Friday, January 4, 2013

Reading Challenge 2013

Look at any article aimed at new writers and, almost without exception, the advice 'read more' will feature heavily. As a new writer myself, I see it again and again, but of course it's perfectly true. Barbara Kingsolver, author of the magnificent The Poisonwood Bible, puts it beautifully on her website: I learned to write by reading the kinds of books I wished I'd written. 

Last year, I didn't read nearly enough. In my defence, I work with words all day long, so picking up a book in the evening always feels like a struggle. Nevertheless, there was plenty to be learned from the few novels I did manage to make it through. Emma Donoghue's Room, for example, introduced me to the power of a good narrator, while Patrick Ness' wonderful Chaos Walking trilogy impressed me with its meaty themes, so relevant to the young readership at which it's aimed. And after devouring Kate Morton's The Forgotten Garden (unfairly labelled a 'summer read'), a fully-fledged fairy tale popped into my head, which I promptly wrote almost all of in one sitting.

Thinking back on this leads me to wonder what would happen if I put a little more effort in and made a lot more time for books that I am neither working on nor trying to write. As such, 2013 will be, for me, the year of reading. A few days ago I joined Goodreads (my profile can be found here) and signed up for their 2013 Reading Challenge, pledging to read at least thirty-five books by the end of the year.

That number may not sound particularly earth-shattering, but I'm hoping to go for a bit of variety with my reading this year, mixing up female authors with male, modern fiction with classics, fantasy stories with reality and maybe even try out a little non-fiction and (gasp!) poetry. Of course, it's not exactly an unpleasant or even academic exercise - I love reading, so mostly it'll just be fun. But perhaps, along the way, I might stumble across something unexpected, as well as many, many books that, inevitably, I will end up wishing I'd written.


  1. Due to my lengthy commute to work, I used to read one or two books a week, but since I have been focussing on writing so much, I hardly read at all. I miss it! When I do read, I get the guilts and scald myself for not using the time for writing.

    I think the above is great advice. As I am working through my second draft for 'Knot of Nine', I have found myself trawling the digital bookshelves of Amazon, so that I can read other first chapters of books with similar themes to mine so I can see how others do it.

    Coupled with the reading of books that you wish you had written yourself, I also like reading books that are similar to something I would write myself, and thinking about how I might have done it differently. I find that a useful exercise.

    All in all, I feel like people having been telling me since school that the only way to improve your writing is to read more, so maybe I can stop feeling so guilty when I do...

    Thanks, Amanda!

    1. I completely agree with all of this: the reading similar stories to your work-in-progress and wondering how you would have written them, the reading 'guilts', the yearning for more reading time...

      I'm currently making my way through a short story collection called 'My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me' (really good, by the way) and it is directly influencing the retelling of 'Sleeping Beauty' I'm working on. The different authors in the book all engage with the original fairy tales in completely different ways, some of which I like, some of which I don't. What's also interesting is how little they appear to be constrained by the original stories. I think I've been trying to stick all the plot elements/themes of the original in to my retellings, when really you can pick and choose. We'll see how the 'Sleeping Beauty' experiment turns out...

      Hurrah for reading!