out and strips the enjoyment out of the act.

Writing is my job. It’s not always fun and there are days when even scooping unicorn poop sounds like a better career choice.

My goal is to write the kind of story that reminds a reader of the joy of reading.

So yes, when I read, I take off my writer hat. I read for the love of the written word. And as I’m falling into a world created by someone else, I know that by giving myself permission to enjoy the ride, I’ll come out the other side a better writer.

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orly

Orly Konig is an escapee from the corporate world where she spent roughly sixteen years working in the space industry. Now she spends her days chatting up imaginary friends, drinking entirely too much coffee, and negotiating writing space around two over-fed cats.

She is the founding president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, a member of the Tall Poppy Writers, and a quarterly contributor to the Writers In The Storm and Thinking Through Our Fingers blogs.

Her debut women’s fiction, The Distance Home, released from Forge May, 2017. Carousel Beach will release May 8, 2018.

Connect with Orly online at:
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The Impact of Teachers

I had the same teacher for both fourth and fifth grades. Her name was Mrs. Tapscott. Many details about her are fuzzy after so many years, but I do remember that she had gray, curly hair and a soft, sweet southern accent. But what I remember most is that she read to us every day. She read THE HOBBIT, and A WRINKLE IN TIME, and THE CAY, and MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN. We were mesmerized by every chapter of every book, drawn in by her expressive voice.

Even back then I wanted to become a writer, but thanks to Mrs. Tapscott I became a reader, too. I can’t say that I always chose books of the caliber she favored. I read plenty of Choose Your Own Adventure, and Sweet Valley High, and every Trixie Belden book ever written. Of course I believe that any time a child picks up a book voluntarily it’s a Very Good Thing. But Mrs. Tapscott taught me—taught all of her students—to seek out quality and variety in the books we chose.

A WRINKLE IN TIME, in particular, stuck with me. It changed me. It was strange and new and important.

Now that a movie of this iconic story has finally been produced, I decided it was time to reread the book, to see how it held up after more than 30 years.

Here’s what I discovered: it was just as weird and wonderful, just as impactful, when viewed through the lens of age and experience. I could see how brave and groundbreaking it was, and how truly unique. I still pictured the characters and settings in much the same way as I had as a child. But things I saw more clearly this time around included the rich symbolism and the power of a strong female protagonist who broke the mold of expectation and was utterly herself. And I fell in love all over again with Charles Wallace’s ethereal calmness and Calvin’s kindness and loyalty.

I think the point I’m working toward is that my teacher chose material that challenged us, that made us think and dream and expand our narrow worlds.

Teachers come in many guises. Not all are teachers in the traditional sense. Some are neighbors, or coaches, or church leaders—or writers. As writers we’ve been given a rare gift: the chance to influence minds young and old, to advocate for kindness and justice, to encourage a thirst for knowledge and truth.

I’m grateful to Mrs. Tapscott, and to the other teachers in my life who made a difference: Mrs. Gray, Mrs. Keeling, Mr. Jacobus, Mr. Duffer, and Dr. Tunnell. Thank you. I will do all I can to pass on your incredible passion and purpose.
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Growing up, Christine Hayes loved reading stories about creatures that curl your toes and legends that send a shiver down your spine. Now she loves writing about them, too. Her debut novel, MOTHMAN’S CURSE, was released in June 2015 through Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. Christine seeks inspiration by haunting flea markets and estate sales, searching for cool vintage finds with a story to tell. While earning her degree in music she visited Asia for the first time, and later moved there with her family for several years. She has been addicted to travel ever since. Christine and her clan now live in northern Utah. Find her online at www.christinehayesbooks.com.

Best Books of 2017: A List of Lists (and What to Do with It)

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It’s that time of year when everyone seems to weigh in with a list of Best Books of the Year–from libraries and magazines to authors and bloggers, including our own Rosalyn Eves and Amanda Rawson Hill. I’ll admit, I’d planned to post my own list today, and it included Long Way Down, The 57 Bus, Orphan Island, and Clayton Byrd Goes Underground.

I love poring over the lists: seeing if my favorites made the cut, adding to my already-overwhelming TBR pile. Since my first book came out, I’ll admit there’s sometimes a tiny hope that my own book will have been found list-worthy. But as I talked with a friend about what I might like to write next, she suggested something I’d never considered:

“Have you studied the lists?”

Her assertion was that there’s a lot to be learned from the lists, both for the sake of our art and the necessary commerce that accompanies it–because books that make the lists are often successful in both regards. Of course, we seek to be original, we long to tell our stories. But we can find inspiration, instruction on craft, and a sense of the marketplace by looking at books on the lists that have been successful in all these areas.

