A Compendium of Writing Tips and Tricks

Note_creative_author_260972_lAs I've announced at least fifty million times in every place I could possibly think of, I'm busy rewriting my novel for my new agent, Erin Niumata, which is why things have been quiet around here.

But as I've been concentrating fiercely on my rewrite the last couple of weeks, I've realized some things that are working well for me–and things that I'm learning.   I'm hopeful these miscellaneous tips will be of value to you, too, so here they are.

1.  Getting up every 30 minutes (or so) makes a HUGE DIFFERENCE.  I've been at my desk a lot lately, for longer stretches than usual, and I've been consciously getting up regularly and walking around and stretching.  One day last week I didn't do this–and I felt completely difference at the end of the day. The romantic image we have of writers requires us to be so wrapped up in our work that we sit for hours.  But actually you will feel better and do better work if you get your butt up off the chair.

2.  Your main character needs an origin story.  Just as superheroes have stories about how they got their superpowers, your protagonist (and probably others in the story, too) needs an origin story.  How did she get her obsession for fashion?  Why did he become a detective?  Did he watch his best friend get killed and vow to avenge him?  Figure this out and you've unlocked your character. This deserves a whole post and will get one when I'm done with my rewrite.

3.  Use more description than you think you need.  I mentioned about how I've been learning this as I rewrite to my agent's notes.  And I am finding that more description makes for a fuller, richer read. (Bear in mind that I'm writing women's fiction, and lush description is a huge part of it.  In another genre, this might not be so.)  Also, as my buddy J.D. Frost brilliantly pointed out to me in an email, you can use description to pace your plot.  A lot of it signals a restful spot.  A lack of it shows action.  

4.  Having long stretches of time to write is a wonderful thing.  I'm the original proponent of using little bits of time here and there to write when you can, but for this rewrite, I've gotten in the habit of clearing away whole days to work.  (See #5.)  Let me tell you, it is fantastic, especially when you are working on a rewrite and need to hold the whole book in your head.  Having more than one or two hours at a time to devote to the book gives me the mental space to dig deep into character arcs and figure out a more cohesive plot.

5.  You have more time to write than you think.  I have a lot of clients at the moment.  They are all wonderful and diligent and doing good work, and I adore every single one.  (I really, truly do–I am constantly amazed and honored to be chosen to shepherd a writer's creation.) And, they all need my care and tending: reading their work and then time on the phone to discuss.  I'm also planning three in-person workshops (France here, Nashville here, Portland is already full).  And I have a clamoring family that I love to let distract me.  Yet I've carved out four full days to devote to my rewrite in the last week.  I never would have thought I could do that I've you'd told me so in January.  But I did it, by working really, really hard on the other days and carefully managing appointments.  It is working so well, I'm going to continue to do this even after I'm done with this rewrite.

6.  Notes are your pals.  I had pretty much totally gone over to Evernote, which I do love, because I tend to accumulate scraps of paper with notes on them all over my desk.  But that's gone out the window with this rewrite and I've got lists and notebooks everywhere.  The thing is, this is working for me (it wasn't before, which is why I sought out a different system). When I'm working on chapter six, and I get an idea for chapter ten, it is easier to grab a piece of paper and scrawl my idea on it, then to open the Evernote app and create a new note.  The thing to remember is to go through your notes regularly!  And the point of it all is to do what works for you to get the writing done.

7.  Reading is your BFF now more than ever.  I'm reading a ton at the moment.  What am I reading? Women's fiction, exactly what I'm writing, with a stray girly mystery thrown in.  As I read, I learn.  In the novel I just finished, I noticed how the author handled description of characters and emulated it.  In another novel I just started, I liked how the author wrote about the setting.  All these ideas go directly into my work.  (And yes, I will write a post like this one about the books I'm reading soon.)

So that's what I've learned while writing lately.  How about you? What are you working on? How is it going?

When the Time is Right

I was talking to my friend Janet yesterday, and I told her my story about acquiring my agent. 

"Wow, when the time is right, things happen fast," she said. Antique_zodiac_past_234914_l

Yes, they do.

