One of the most common writer’s tips out there is to “Read, read, read, and write, write, write”. If you’re a writer, the reasons to read are countless—and may seem like a no-brainer: you need to know what’s out there; you need to know if your idea is fresh, or how to make that idea fresh when compared to the countless other books on the same subject; if you’re a genre writer, understanding what genre readers are into is an extremely important aspect of the writing process. Not to mention, the next time you’re at a writing contest, you’ll need to be able to hold your own in a conversation on literature with your peers—having memorable opinions on important literary classics, innovators of the written word, and the big game changers can be key to making lasting connections with others in the industry, and to show you know enough about the book market to ensure your own writing has merit.
Writing, while a solo pursuit in many ways, is all about community, and the writing community extends across timelines, for centuries in either direction. Everything we’re writing is affected by what came before us, even if we don’t realize it, but writing can have the most spectacular affects when you do realize it—it helps keep your writing fresh and new, and shows you know the other members of this community you belong to.
Even if you are an avid reader, summer is a great time to examine what you’ve been reading, and try branching out a bit. Everyone has their preferred type of books, whether they’re pulpy romances, unapologetic young adult fiction, or lofty literature, but it’s important not to stick to one style. A mix of highbrow and lowbrow, classics and cheesy pleasure reading, can produce some of the most fertile ground for your writing to grow in. What have you been reading lately?
When I was 8 years old, I spent countless afternoons tearing through Babysitters’ Little Sister books. I would lie on the couch with a stack of books beside me, read one, discard it on the coffee table, and then pick up the next. I knew those books backwards and forwards—I knew to skip the first two chapters, since they were always just an introduction of the main characters and their family members. I could finish seven books in a day, and I was pretty proud of this. I had read the most books of anyone in my grade, by far, but I had missed the main point behind why children are being encouraged to read: to grow their minds. Adults need to grow their minds too, but as we get older, it gets easier not to challenge ourselves. Once we’re out of school, there’s no one to shove a copy of The Heart of Darkness into our hands and force us to finish it. There won’t be a test on what we’re reading, there are no essays to write, and if we don’t make ourselves stay sharp, our reading and writing skills can easily stay at the same level they were at when we were in school, or even start falling below it.
So, take this opportunity to read something new. Maybe go back and pick out some of those classic books you had to read (or pretended to read) in high school. High school is great for putting books into our hands, but not always great for actually getting us to think about them—depending on how challenging your curriculum was, it may have been easy to just skim the book and answer the first few quiz questions. Even if you did read those classic texts in full, do you think they’ll have the same effect on you now as they did then? Maybe there’s more inspiration to be gleaned from them.
If you’re done with highschool literature, try tackling other classics. Take a look at the Modern Library Top 100 Novels. (I have a copy of this tacked to my kitchen wall and mark off books as I finish them, so guests realize what a nerd I am as soon as they enter my house. It also leads to some great conversations, as people compare what I’ve crossed off to what they themselves have read, and offer comments or suggestions of what I should read next.) Or, find another “Top 100” reading list that appeals to you—anything to keep you reading, and to guide you into seeking out new books. Find books you’ve never heard of. Walk into a library, go to a section you’ve never been to, close your eyes, and pick a book. If you’re obsessed with novels, force yourself to delve into some non-fiction. If you only read non-fiction, try a novel.
Invite others to join you on your reading journey. Find a group on GoodReads with common interests, post what you’re reading on Facebook, tell your friends—if you’ve found a new gem, make them read it too; form a book club, even. Use books to strengthen your mind, and also deepen your ties to other writers. You’ll never know what book will bring you inspiration next!
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Amy Groening is a Project Manager at Word Alive Press. She is a passionate storyteller with experience in blogging, newspaper reportage, and creative writing. She holds an Honours degree in English Literature and is happy to be working in an industry where she can see other writers’ dreams come to life. She enjoys many creative pursuits, including sewing, sculpture and painting, and spends an embarrassingly large amount of time at home taking photos of her cats committing random acts of feline crime.