So, without further ado, I give you a list of lists so you can find new books to read and love and recommend, but also with the hope that you’ll study and learn from it (as I plan to!) as an early step toward creating something that’s wonderfully, uniquely you.

What lists did I miss? Feel free to link in the comments!


profile-picElaine Vickers is the author of Like Magic and Paper Chains (HarperCollins). She loves writing middle grade and chapter books when she’s not teaching college chemistry or hanging out with her fabulous family. You can find her at elainevickers.com on the web, @ElaineBVickers on TwitterInstagram, and Pinterest, or generally anywhere there are books and/or food for her consumption.

Book Giving vs Book Recommending

My cousin messaged me the other day to sheepishly ask an etiquette question. The mother of one of her daycare kids had given her a book to read, and she just couldn’t make herself get into it. She’d tried and failed and tried again. It’d been sitting on her shelf for almost a year, and now it was becoming a daily reproach. What should she do, she wondered. Fake that she read it and pretend to like it? Force herself to finish it and pretend she liked it?

Most of all, she wondered if she could just give it back and admit it wasn’t her thing, but she was afraid it would hurt the mother’s feelings.

My cousin wasn’t rude. The book lender was. What a terribly short-sighted thing she did when she shared a book she loved with her friend.

No, really. I mean it. And ‘tis the season to talk about giving books, so we may as well because the principles go for lending too.

Here’s the thing. Most of us love sharing the things we love with others. And you can feel free to recommend books all day long until you run out of breath or name every book you ever read or both. But that’s very different than putting an actual book in someone’s hand. VERY. DIFFERENT.

Unsolicited “you’ll like this” books shoved at me by well-meaning people are very anxiety-inducing.

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Now . . . it’s possible this is just a function of my overall anxiety. But I suspect that lots of bookish friends feel this way no matter their anxiety baseline.

Here’s the problem: when you say, “You would try This Magnificent Book,” that’s a recommendation. When you hand me This Magnificent Book, that’s an obligation.

I will feel obligated to read it because it came from your personal library or the store. That is where Daycare Mama messed up. She meant to do right. I get it. But she done my cousin so, so wrong.

It’s because she acted with enthusiasm instead of discernment. I can’t fault anyone for trying to convince someone to read a book they love. The book in question was Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind.

Um . . . I love that book. Love it. And I recommend it all the time. But putting it into someone’s hands? That’s a demand to read it. And as much as I love that book, I would never, ever have suggested it to my cousin. And that’s because I know what she likes, so I recommend books to her all the time that aren’t always my favorite but I know she’ll love them.

Look, don’t freak out. You can and should feel free to recommend anything you want. But you MUST be judicious about which books you actually GIVE. Do you see? You must see this. You must never, ever curse another soul with the burden of a book not chosen with them in mind.

So. How do you choose a book for someone? First, it’s a sixth sense and you kind of have to be born with it, like I am. I am super good at matching people to books they’ll love. My streak isn’t perfect, but it’s close. I know exactly who I would give Rothfuss to, but it ain’t my cousin. In addition to nearly perfect book-matching, I also have excellent parking spot karma, but that’s a story for another day.

If you have only regular mortal level book matching skills, but you’d still like to try, here are a few things to consider: personality.

Actually, that’s it. You just have to think about their personality. Sometimes people with determinedly sunny worldviews will resist heavy nonfiction that examines the ugly underbelly of humanity even if you found it compelling. Sometimes, hardened cynics will not enjoy the delicious confection of a YA romance even though it gave you a perfect escape.

You see where I’m going with this? Anyone who knows my cousin should have guessed that Rothfuss was never going to be her thing. Austen? Now you’re talking. So a Mary Robinette Kowal recommendation would have made more sense.

It’s natural to want people you love to love the books you love. For example, any person who wants to understand me as a person just needs to read Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. If that person loves it, we are meant to be soul mates. If they only appreciate it, we are certainly meant to be friends. If they dislike it or don’t get it, there’s no hope for us at all.

Honestly, it comes down to this: as much as you may want to share the books you love, if you love the person you’re sharing them with, you have to think about if they’ll love it too. And that takes consideration, reflection, and a pretty good understanding of their personality.

Now that I’ve scared you all from trying, I offer this as a place to start: a list of books BUNCHES of people have loved which give them broad enough appeal to be safe bets for most people.

Probably.

Maybe?

Give me some time with your friend. I’ll figure it out.

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Melanie Bennett Jacobson is an avid reader, amateur cook, and shoe addict. She consumes astonishing amounts of chocolate, chick flicks, and novels. She lives in Southern California with her husband and three kids and a series of doomed houseplants. Her seventh novel, Southern Charmed, released in October. Melanie is pursuing a Masters degree in creative writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her contemporary YA novels are represented by Alyssa Henkin..