And, when the time is right, things happen a bit differently.  I do NOT recommend this, but I ignored lots of the advice I routinely dole out about seeking an agent.  I did not send multiple queries, for instance.  I chose the agent I wanted and sent one query to her, because I felt so certain that she would feel the same way.

Lucky thing I was right.

Also, this manuscript had not been seen by a lot of eyes.  A few people had seen the first chapters, but nobody but me had seen the full thing when I sent it out.  I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS.  It is a really good idea to have your manuscript read by a critique group, or beta readers, or an editor or coach.  The only reason I didn't do that is because I had a strong feeling that Erin would connect with my manuscript and I felt a sense of urgency about getting it to her.

And it all worked out even more perfectly and wonderfully than I could have hoped.  

But, here's the deal–and this is a very important deal, I might add.  I've been working at this for years.  My overnight success has been eons in the making.  I've written novels that never saw the light of day, earned my MFA, published a novel (with a small press), blogged here for eight years. I've coached writers and taught them and critiqued manuscripts.  I've joined associations, and read articles and books and blog posts galore on writing. I've tweeted and Pinterested and Instagrammed and Facebooked.  I've immersed myself in the world of writing fully for the last dozen years, and partially before that.

I'm not saying all that to brag, but just to point out that there's been a ton of work behind this.  And while I hope that you don't have to wait quite as long as I did, I do want to emphasize that you will have to do some work to reach your dreams.

Yeah, I know you know that.  And I have people ask me all the time how to get an agent–when they've not yet written one word.  Or tell me that they are going to send their book proposal that consists of one page of ideas to a top publisher.  And then they will wonder why they got rejected. 

I hate being all lecture-y like this but it is one of my pet peeves.  Do the work first and concentrate on that.  Please. The rest will follow when the time is right.

Even if it does take twelve years.

Photo by brokenarts.

The Magic Formula For Getting Tons of Writing Done

Okay, guys, Nanowrimo is on the horizon, swiftly approaching…just four more days!  I know many of you like to torture yourself with the task of writing a 50,000-word novel in a month.  And even those of you not participating this year (I'm sitting it out) still would like to know the magic formula for getting tons of writing done.

Amiright? Crest-bda7b7a6e1b57bb9fb8ce9772b8faafb

I thought so.

I shall share it with you, and bear in mind there is good news and bad news that comes along with it. The good news being that a magic formula exists.  The bad news being that magic formulas don't work unless you use them.

So, here it is: 

Commitment + Consistency + Courage = Creativity

And guess what? Creativity equals words on the page and words on the page result in a finished book. So let's look at each element in turn.

1. Commitment.  For most people, this is likely the hardest part of the formula.  I know it is for me. You tell yourself you're going to get up at 5:30 and get those words written….and then you see something interesting on Facebook (Or CNN if you're a newshound like me). And instead of writing, you're browsing the internet.  If this happens once or twice, give yourself a break, maybe your brain needs a rest.  But if it is a regular occurrence, take a look at yourself.  Where's your integrity? Ouch.  I hate calling you (and myself) on the carpet.  But, sometimes it is necessary.  So, do yourself a big favor. If you say you're going to write, by God, go write.  Integrity feeds on integrity.  And procrastination feeds on procrastination. (As in, I've blown it now, why bother? This is the same sentiment that derails diets.  Don't ask me how I know this, just trust me, okay?)

2. Consistency.  Another difficult one.  If you're anything like me, you get a good momentum going and then rebel against it.  A little rebellion is okay–it allows your ego to thing its in charge.  But only a little! Because consistently showing up at the page, day after day after day is how you get tons of writing done.  I knew a writer who scheduled writing days once a month.  Didn't work, because in the vast distance between writing dates he lost the threads of his project and it took hours to get caught up again.  Last I heard, he wasn't writing any more.  Don't be him!  Write as often as you can!

3. Courage.  You need it.  Period.  You need it for when you dredge up those old dormant emotions in order to inject realism into your characters.  And you need it for when your kids want your attention and you just need to finish a paragraph.  Or for when your spouse tells you he misses you sitting next to him on the couch at night, watching TV.  Or for when your mother makes a snide remark about how much time you're spending on that dumb-novel-that's-not-going-anywhere.  You need it to persevere, to commit and be consistent.

