"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us." —J. R. R. Tolkien

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Reasons for Reading in your Genre

Since the start of the year, I've made a huge effort to read a ton more. It's kind of funny because I used to do nothing but read. It was my hobby of choice (well that and cross stitch), but once I started writing consistently, it kind of fell to the wayside (as did the cross-stitiching).


1) I felt I didn't have time.
* With two young kids, a full time job, a husband, a house, etc., this seemed very plausible.

2) I didn't want to confuse my own voice and style with that of others.

3) I was reading a ton of books on craft.
And I figured this was important, which it is, so don't get me wrong.

All good and valid reasons, right?

But really, mid-2008 I picked up the books again. And since January 2009, it's become a priority (and passion) again.

Mid-year, here are my thoughts on the subject:

1) My critiquing ability has improved a ton.
I find it easy to read a book now, look at the whole picture, and identify what I think could be improved. (yes, I realize this is my opinion). But I have to think if I can identify issues in other books, I will become better at identifying issues in my own writing.

2) I can see trends, what works, what doesn't, what I'm sick of seeing.
I can identify cliches and even roll my eyes when I see them.

3) I'm a more credible children's author when I can talk credibly about other books being published in the genre.

4) I love to buy and read books of people I know!
Yes, support your author friends! Books can be for you, for gifts, for collecting. Anything is fine.

5) I've lost my fangirl status.
I noticed this when I realized, after reading a first book in a series, if I didn't really have a compelling reason to read book 2, I didn't have to do so. Reading all books in a series is not a requirement. And unless I love the book, I'm not going to.
That said, when I discover a book and realize I'm totally psyched for the next book, I'm thrilled. Two books that come to mind here are The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. The sequels to these I am psyched for.

6) Going along with (5) above, it is blatantly obvious to me that every book is not for every person.
Yes, I know this, but seeing what I like and what I don't makes it way easier to accept that my writing and books are not for everyone either.

7) I've rediscovered my love of reading.

I love how Cynthia Leitich Smith phrases the whole reading thing:
Reading is part of the job of writing.
(Yes, these aren't her exact words, but they convey the correct idea, I believe.)

So really, if you've been letting your reading slack, give it another chance. Sure, it does slow down how many words you can actually get out yourself, but I totally believe in the long run it will pay off for us writers.
* And if you want a great book suggestion, how about The Emerald Tablet by me. What better way to get ready for The Forgotten Worlds Book 2: The Navel of the World :)

Happy Thursday!


Christine M said...

All excellent reasons to read as much as possible. Of course the hard truth remains that while multi-tasking is occasionally possible I haven't yet found a way to read and write at the same time. So if I'm doing one at any given minute, I'm not doing the other. What's best is when I can find time for both. -- oh, and other things like cooking dinner and cleaning the house as necessary.

Patti said...

I defnitely need to read more. Same issues as you, kids, work and trying to write.

I've thought about buying books on CD and listen to them in my car as I commute but it seems like cheating.

PJ Hoover said...

It's such a balancing act, Chris. Like a giant house of cards and we're trying to stack everything up without letting it crumble. But you do an excellent job!

I love audiobooks, Patti! When I was driving to and from work, this added an extra two books a month to my reading list. It's a great way to use time!

Justus M. Bowman said...

I could have helped you write most of this post. Three cheers for me! Okay, a cheer or two for you, as well.

Miriam S.Forster said...

For a while I was worried that I would have to choose between being a serious writer and reading all the time. I was ashamed of the fact that I read more than I write.

Then I realized that-for me-it is reading that gives me my feel for words. It feeds my imagination, and I can't write with a starved imagination. :-)

I'm with you on the fangirl thing. When I started writing seriously, I not only stopped reading in the middle of a series, I stopped reading in the middle of the book. I have too much to do to read things I don't enjoy, or that don't serve a purpose.

C.R. Evers said...

great post! I totally agree. I noticed a huge improvement in my writing and critiquing abilities when I challeneged myself to read a minimum of 4 books a month.

beth said...

Yes, yes, YES! I totally agree. I started reading more last year because I wanted to do reviews on my blog, and that drove me to read new things. I am really glad of that--I've been much more on the up and up with reading. I was very embarrassed last year when someone asked me what I'd read in my genre recently, and all I could stutter was "er...Harry Potter...." Now I can ramble off lists of books I've read and loved--and I've got a deeper connection to them not only because I critiqued them (like you mentioned) but also because I really made an effort to track down links to the author.

Speaking of summer reading: I've got to re-read Emerald Tablet to gear up for Navel!!

Anonymous said...

