Category: Reading

Why We Write

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Lately I’ve been reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I’ve been drawing it out, since I always seem to read the saddest parts in public, and I hate crying in front of people. But just this week I picked it up again, and, before I got to another incredibly sad part, I read a passage that resonated more with me than anything ever has.

It seems like everyone but me has read this book, so I won’t preface this quote with much extra information. On page 116, the main character runs into his love interest, and he describes what he’s feeling as

not knowing what the next words out of my mouth would be, but wanting them to be mine, wanting, more than I’d ever wanted anything, to express the center of me and be understood.

Not only is this one of the most apt descriptions of human nature I’ve ever read, it also describes what I view as the true purpose of writing. I can’t speak for everyone, but I think most writers would agree that the heart of writing, and the reason most of us do it, is because there’s some core part of us that we hope to share with others.

It adds a weight to our words that I don’t think we’re always aware of, and that’s significant. Our words are powerful, and they allow us to share the most interior parts of ourselves with others. There’s nothing wrong with letting that drive us, letting the understanding of why we write fuel our passion for it.

Why Re-Reading is Worth it

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“Harry had never been to London before.”

One of my study abroad courses is called “Harry Potter and the English Fantasy Tradition.” Most of the people I tell this either don’t believe me, or think that it’s a thinly veiled excuse to read Harry Potter and pretend I’m taking a class.

The truth is, I can’t think of anything more fitting to read before studying abroad in the UK, despite the fact that I can’t possibly count the number of times I’ve read Harry Potter – it must be a couple dozen at the least. Yet I decided that, in the midst of packing and moving and working and writing, I was going to read the entire series.

Today, just a week and a half before I leave, I was finally able to sit down with the Sorcerer’s Stone. I had almost gotten to the point of convincing myself that I didn’t need to re-read the series, that I would be able to write and discuss Harry Potter because it’s such an intrinsic part of me. But I was wrong. By thinking that, I overlooked the reason why I’ve read Harry Potter so many times in the first place: the magic of re-reading. I forgot that the reason I love books so much is because you find something new every time.

Go back to the quote at the top of this post. You probably glossed over it, just like I did every time I read this book before. But today, as my eyes scanned down page 67 of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, that line caught my eye. Like me, “Harry had never been to London before.” And as I read the next few pages of Harry seeing the normal slowly change to the magical, I became excited to experience that myself. And I truly hope that I can enjoy just a little bit of Harry’s childish wonder as my eyes are opened to the newness of the people and culture that will surround me in just two short weeks.

Blast from the Past: A Lesson in Self Esteem

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I’ve been thinking a lot about reading lately, so this post is a sort of continuation of Wednesday’s post “Reading as a Writer,” except I think it’s a little more interesting…Enjoy!

Most of us hate reading our old writing, but there’s something to be said about studying it and realizing where you’ve grown. Honestly, I enjoy reading things I wrote years ago. Of course there are some stories that are horrifically bad, that I want to burn and pretend never existed – we all have those. But there are some that are surprisingly good, and in this post we’ll be discussing the merits of reading both.

First: the bad. You’re probably wondering why I’m telling you to dig up those notebooks you carried around with you in middle school – they usually include stories with characters named after your friends or that guy you had a crush on. Or if you’re older, things you wrote in college, or five or ten years ago. Anything that you’re distanced enough from to read objectively.

Reading these stories is an exercise in boosting your self-esteem. We’re reading our own work to see just how much we’ve grown in the time that has passed, how all of our hard work has paid off. Take pride in it. Reading these stories is an exercise in boosting your self-esteem.

And if you’ve picked out something you’re surprised to find is actually good, take pride in that as well. Of course, you’ll probably find some flaws (a cheesy line of dialogue or a character who could be better fleshed out), but you should feel good that you wrote something that still stands up to the test years later. I hope that this is also a self-esteem booster. Just think – if you wrote that ten years ago, what can you write now, after ten more years of practice?

This may seem dramatic or cheesy, but remember that I’m a big believer in the idea that you are your biggest fan. Most of the time, you’re the only one who can motivate yourself to write, and to write better, on a daily basis. And taking pride in your work is not thinking that you’re the best writer in the world, or that you have no flaws. It’s knowing yourself; your strengths and your weaknesses, and being proud of what you’ve accomplished anyway.

Reading as a Writer: Studying the Greats

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File Jun 03, 12 32 33 PMI’ll admit that “reading as a writer” isn’t one of my favorite things to do. Since my reading time is as limited as it is, I prefer to read for pure enjoyment, rather than analysis. But I think that with a little practice, learning how to take in a writer’s style and studying what they’re doing with words can become natural enough that it doesn’t interrupt reading for fun.

The other difficulty is figuring out who exactly “the greats” are. This can be simple if you’re writing certain genres (like science fiction), but some, such as short story writing, are more saturated. For this I recommend The Best American Series. (Unfortunately, I don’t know if there are any international equivalents of this series.) The series is a set of anthologies that combine the “best of” a certain genre in a particular year; for instance, “The Best American Short Stories” or what I’ve been reading lately, “The Best American Travel Writing.”

Not only is it enjoyable to read some of the best writing of the year, it’s a good way to get a feel for a genre and its conventions. After I decided to write “The Traveling Fantasist” blog series, I decided I needed to actually read some travel writing – not only do I want my writing to be good, I want it to be easily recognizable as travel writing, and that means learning exactly what travel writing is.

The other great thing about these is that you don’t need the most recent version, which means you don’t have to worry about paying full price if you don’t want to. I picked up my 2009 copy on a “free books” table on campus, and you can also find these pretty easily in used book stores.

So my challenge to you today is to read! Read something new, something you want to write – just read and try to take in the author’s style.

 

Eating vs. Reading: A Research Comparison

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Just like fiction, feature writing is hard. I spent a lot of my time doing both this semester, and I learned quite a bit about what translates between genres and what doesn’t. If you’re looking to switch from one to the other, here are a few tips (and my thoughts) on the differences required when researching a topic for a fiction piece versus a feature.

As an introvert, I tend to prefer doing research for fiction because it usually involves books or the internet. While these can be useful tools when writing a feature article, interviews are often the best source of information. And after you get over your nerves, they can really be kind of fun.

My favorite part about interviewing is getting to know people and becoming an “insider” in their world. Recently I sat down for an interview with a food truck owner, and in addition to learning more than I ever thought I would, he now greets me by name and remembers my order – what a plus!

And let’s not forget that hands-on research is fun – during the creation of my magazine I got to see and eat so many cool things. While hands-on research is not really as important for fiction writing, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Spending time in the city you’re setting your novel in, or eating at the same restaurants as your characters will help you write them better.

When I think about my title I wonder how I could I possibly pit two such important things as eating and reading against each other? But just like fiction and feature writing are similar yet different, so is the research you have to do to make them the best they can be.

And if you’d like to see the feature writing I did this semester, click here.

Books for Writers Review: Bird by Bird

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Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is a classic. It contains tons of advice and funny stories, and what else could you want from a book about writing? Like the best books, this one offers so many snippets of truth that I felt like I was highlighting every other line. There were even moments I found myself crying–like when she compared writing to having children–and those were the times when I knew I had chosen the right path. This book is my go-to read when I need a pick-me-up or when I’m stuck in a rut.

However, if you are looking for tips on craft Bird by Bird probably won’t satisfy your need. Lamott offers more in the way of inspiration, so you’d be better off checking out On Writing by Stephen King or The Art of Fiction by John Gardner. If you’ve gotten past the mechanics and just need to start writing, Bird by Bird is the book to get you going.

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