Put those three elements together and you get:

Creativity.  The mad delight of putting words on the page.  The feeling that all is right with the world.  The joy of being so in the moment that you don't even realize time has passed.  The satisfaction of meeting your word count.  Yeah, some days it is hard to convince yourself to get to the page, but oh my goodness, it is worth it!

So dive in!  The words and sentences don't have to be perfect, they just have to be.  Get them out of you and onto the computer, or typewriter, or spiral or whatever you write in.

(By the way, this magic formula is taken from a little Ebook I wrote called Set the Words Free, which I will be releasing soon.) 

Do you have a magic formula for getting your writing done?  Please share in the comments!

I snitched the image from the Nanowrimo website.  I don't think they'll mind too much.

Cover Reveal: Swept Up by Kayla Dawn Thomas

I am so excited to introduce you to debut author Kayla Dawn Thomas and to have the privilege of showing off her new cover!  Kayla Dawn and I met and made friends on Twitter (see?  It is much more than just a waste of time) and I've loved reading her tweets about the progress of her novel.  Scroll down and read my interview with Kayla Dawn after you admire her cover!

So….drum roll please….

Ready?

Here we go….

Swept Up

by Kayla Dawn Thomas

May 13, 2014

Thomas_SWEPT_UP_EbookEdition

SYNOPSIS

A broken heart and a preference for solitude leads Web Baker to driving a street sweeper on the night shift for Basil City. His mother wants grandchildren, and his sister is intent on fixing him up with every dimwitted beauty she can find. Add that to the late night antics Web encounters on his nightly shifts and he has more than enough excitement to keep him on his toes, but nothing could prepare him for the woman who stumbles into his sweeper’s headlights. Kara Deleray has been fighting for her freedom since she fled her overbearing parents’ home at eighteen. Trouble is, she never learns how to be herself, leading to a lifetime of bad decisions. She hits rock bottom and ends up moving in with her best friend and her husband and manages to land a job teaching English at Basil State University. Kara is finally pulling her life together when a whiskey soaked night gets out of hand, sending her straight into the oncoming lights of a street sweeper.

INTERVIEW WITH KAYLA DAWN THOMAS 

–Tell us a little bit about Swept Away. It's a romance, right?

It is a romance! I'm a deep down, true blue romantic, so it's no surprise that's where my writing has gone. Kara is a hot mess. She’s smart, but she doesn't trust herself. She comes from a troubled background that she can never seem to quite overcome. Instead of going through the pain of figuring herself out, she just goes along with whomever she’s with and makes choices to numb her frustration. Web is Kara’s opposite. He knows who he is. He’s a fixer, so he’s drawn to broken people. His struggle is to figure out how to love Kara without becoming just another person telling her what to do.

–What inspired you to write it?

A couple of things. First, I was struggling to find my way as a new stay at home mom. I needed something to challenge my brain. That was the birth of Kara, who is also looking for herself. I was able to work through a lot of things while I was writing Kara. Second, I became fascinated with the street sweeper that rolled by our house on a regular basis. It’s silly but, the idea of driving a vacuum cleaner just seemed cool, and as far as I know nobody has written about someone who makes a living driving a sweeper. Thus, Web was created.

–Why did you decide to go the indie publishing route?

I want to work for myself. I don't want my writing to be on someone else's timeline, or have to wait for permission or approval to publish. The industry has evolved so much over the years, that it's pretty simple to assemble a professional team to help you get your book out. So far, I love the process, and I'm grateful for my degree in Public Relations. I always wondered how I was going to put that to work!

–What's been the best thing about being indie? The worst thing?

The best thing–freedom! I love calling the shots on my work. The worst thing–learning the ropes. Which, means this is just going to get easier! I'm so grateful to all the people I've met over the last year who were kind enough to answer my questions.

–What's a typical day like for you?

