Saturday, May 13, 2017

#WritersLife: Establishing a (Fun) Reading Schedule

Amber the Blonde Writer - #WritersLife

#WritersLife, where I talk writing in real life.

If you've been writing for a few weeks or drafts, you've definitely heard the ancient proverb of our great word wizards: if you want to write well, you must read often. This has always been the case for me. When I find myself in a reading slump, I pick up Marissa Meyer, Sara Raasch, or Leigh Bardugo to kick my butt in gear and inspire myself to get back to writing. Reading your favorite authors is also great for taking notes on what you like personally as well as reminding yourself of what works for the current reader.

However, mixing up your reading choices can also help put your mind in a better place. Not every YA book I read has to be a learning experience the first time, and not every book I read has to be YA in order for me to enjoy it. In fact, reading outside your normal reading genre or topic can open up opportunity for things to incorporate into your preferred genre or can serve as reminders for things you never want to do in your writing.

This is where a fun reading schedule comes in. Many bloggers follow reading schedules centered around genres or release dates to coordinate with their review posts, and recreational readers tend to follow the most sought-after titles on their TBR list. For me, I'm focusing more on leisure reading and new writing, which means book reviews aren't as prominent on my blog as they once were. I am open to read whatever my heart calls me to read, whether it's YA, faith-based, or academic.

Young adult novels

I am a lover of YA. I started reading YA when I was in elementary school and have no plans of stopping now that I'm a nearly quarter-century adult. When the blog started in 2014, I focused only on dystopian novels, dipping into adult for analyses and comparisons for how the genre had transformed. In 2015 I expanded the blog to include more of my interests and wrote book reviews on YA fantasy, historical, and fairy-tale retellings in addition to general science fiction although it remained predominantly dystopian. 

In 2016, I fell deep into my #WritersLife segment and introduced an even amount of reading-related posts and writing-related posts. When I started working my two jobs in the fall of that year, I took a complete hiatus from reading, writing, and blogging to refocus my goals because I felt like my purpose was shaken. I read a few novels, varying from adult to YA to faith, but nothing seemed to really speak to me.

Picking back up in 2017, I know I still want to focus on young adult novels, but now I'm reading a wider variety than ever before. I can't stop reading contemporary novels about mental illness, especially after spending a year working for a college where a large number of my regular students identified as living with mental illnesses. However, I'm also slipping away from my science fiction lore to more fairy-retellings and historical reads. 

No matter what I end up reading, I will always lean toward YA when I need a pick-me-up or motivation to write my own story. While my love for YA remains strong, that may be the only thing that hasn't changed.

Faith-based reading

Normally, I wouldn't focus on much of my private life because my blog has always focused on words, but my decision to become Catholic has touched all areas of my life, including my reading choices. I spent 2016 starting and finishing the Bible (New Living Translation) and signed up for RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) classes.

Amber the Blonde Writer - Teresa of Avila The Book of My LifeOn Easter of this year, I was confirmed in full communion with the Catholic Church. At the start of 2017, I started reading The Catechism of the Catholic Church and have spent the last month reading Teresa of Avila: The Book of My Life, translated by Mirabai Starr, the memoir of the woman I chose to be my patron saint. This memoir has helped me overcome the trials I face and better understand how to react to my emotional states so that I remain mature and obedient to God's will.

Understanding my body and mind has shaped not only the way I am, but also how my relationships with others carry out. This transformation carries into my perception of people and characters, leaving me wondering how to write about characters in a way that will show this complex, constant struggle. Any change in our being will affect our art, and I think it's important to connect with what we surround ourselves with to understand the change that will occur in what we produce.

Learning about my faith and myself has helped me personally, but I still rely on academic and craft reading to hone in on the words and structure my work needs to convey my message. 

Academic studies

I spent the last 9 months tutoring at another local college despite the promises of leaving behind education for good. However, I love learning much more than I love teaching, and I think that's why I was able to return, if only for a little while.The chance to be around so many diverse people reminded me of the lessons we learn from each other even when we don't intend to teach.

Amber the Blonde Writer - Self-Editing for Fiction Writers
Craft books are still a favorite of mine. I read Stephen King's On Writing, and it remains the single best writing craft book I've come across. Throughout my college career, we referred to Janet Burroway for everything. While Burroway is great for building a story, I often found the books too lengthy for easy reference, but for general information, her books are a great source. For editing, the best resource I've read is Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.

Learning how to enhance my creative writing has been a greatly self-taught skill. Eric references me sources quite often, and my Twitter writing friends are also immense help in finding the gems. My college instructors weren't keen on how to find ourselves teachers outside of school, so I really only had one professor teaching me invaluable skills I still use to this day (thanks, Sirkin!).

Whatever your art or craft is, read about it. If you truly love it, or aren't sure if you truly love, study it: spending hours figuring out the right phrase to tell a character how to get lost without saying get lost is a good indication that writing holds a strong interest for you.

Read everything. Read what you love. Read what you can't stand. Read boring stuff to remind you how to not write that way. Read tabloids if that's what you like. Read historical documents if that's what you like. Read religious texts if that's what you like. Find what you like and read it. Not everything has to be a learning lesson, but everything always is.


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