I've never been able to push reading away, although I totally agree with you that it's harder to make enough time for it--and this just feels so wrong. I completely agree with everything you say about the benefits, especially becoming more of a critical (in the more positive sense!) reader and applying that to our own writing!

Kimberly Derting said...

Totally right, PJ, and I'm so guilty of letting it slide! My husband and I were just talking to our daughter about instituting a summer reading night at our house (turning off the TV and stocking up on snacks)...we were even trying to come up with a name for it. I really DO need to cut out other things and make time for my HUGE stack-o'-books!!!

Thanks for giving the motivation I needed!

Elise Murphy said...

Excellent post! I've never stopped reading obsessively, but I have realized that reading books similar to my own is just fine! I used to avoid those, afraid they would somehow sway my story, but I've found that isn't the case.

And I hear what you're saying about being a better critiquer. That is the ONLY thing that makes me a little sad as a writer and a reader now - always picking apart what I'm reading for fun and looking at structure, character development, plot arc, even when I've just got a summer-beach book in my hands.

Robyn said...

I tried to post this and I don't think it went. Danged internet! Anyway, I try to read MG because that's what I write. I also want to write YA and I'm already reading it, too. Reading what you write definitely helps you to write better. I too wonder if my voice and style will imitate the authors that I read. I hope not. :)

Kelly H-Y said...

Excellent thoughts and advice, PJ!! Thanks!

Trisha Pearson said...

I totally agree. I learn so much from every book I read, both the good and the not-so great.

PJ Hoover said...

Three cheers for you, Justus! It's just such a great thing to realize.

I know exactly what you mean, Miriam. Sometimes I pick up a book and partway through can find no compelling reason to keep reading it.

4 books a month is wonderful, Christy! It's amazing how quickly they add up.

Yay for summer reading, Beth! And you do some fabulous reviews! I'm amazed at how well you phrase your honesty. I have yet to be able to do that!

PJ Hoover said...

Why is time so limited, Becky????? If only we could buy more at the store? I guess we can buy more by contracting out what we can (laundry, etc) but I've yet to budget this :)

Summer reading night is such a wonderful idea, Kimberly! I'm taking that idea and moving forward with it. I think the whole family will love it! Thanks!

LOL, Elise! I pick apart everything, even every single movie we watch. I was just doing this at dinner tonight and the husband commented on it!

But one thing about voice, Robyn, is when you recognize when you really like a voice, it can help you find yours. So I don't think it's so much imitation as helping discover yours through others done well.

You're welcome, Kelly!

Yes, Trisha! In fact, I think I learn even more from the ones that need more editing!

Thanks for visiting, everyone!

Rebecca said...

I am totally psyched for the sequel to The Hunger Games too!

My reading (and writing!) slacked a bit during the last month of the school year, because I was so busy! But now summer's here and I'm getting back into the groove of both.

Happy reading!

Solvang Sherrie said...

I loved that shameless plug at the end :) I have been on a reading frenzy since March. I think I've read something like 25 books since March. I used to feel compelled to finish a book once I started, but I've decided that life's too precious to waste my time on something that doesn't appeal. It's been very freeing and allows me to enjoy more of the books that I DO like.

Carrie Harris said...

Yes yes yes! I admit that I still get a little skeptical when I hear about writers who don't read in their genre. I can understand not wanting to read something too close to your book for fear that it'll influence you for good or ill, but there's such a wide variety in the market that you should be able to find SOMETHING that doesn't remind you of that scene in chapter 8 that you're still not happy with. ;) It's strange; for me not reading in the genre somehow devalues it. It's good enough to write but not to read. I dunno... am I making any sense here?

PJ Hoover said...

Happy reading to you too, Rebecca! I do have weeks at a time where I'm getting nothing read (in one right now) but I'm trying to read at least a little bit each night.

I am all about the shameless plug, Sherrie. It comes so naturally. Is that bad :)
25 books since March is Amazing!

Very good point, Carrie! There are some (very few) books that I refuse to read for fear they will influence me too much or depress me for already being published :)

Keri Mikulski said...

After I read King's ON WRITING, I made sure to attempt to read a book a week. But, like you, kids, my college teaching jobs, and life get in the way. And I feel very strongly about supporting fellow authors too. :)

lotusgirl said...

I can't make myself stop reading. It rejuvenates me. I have noticed a lot of the same things that you have about reading and writing since I started writing. It's nice to see it spelled out like that.

T. Anne said...

I agree reading is a part of the job of writing. I'm picky these days, I wasn't so picky last year. I'm really in need of a page turner. Something with humor would be nice.

Anonymous said...