I'm a stay at home mom, so every day is a little different. Some days I go to the gym when my daughter goes to school, some days I'm volunteering at the school. I've been trying to devote as much of my day as possible to writing while she's gone. I've learned I have trouble sitting at my desk for more than thirty minutes at a time, so I work in spurts. I'll write for 30-40 minutes, then get up and switch laundry or something like that. I'm more productive in sprints versus marathons.

–Plans for future projects?

I am so excited for my next novel! I grew up on a cattle ranch way out in the boonies. While I didn't appreciate the experience as a kid, I realized now what a gift it was. Tackling Summer takes me back home. The setting is based off the ranch’s summer range in Idaho, and is one of the most beautiful places on earth. It’s a great place to fall in love.

–Any advice for writers–on writing or publishing?

Don't wait! Just get busy and make it happen. I also encourage those looking at the indie route to seek out professional editors and cover artists. Being an indie writer doesn't mean you do every little thing yourself. It's impossible to catch your own mistakes, and not all of us are great visual artists. You want your work to be it's best, so hire out the things you don't excel at. Not only will your finished product be better, you will free up more time to write!

You can learn more about Kayla Dawn on her website.  

Winners of Christmas 2013 Giveaway Announced!

Hi.

Hope you had a great Christmas–I did.  

Okay, so we've got that done with, let's get to it:  announcing the winners of the Christmas 2013 giveaway.  Here we go:

Dani wins the 25 page critique.

Leigh wins the Moleskine journal.

Mary wins a copy of my novel.

Okay, but that's not all.  I've decided to give away 2 bonus presents.  Let's call them New Year's gifts.  Why? Because both of the recipients mentioned that they wanted it in the comments.  And both of them are loyal, long-time readers who I love and adore.  So here goes:

Zan Marie wins a critique of 25 pages.

And so does Don.

I can't wait to read your work and/or send you your gift.

If you are a winner, please contact me with Christmas 2013 Winner in the subject line and I'll make arrangements with you.  If you won either the novel or the journal (Mary and Leigh, here's looking at you), I'll need your physical address.  

(By the way, I used this site to pick the names.)

Procrastinating on Your Writing? Try This

Metal_mechanics_type_221267_lI'm all over Steve Chandler these days.  I have no idea where I first heard of him, but I've been reading his book on time management, Time Warrior, and I've learned a lot.  Since I subscribed to his newsletter, I also got a free PDF (which I sent to my Ipad to be read on the Kindle app) of his book Wealth Warrior. Chandler talks a lot about mind set–but I guarantee you his stuff his different from the same-old, same-old you're used to reading.

Usually I dislike male business types making pronouncements about how I should do things, because they are just so, well, male, in their orientation.  (No offense to my beloved male readers, it's just that I prefer a more holistic female approach to self management, which is less rule-oriented and more dispersed.)  But Chandler's approach really resonates with me.

He talks a lot about action (and let me also make clear that he follows his own advice, having written 30 books).   What I really like about his advice is twofold:

1.  He emphasizes the benefit of taking the emotion out of your choices.  How many times have you whined about a task (writing, even), "I just don't feel like doing it."  Chandler says that "warriors" don't wait until they feel like doing something, they just freaking do it.  

2.  He talks a lot about the present moment, and taking the future out of your day.  In other words, we spend half our time thinking about how awful its going to be when we're engaged in whatever chore we don't want to do.  Thus, we're focused on the future, not the present moment.  But if I you just quit projecting yourself into the future and do the chore without emotion, you'll accomplish a lot.

And here's the tip mentioned in the headline:

Whatever it is you gotta do, commit to doing it for three minutes.  Three measly minutes.  This will accomplish one of two things:

–You'll at least have connected with the project for a bit.  Don't downplay the importance of this, because it creates momentum, and momentum is what gets books written.

–You'll most likely get wrapped up in what you're doing and work far longer than three minutes.  But, by telling yourself that you only have to work for three minutes, you've enticed yourself to the page.

I've used a variant of this, telling myself I only have to work 15 minutes, for years.  But I like the three minute idea even better.  Because, really, anyone can commit three minutes to something–even you. Right?