Dear Writer: Keep Learning

I was recently in an online discussion concerning a new presenter in the MasterClass series. There were several people who were excited about the new presenter, but wondered if the curriculum they would have access too would be too fundamental for their current level. It’s a valid question, in particular when it comes to a class that will require a $90.00 commitment.

About the same time, I attended a training where a psychology professor talked about progression, improvement and learning. He discussed three areas that have to work in harmony with each other for learning to really have an impact: cognitive, behavioral, and affective. While I could try and explain what each of those mean, it is easier to simply ask the questions he asked us:

  • What do I know about ________?
  • What do I do about ________?
  • How do I feel about ________?

As this is a post about writing, let’s break it down with some writing ideas. Ask the same three questions and substitute one of the following:

  • Character development
  • A particular character (especially if feedback indicates that character is weak)
  • Pacing
  • Sentence structure
  • Setting/World Building
  • Internal Arcs
  • Emotional Arcs
  • Fill in the blank with the ominous part of writing that you love to hate.

Doing this practice will give us a baseline of things to consider. I don’t recommend focusing on this too deeply while in the midst of drafting – deep analysis and intentional creation can make a brain go nuts. But, if you are an outliner, this kind of practice could work well before starting. If you lean more in the write as I go, figure it out later camp, this is the kind of consideration that works well before launching into an edit.

And in the interim? Well, ask the next series of questions.

  • What do I want to know about ________?
  • What do I want to do about ________?
  • How do I want to feel about _______?

The nature of some of these questions may also take you into the authorial parts of being a writer accompanying the ideas about craft. In addition to the writing ideas listed above, consider the following:

  • Book swag
  • Marketing
  • Building an author website
  • Pitching a conference class/panel
  • Entering contests
  • Writing a synopsis/pitch/query letter/blurb
  • Guest posting
  • Book events

At this point, most writers are able to break down where they are strong and where they need some help. Essentially, we are able to place our knowledge and awareness on various places within the four stages of developing a skill.

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(Image credit: Noel Burch & GWS Media graphic redesign.)

And this brings me back to the original paragraph in this post. Are we ever at the point where taking a class wherein basic writing skills are taught wouldn’t be beneficial? Well, that depends on individual answers to the following questions:

  • Relative to what I knew about ________, what do I know now?
  • Relative to what I was doing, how do I do/create/engage with ______________ now?
  • Relative to what I felt about __________, how do I feel now?

Sometimes, the value of taking a class that might be basic presents a new way to think about something that has alluded us for a while. And sometimes, the value of taking a class that might be basic is that we get to really see how we have grown. Words on the page is great for lots of things, but taking time to reflect and understand what we have learned needs to have it’s place as well.

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There are several ways that writers can continue to learn, whether through reading blogs like this one, books about craft and creativity, online courses like MasterClass, or workshops. The key is to keep learning and to continue reaching.

Because, as we have heard, just because a writer figures out how to write one book doesn’t mean the knowledge transfers seamlessly to subsequent efforts.

What have you done to continue to grow as a writer? How do you like to recognize your growth? 

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Tasha Headshot Color

Tasha Seegmiller believes in the magic of love and hope, which she weaves into every story she creates. A co-founder of Thinking Through Our Fingers, she is the managing editor of the writing-focused website as well as a contributor to Writers in the Storm. She is passionate about helping women nourish their creativity and is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, where she serves as a board member. The former high school English teacher now assists in managing the award-winning project-based learning program (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. Tasha married a guy she’s known since she was seven and is the mom of three teens. She is represented by Annelise Robey of Jane Rotrosen Agency.

Thoughts on Reading

So far this year, I’ve read 94 books (no idea if that’s a lot—many people read lots more a year), 28 of which happened in the last month and a half. I’m in the middle of three more right now.

I always think I like one particular genre, but based on my selections, that’s not really true. I read nonfiction—inspirational, motivational, memoir, and religious. Fiction reads vary from middle grade to contemporary romance, women’s fiction to paranormal, thriller/suspense to contemporary and fantasy young adult.

Some of these I’ve read for reviews, some just because, and some for research. Some of the books are hardcopies, some are eBooks, and many of them have been audio books (because I can get dishes done, fold laundry, clean the kitchen, and grocery shop all while listening to a fab book—and indulging my introverted parts of me by being completely antisocial).

I read when I need an escape from anxiety, stress, or too much life things. I also read when I’m stuck in my current writing project or when I need to find inspiration to keep the words flowing.

Currently, I have a women’s fiction I’m in the midst of drafting, an inspirational/self-help nonfiction in the middle of another revise and resubmit, and two children’s books percolating—soon to be tackled. Shifting gears from fiction to nonfiction to fiction is tricky when writing, but that’s apparently exactly how I read books. So perhaps it’s my own fault I can’t decide what to write.