Funny thing that reading helps us find "our voice". Long ago I accepted that once something had been done, and done right, that there was little to add to it - how wrong I was!

I think I confused popularity with quality. I know that you can never completely re-do a famous novel to your own taste but there is always room for improvement. I also think that everything plagiarizes - to paraphrase "bad authors copy, good authors steal".

Yes and YES, I will try and get my hands on a copy of your books, very interested to read them.

PJ Hoover said...

So true, Keri! I have prioritized book buying way to the top! And I loved On Writing. Maybe it's time to read it again.

I think I felt just so overwhelmed, Lois. Not that I've got everything under control now, but it helps me to recognize and see the importance!

Oh, I'm so picky these days, T. Anne. For humor, have you read How Not to Be Popular by Jenny Ziegler? Hilarious, laugh-out-loud!

I know what you mean, Bethanie! It all comes down to the writing, doesn't it. The same stories can be told over and over again, and we keep coming back if they're done well!

Thanks for visiting, all!

adrienne said...

I'm hoping to find more time to read in all genres...

PJ Hoover said...

Me too, Adrienne! I keep looking!

Angela said...

BACK UP THE BUS....there's a sequel for Hands and Teeth???

*cartwheels/handstands/wigs out*

Boy I know how you felt and how you feel now. I hit a point about a year ago where I realized reading was falling by the wayside...and there are just so many benefits to read in genre that I was missing out on. We're both reading more now...yay for us!

Vivian said...

Reading is definitely important to the art of writing. I'm a big reader, though it has fallen by the wayside with kids and projects. I always carry a book with me, in case I find a pocket of time to read--while I'm waiting in the car line to pick up the kids, waiting at the karate class, etc. The good news is my children see me reading and have discovered their own love for books.

PJ Hoover said...

I know, Angela! I'm so excited for the sequel! It's nice to be excited.
Totally yay for us both!

I love that my kids see me reading, Vivian! This is huge and something which lots of kids miss out on.

Danyelle said...

I can't wait for the sequel to The Hunger Games! I love reading. It's what I do when I'm too tired to write or revise. I used to cross-stitch a lot too, but like you, don't have as much time for it now. :D Great list for reasons for reading!

PJ Hoover said...

Cross Stitch was relaxing though, wasn't it, Danyelle. One day I'll pick it back up, though the design would have to be pretty spectacular for me to do so.

Christina Farley said...

This is really insightful. I totally agree. I love reading but its hard to find the time. Yet you are so right! It really helps me as a writer.

I tend to binge read. Like I just finished my draft and now I'll take a break between drafts and read like 20 books. Crazy but it works!

Dave said...

Cool post!

I did this, pretty seriously. Actually, I printed off a list of the top 100 fantasy series and read, or tried, many of them. Some I liked, and others didn't click as well as I would have liked.

Strangely, right now, I seem to be more interested in reading the WIP of other writers. I like the interaction and the fact that I can make suggestions. I've been so disappointed by buying an author's second book and not getting into it nearly as much as their first, and much loved, book.

PJ Hoover said...

I so know what you mean about binge reading, Christina! It is hard to do while actually writing, and I do try to catch up during revisions or time off!

Hey Dave! Thanks for visiting! Reading WIPs is cool. It does make one feel great when suggestions are actually valuable and used.
The top 100 fantasy series sound great. Where is the list?

Dave said...

The list:

Well, I can't access it right now, but I could try to find it some time in the future. I can list off by memory some of them though.

George R.R. Martin: Song of Ice and Fire

C.S. Lewis: Narnia Tales

Terry Goodkind: Sword of Truth

Rowling: Harry Potter

Philip Pullman: Golden Compass

Robert Jordan: Wheel of Time


Dragon Riders of Pern

David Eddings

Luguin: Wizard of Earth Sea

Frank Herbert: Dune

Obviously, there were quite a few others. These are the ones that come immediately to mind.

I should add that "top" in this list was defined as one of the 100"best selling" fantasy series.

Out of this list, I would say that the Harry Potter books, Luguin's first two books in that series, and George R.R. Martin's series have been among my favorite series books. I'd add Dune, but I couldn't get past the early chapters in the second book even though I loved the first one.

Duh, Lord of the Rings. Obviously!

You would have just added that in anyway, right?

PJ Hoover said...

Great list, Dave! I still need to read George R. R. Martin's latest. And I never read the Redwall. But otherwise, I feel pretty darn up-to-date!
And I'll add Terry Brooks, Tad Williams, Orson Scott Card (though this is more SF).
Did you see there are going to be 3 more Wheel of Time books?