Happy new reading year

 Word count: 410                                Reading time: 1-2 mins

If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time (or the tools) to write. Stephen King.

Last year I read 60 books and dozens of short stories (thank you The New Yorker and Sarah Selecky’s brilliant online course Story Is A State Of Mind). I worked through fiction and nonfiction, books on the craft of writing, children’s books, YA, thrillers, historical fiction and classics. How can I remember all this? Easy: every time I finish a book or story, I list it on a spreadsheet, summarizing its merits or shortcomings. I note authors who moved me. When a writer has delivered a particularly powerful scene, I copy-type it to discover what it feels like to be so skilful. I am a determined apprentice who wants to learn from the masters.

I’m not going to list all the books I liked here. That’s what Goodreads is for. I’m not trying to be a book reviewer so I use the GR site simply to vote for captivating novels. Because taste in literature is so wildly subjective, the books that disappointed me are not included in my GR list. Maybe I didn’t understand what the writer tried to achieve. Maybe I didn’t empathize with the main character. The failures may be all mine.

Which leads to the question: why keep reading books that disappoint me or are poorly written? Edward Albee answered that question:  If you are going to learn from other writers, don't only read the great ones, because if you do that you'll get so filled with despair and the fear that you'll never be able to do anywhere near as well as they did, that you'll stop writing. I recommend that you read a lot of bad stuff, too. It's very encouraging. "Hey, I can do so much better than this." Read the greatest stuff but read the stuff that isn't so great, too. Great stuff is very discouraging.

I finished 2012 with Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. If I read only at this level all year round, I’d give up writing forever. She’s that good. So, in the day or two, after I’ve finished Flynn’s Sharp Objects, I’ll pick up something less humbling. And I’ll learn something from both ends of the spectrum.

What have you read recently? Do you find the books that inspire you are also the ones that slightly discourage you? What are your guilty reading pleasures?


Book photo by: Sglaw

Feeling Resource-Full


Word count: 268                 Reading time: 1-2 mins.

One spring when I was a teenager, a dream came true with the gift of riding lessons. What I learned about horses in ten short hours stayed with me through my own horse ownership and beyond.

Still, when I started to write fiction, I thought I could do it without the help of good instruction. For one thing, I thought the creative process was meant to be inherently obvious. The other dilemma was the worry that someone would call my bluff; they would say I had no business trying to write.

So I wrote in isolation until I stumbled on a course with Kathy Page on Salt Spring Island. The island setting was magical. Kathy was warm and helpful.  At the end of that workshop, she offered a further online course that was enormously productive. After that I joined a cyber-class with Pearl Luke. Pearl’s weekly lessons were rich in writing technique and involved a group of five critiquing each other’s work. I met my writing partner in that critique group and that was an unexpected bonus.

Currently I’m taking Sarah Selecky’s course, Story is a State of Mind and it’s the best online classroom I’ve found so far. It is also the most reasonably priced and allows a person to work at his or her own pace. Margaret Atwood called this course “smart, encouraging, practical.” How much more of an endorsement does anyone need?

If you’re not in a writing class now, how do you hone your craft? Did you just jump on that horse and ride? Or are you home-schooling yourself with reference books and courses?


Photo by: Melinda Fawver