I encouraged a friend who was struggling with a paper for a class to commit to three minutes on it and she texted me an hour later saying the paper was done and sent in.  This little trick of the mind works, people.  I now use it on myself all the time.

Do you procrastinate?  How do you get yourself out of it?

Photo by clix.

Book Review: Travels in Elysium

Travels In Elysium
Travelscoverjpg

by William Azuski

I was asked to review this book and I readily accepted because, well, there's nothing I like better than receiving random books in the mail and diving into them.  Here's the blurb the publisher and blog tour folks asked me to include:

Literary fiction blends with Plato’s tale of Atlantis is
this metaphysical mystery that takes place on an archaeological dig on the
island of Santorini. Travels in Elysium is written in an allegory style. If you
would like to read an an online excerpt – we have one posted
here
. For more
information or to get your own copy, visit the author's Amazon page. (Not an affiliate link.)

That starts to give you an idea about the book.  Here's a bit more: When archaeology student and world traveler Nicholas Pedrosa is given the chance of a lifetime to work with renowned archaeologist Marcus Huxley he discovers much more than he bargained for.  Set on the Greek island of Santorini, the book spans genres, including mystery, history and fantasy.

An island that blew apart with the force of 100,000 atomic bombs… A civilisation prised out of the ash, its exquisite frescoes bearing a haunting resemblance to Plato’s lost island paradise, Atlantis… An archaeologist on a collision course with a brutal police state… A death that may have been murder… A string of inexplicable events entwining past and present with bewildering intensity… Can this ancient conundrum be understood before it engulfs them all?

That is the question that our hero faces, and in answering it, he uncovers some long-held historical secrets, including the solution to the mystery of Atlantis.  

Info about the author:
Azuski

William Azuski was born in the United Kingdom, and is of British and Yugoslav descent. Travelling widely through the Mediterranean since childhood, his frequent sojourns in Greece included several months on Santorini in the 1970s, an experience that provided firsthand experience for this exceptional novel’s local setting. Writing as William Miles Johnson, Azuski is also author of the critically-acclaimed The Rose-Tinted Menagerie, an Observer Book of the Year (nonfiction), and Making a Killing, an end of the world satire, both titles recently republished by Iridescent.

Have you read any rousing adventure books lately?

9 Ways to Create Characters Readers Will Identify With

I have a bad habit of creating characters that are, um, unlikeable.  Or, in the parlance of the publishing industry–unrelatable.

(As a brief aside, I do worry about what this says about me.  People seem to like me when they meet me in person, and I do try hard to be nice and positive.  But you never know.  I could be horrible and people just aren't telling me.)

This happened with Emma Jean, as I have written about a lot here.  People start out wanting to shake some sense into her (as a fellow blogger said) and end up loving her.   And it happened recently again–I was toiling away on another novel and when I took it into my writing group, everyone told me how much they didn't like the main character.  Which was actually a huge relief, because I didn't like her either.  She really had no redeeming features.  (At least Emma Jean was funny.)

So I set that novel aside, and now I'm working on another one.  The heroine of this novel is a character who has been with me a long time.  I wrote a mystery novel with her as the protagonist years ago (I recently found this novel and its actually not half bad, I just didn't have the fortitude to market it back then), and I've written short stories about her as well.

I think she's likeable.   And relatable.  But I want to make sure.  And somewhere in the dim recesses of my mind, I remembered reading a screenwriting book that had a section on making characters likeable.  So I went to my bookshelf and found Writing Screenplays That Sell by Michael Hauge, which sure enough, has a whole wonderful section on creating characters, one part of it called Establishing Character Identification.   I found his tips very helpful, and I paraphrase them here:

1.  Create sympathy for the character.  "This is by far the most effective and widely used method of creating reader identification with the hero," Hauge says.  One way to do this is to make your protaganist the victim of some undeserved misfortune.  For instance, in the novel I'm writing, my heroine gets laid off.  It could be a family member's death, a child being bullied, racism or sexism–you get the idea.