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Things I’ve noticed while reading all these books:

  • Every book has a unique voice—fiction or nonfiction.
  • Some stories I enjoy more than others, despite how well-written they may be.
  • I click better with some styles better than others.
  • In some stories, the characters are so distinct I can tell who is saying what without reading the dialogue tag, while others the characters are more interchangeable.
  • Despite how well an author describes settings or characters, I’m going to picture it all however I want to. My brain is rebellious like that.
  • I tend to enjoy books that have a deeper meaning or purpose in them. Or books where there is some form of healing.
  • After reading lots of heavier books (or dealing with harder life things), I really need something more fun and light, with no darker plots.
  • No form of writing is better or worse than another. They’re all needed.

I’m hoping all this reading is leaking into my psyche, filling my consciousness with good ways to structure plots and craft characters and ultimately create what I have envisioned. I’m hoping I can somehow glean lessons from far more seasoned writers than myself.

Some days I doubt that I’ll ever be able to write something as masterful as so many of the books I’ve read, but I’m only meant to write like me. So I keep reading, increasing this literary fountain of others’ experiences to draw from when my creativity runs low.

I read for many different reasons: to escape, to learn, to be entertained, to study, to grow, to understand, and to experience.

Why do you read? What drives you to pick up book after book?

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576A6469Wendy Jessen is the author of more than 500 articles—family-oriented articles on familyshare.com and book reviews. She recently started a website for something she is passionate about–helping victims of sexual abuse find hope and healing. Wendy is the mother of 6 spirited children ranging in age from 5 to 15. In the throes of writing a few books (fiction and nonfiction), she finds ways to procrastinate which usually involves scrolling through social media. Wendy often stays up way past her bedtime reading, loves kid-free date night with her husband, family vacations, and kids’ bedtime, aka, the human version of whack-a-mole.

Hide a Book Day

Good books, great friends, beautiful town, perfect weather. Is there a better recipe for a fantastic day?

When I learned about Hide a Book Day and its corresponding hashtag, I knew

I had to participate. The idea was to spread the love of reading by hiding books in unexpected places. Surprise presents for an unsuspecting public.

When I get a notion in my head, I like to run with it. Instead of one book, two books, I wanted to give away a whole lot of books. So I reached out to a group of authors that I knew would be enthusiastic about participating – the Lake Union authors – my publishing family.

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They loved it. Within days, I had sixteen books in my mailbox, and I got to work.
I’d ordered official stickers, but they never arrived, as I’d accidentally listed the state on my mailing address as Texas instead of Virginia. Sixteen years in Texas, six months in Virginia. Honest mistake.

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Instead, I wrote out homemade ones, asking the finder of the book to post a picture online, use the hashtag, and to review it when they were finished with it.

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The mechanics were finished. The next step – decide where to place everything. For this feat, I leaned on a new friend of mine – the kind I hoped to find when we made this cross-country move. She knew everything about everything in our town and was the perfect resource. When the day came, we packed my eight-passenger mini-van to the max with our collective six kids (minus my two teens) and set out for a day of book-giving adventure.IMG_5953

There may or may not have been a Starbucks drive-through side trip.

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All fueled up, we thought it would be fun to do this thematically.

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Where We Fall, by Rochelle Weinstein has strong football themes, so we left it at Tribe Stadium at the College of William and Mary. Saturday Evening Girls Club by Jane Healey centers around a pottery guild, so we left it at an eighty-year-old pottery store. Our favorite was At Wave’s End by Patricia Perry Donovan. With its beautiful seashell cover, we drove to the beach and set it on a bench for a lucky reader to find.

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The adventure took us to a building erected in 1695, a garden with a white picket fence, a Christmas store, a museum, a farm-to-market restaurant, a diner, a church, and more.
I’ve walked by those places several times since then, and I wonder every time about the people who discovered the books. Did they wonder at the unusual places the books had been left? Did they smile when they read the note and realize that it was a gift? Did they crack open the spines and did they enjoy the stories?

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I hope they got half as much joy finding them as we did placing them. Because Hide a Book Day 2018 will definitely see us hiding treasure once again.

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unnamed Camille Di Maio is an award-winning real estate agent in San Antonio who, along with her husband of 20 years, enjoys raising their four children. She has a bucket list that is never-ending, and uses her adventures to inspire her writing. She loves finding goodies at farmers markets (justifying them by her support for local bakeries) and belts out Broadway tunes whenever the moment strikes. There’s almost nothing she wouldn’t try, so long as it doesn’t involve heights, roller skates, or anything illegal. “The Memory of Us” is Camille’s debut novel. Her second, “Before the Rain Falls” released in 2017, and her third, “The Way of Beauty” will come out on May 1, 2018.