So a quick list of things that happened this past week:
- Saturday, Hannah and I checked out Summer Streets (basically, they shut down seven miles of Park Avenue in the morning for people to explore). We rented bikes and rode them from one end almost all the way to the other, which was simultaneously a beautiful trip and also way too hot to be good for our health. Despite the latter, I still HIGHLY recommend this if you’re ever in New York on a day when they put this on. (The end we didn’t get to also had a zip line and Slide the City and stuff set up. You had better bet I’m coming back someday.)
- That evening, we also splurged and saw The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which was INCREDIBLE. Oh my gosh. Like I cannot get over how good it was.
- Sunday we grabbed brunch with another friend on the upper west side, checked out a street fair, then sprawled in Central Park for a couple hours—and sometimes I have to take a step back and remind myself that yes, this is actually my life right now, because little eleven-year-old Julia who dreamed of New York City wouldn’t be able to handle it. (I love Ann Arbor and I’m excited to go back in a couple weeks, but also I’m going to miss this city so much.)
- Yesterday I finally made it over to Books of Wonder, which completely lives up to the hype. Such a good selection of every type of children’s literature, and so many signed books, and I got to listen to little kids squealing with excitement over in PB while I ogled the YA (which is always a nice thing). I’m trying to limit how many books I purchase right now, since I need to keep my suitcase under fifty pounds (aaand I’m kind of supposed to be reading school books, to get ahead on my work for fall semester)—but I did cave and pick up a signed copy of Damage Done by Amanda Panitch. (Quick story on that: once upon a time I was in the same pitch contest as Amanda—X-mas in July, way back in the yesteryear of 2013—and while my entry was lucky enough to get a few nibbles, hers absolutely STOLE THE SHOW and got SIXTEEN requests and I’ve been obsessively following its publication story ever since.)
- And, finally, last night Hannah and I met up again to grab dinner at Ellen’s Stardust Diner, where we listened to all the amazing performers and stuffed ourselves until our stomachs felt like they were going to explode. (Like, it’s going on eight AM and I’m still a little over-full. What a wonderful and terrible thing.)
Note that so much more happened in the past week than I’ve listed here, but I don’t want to bore you too much with the details of my life. But in essence I’m going to need to sleep for a month when I get back to Michigan. (Only another week and a half left in NYC. They’re going to have to tear me away.)
Onto the reason we’re here today: This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post.
I’ve been reading a lot this summer. A LOT. Between reading manuscripts for work, and trying to get ahead on reading for my literature class this fall, and all the free time I’ve had on the subway, I’ve read eighteen books since arriving in New York a month and a half ago. (And I’m a slow reader. Imagine what I could do if I was a fast one.)
I’ve also finally begun feeling more inspired to write again, and I think this is in no small part due to what I’ve been reading. Which is to say: I’ve been reading a really wide variety of books. Wider than I normally do.
So, here are the types of reading I’ve been doing that have helped inspire me to write and why.
Rereading Your Favorite Books
I’ve read Anna and the French Kiss approximately a billion times. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that I absolutely adore that novel and will probably reread it a billion more times in the future.
Rereading it this summer, I really paid attention to what makes me like it so much. Anna’s voice, and the way Stephanie Perkins weaves subplots together, and the descriptions of Paris. This is a great exercise, because it shows you what kinds of things you most connect with in books so that you can better learn from them and work on those sorts of things in your own writing. (Plus, it gives you an excuse to read your favorites again, and who’s going to say no to that?)
Reading New Books in Your Genre
I’ve also been reading a lot of new books in my genre. Now, I write thrillers, which luckily still leaves me with a broad range to read, but also means a lot of thrillers are VASTLY different from mine. This is okay, because what I connect to depends less on setting and the specifics of the plot as much as the overall structure and feel of the story. (Example: An Ember in the Ashes. Totally different from anything I’d ever write, but still a thriller and still BRILLIANT.) What makes me keep turning the pages? Why is this scene exciting? What makes this mystery so unpredictable?
Although I could think through questions like these with books I’ve read before, I’ve found that it helps to look at some fresh blood too. Keep up with what’s new in your genre and all that.
Also: reading new books is a great way to get inspired. Who knows, maybe discovering a new twist on the whole red herring thing is exactly what you need in order to work out how to handle the red herring in your own novel as well.
Reading New Books Not in Your Genre
I don’t write contemporary/realistic fiction, but I’ve been reading a lot in that genre this summer. And that’s good, because you can learn a ton from books that have next to nothing in common with what you write.
As mentioned, I love the voice in Anna and the French Kiss, so I really paid attention to that while rereading it. However, it’s also important to read new books in genres other than your own. All books have baseline similarities between them, like voice, plot structure, character arcs, etc.–and although these things may all manifest themselves differently depending on genre, you can still find things you like about them in other genres to apply to your own writing. And the really great part about doing this is that you’ll likely find things established authors in your genre aren’t doing as much, so they’ll be even more unique as you figure out your own twists on them.
By reading books in other genres for the first time, you open yourself up more to those sorts of realizations. It can be difficult to pick out things like that in books you’ve read before, because you already have preconceived ideas from previous reads. But with a new book, you’re just a blank page waiting for inspiration to strike.
Rereading Books You Don’t Like
We all have those books we absolutely despise. And I’m not saying, necessarily, to reread those. (Because that constitutes a form of cruel and unusual punishment.) But maybe pick up a couple books you had to slog through for school, or that you found just kind of generally annoying, or whatever it was and give them a second chance.
I’m currently rereading The Great Gatsby, which I know objectively is a, well, great book. But I found it boring and difficult and weird back when I had to read it in sophomore year honors English, so when I found out we’d be studying it in my lit class this fall, I was less than thrilled.
Currently, I’m fifty pages in and loving it.
Sometimes you just weren’t ready for a book the first time you read it. Other times, when you reread, your initial reaction sticks. Either way, rereading a book you don’t like can be a great exercise in opening your mind to old ideas you’d previously rejected, or at the least studying what you don’t like about those books so you can avoid those things in your own.
Reading in General
The most important thing is to read. Open yourself to new reading experiences. Really pay attention while you’re reading (while it should be fun, you should also be learning).
Soon, someone might be reading your own book for inspiration.
Thanks for reading!
PS. I promise the now very belated Ch1Con recap will go up soon! It’s mostly written. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to finish it in the next few days. Thanks for being patient! ❤