2.  Put the character in jeopardy. Thrillers and adventure tales do this well.  I see it used a lot in women's fiction when say, the protagonist's husband runs off with all the money, or she faces some other "soft" threat (as opposed to a situation in which she faces bodily harm or death).

3.  Make the character likeable.  Would that this were easy!  Hauge says that the more we like the character, the more we will identify with her and root for her throughout the story, and he names three ways to make it happen:

–Make the character a good or nice person

–Make the character funny  (too bad this didn't work better for Emma Jean–though it was her saving grace)

–Make the character good at what he or she does.

Hauge emphasizes that writers must use one of these methods to be sure you establish character identification.  And, he says, you have to do this right away!  No meandering warm-ups–let us know who your character is and why we should care about him immediately.  Here are the rest of his ways to establish identification:

4.  Introduce your protagonist as soon as possible.  Sometimes I read manuscripts that confuse me because I can't tell who I'm supposed to be rooting for.  Often writers put auxiliary characters in first.  Uh-uh.  Get your hero onstage first.

5.  Show the character in touch with his own power.  Love this one.   It can be power over other people, power to do what needs to be done, or power to express one's feelings despite what others think.  We are fascinated with power–because so many of us don't have it.

6.  Put the character in a familiar setting.  Time, place, home, and family all create a sense of familiarity.  Maybe you've never lived in or visited New York City, for instance, but you have a basic familiarity with it because you've seen it on TV and movies a gazillion times.

7. Give the character familiar flaws.  Addiction is a perennial favorite because we all know someone who has struggled with it–or perhaps you yourself have (it is a writer thing, after all).  Or, Hauge says it can be less serious, like social awkwardness or clumsiness (correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't that a trait of Bella in the Twilight series?). 

8.  Make your character a superhero.  But only if you're writing fantasy or adventure.  There's something primal about these larger-than-life figures that resonate with readers.

9.  The eyes of the reader.  Hauge says that reader identification is strengthened when we find out information at the same time as the hero.  This works great in mysteries, for example.  (And does it drive you as crazy as it drives me when we see the detective figuring out the key to the whole crime but aren't privy to it?)

That's it–the nine ways to create character identification.

News flash: a 20th anniversary edition of the afore mentioned book, Writing Screenplays That Sell, was recently published.  Hit Michael's website for more info. (I have the old version, so don't yell at me if the new one you buy isn't exactly the same.)

Also: yes I know that most of you who read this blog don't write screenplays.  But for my money, the screenplay guys (and gals) are the absolute best when it comes to structure and story.  So read them and apply it to novel or memoir writing.

Have you used any of these methods to create character identification?  What are your favorite ways to make your character relatable?

Switch Hitting Your Writing

Baseball-sports-woman-441118-lDoes that headline sound vaguely sexual or is it just me?  If so, sorry for misleading you because this post is about switching up your writing projects.  (Though a client for whom I am doing some writing just emailed and said we need to get some sex in our title, so maybe its a good thing.)

I recently read Jess Walter's Beautiful Ruins, and as is so often the case when I read something I like, I went in search of more information about him.  Here it is: he lives in the unlikely city of Spokane, Washington (if you've been there, you know why its unlikely a major writer would live there), he had a daughter when he was 19 and subsequently went to work at a newspaper to support her, his first book was a non-fiction title on the incident at Ruby Ridge, and he's written a ton of novels and short stories since.

Beyond all that, what interested me was the tidbit I found in this interview, in which Walter says, "My only trick is to switch to some other project when one gets stuck.
And they always get stuck."

Truer words about writing have never been spoken: you're going to get stuck at some point.  It may not be big stuck, and most likely it won't be writer's block, you'll just get stuck.  Like, unsure what you want to write next, uncertain what comes next in the novel, unsure what your secondary character's name is.  Something.  And I love the idea that when this happens, you can switch off to a different project.  Because, better to be writing on something, then nothing at all.

I've been working on short stories recently, as well as a novel, and I see this happening somewhat naturally.  I reach a point in a story where I'm sort of mentally done with it for the moment, and without really thinking about it, I find myself opening the file for that other story I've been thinking of.  I get stuck on the novel, and I'm inevitably drawn to one of the stories.  It feels natural and right, and like I said–as long as I'm working on something, I'm happy.

Honestly, I'm not sure how easy this would be if I was working on all bigger projects.  But for me it works great one big project at a time and several shorter pieces.  I'm not sure I could handle the mental space it takes to keep more than one big project going at a time.

Along these same lines I was working on what I call prep work (thus called because hopefully you do it before you start writing it, though in truth it happens at every point of the writing) for the novel–character development, lining out the plot, imagining settings–and I found myself switch hitting.  When I got stuck on the outlining, I switched over to writing about the characters, and that in turn led me to ideas about the story.  So I was working back and forth.

And that, I think, is the beauty of this approach–it is like cross fertilization of the mind.  The idea you have for the character of your story suddenly reminds you of the plot of your novel.  And so on and so forth.  At least that's how it works for me. 

Do you work on multiple projects at a time or stick to just one?

*Oh, and by the way–if you read this blog on Google Reader (and God love ya for reading it however you do), be aware that it is going away as of July 1st.  You can still subscribe via RSS feed and read it on Yahoo or other readers, or you can subscribe via email.  All the buttons to do so are to the left.

**Photo from the Library of Congress, in the public domain.  (I kinda like her outfit.)

The Benefits of Reading

Now, I know you read a lot.  Because, you're a writer.  And writers not only write, they read.  It's the way of the world.  Reading is why most of us got into this game in the first place. 

(Brief aside: you'd be surprised how many wannabe writers I've run into who don't read.  When someone comes to me and says, "I've always wanted to be a writer," I say, "What do you like to read?" And then, ahem, when they say "Oh, I don't read, I like to watch TV and movies," I know they are not going to make it as a writer–unless they want to write scripts.)

But there's reading and there's reading, as in reading as a writer.  Once you start doing that, reading is never the same, by the way.   Because, you're constantly looking at how the author handled plot, character, setting, dialogue, theme, style–all the things we strive to add to our stories.  (I've heard some writers complain about this, saying reading is no longer the light, relaxing activity it once was for them, but I like it–I think this way of reading adds a depth that contributes to my enjoyment.)

My approach to reading got rejuvenated when I was in Louisville for the Spalding MFA residency, because that's part of what you do in workshop–pull apart stories and see how they were put together, studying each element.  I was re-inspired to approach reading this way, which happened to coincide with my own work on a couple of short stories. 

I am here to report that my recent reading has had a real, direct impact on my writing, and I want to share that in order to explain how it happens.  (You no doubt already know this.  But being reminded of it, as I was in Louisville, can be a helpful thing.)

Example #1

Before I left Louisville, I downloaded the Best American Short Stories of 2012 and then read it on the plane on the way home.  (I liked having it on my Kindle, because it forced me to read the stories straight through, whereas my usual style would be to pick and choose.  But in picking and choosing, I would miss some gems.) One of the stories was called M&M World.  (That link takes you right to the story–cool.)

I'm not going to ruin the story for you by deconstructing it, but there's a part of the story that looks to an incident in the protagonist's marriage that happened long ago.  And as I read that, I had an epiphany: this is what my story needs, too.  I needed to go briefly (for one paragraph) into the past to show an aspect of my character's marriage.  I added this and presented the rewrite to my writing group–and they loved it.  Said it added a depth and insight that had previously been lacking. Which was my intention.  So, yay.

Example #2

I recently started reading Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter.  Wonderful novel, I recommend it.  Love the story line and I adore his style of writing–the way he puts words together.  He's one of those writers who pulls you into the character's head with the use of the telliing detail, actually, lots of them.  And this got me to thinking–perhaps this was what was missing from my story?  I liked so much of what I had written, but overall, it seemed a bit flat to me.  And so I've been going back through and looking for places I can add more details and it is making a huge difference.  (I have a whole post on this planned for later this week.)

Both of these epiphanies have added a lot to my story (which I'm just about read to send out, by the way). And I never would have gotten them without reading.

So, what about you?  What are you currently reading?  How is it affecting your writing?