Well, it’s the last day of April, but I still have 8 letters to go in my blogging challenge. The challenge was to blog for 26 out of 30 days in April, one post per letter of the alphabet, and I managed OK for the first 2 weeks, and then tailed off as existing commitments piled in. Still, I’ve learned a lot about generating content, about how long it actually takes to compose and edit 1000 words of readable and useful prose, and about what I want this blog for, and how I should use it. For May, I’m returning to my weekly posts on Tuesday of each week. I’ll sneak in the remaining April-challenge letters here and there over the next wee while. but for now, here’s R – ReadingWeek.
‘Reading week.’ We used to have this at university. For this one week, Eng Lit undergrads were supposed to wade through the remaining twenty or thirty books on that term’s reading list, and write essays. Of course aged eighteen, we regarded this as a week off. People would go home, do their laundry. But then, in those days you didn’t need to pay for a university education.* I bet they don’t have reading week now it costs nine grand a year plus living expenses just to attend. Anyway, next week I am going to reinstate reading week for myself. Here’s why:
Reading the wrong things
The main wrong thing I read is the internet. I think we all do – we check news websites, social media, our favourite blogs and forums. I’m going to actively ignore a load of this and use the time to read fiction, preferably in a paper book. Old school, right? But news articles yesterday revealed that people are turning back to paper books, and books as objects. There are a lot of benefits to this, but mainly I think it’s that books are portable, and feel good in your hands as you progress through the pages.
The next wrong thing I spend time on is fiction I dislike. I am going to ditch books where the writing isn’t up to scratch, or where the theme depresses me, or the topic is simply not engaging. Yes, maybe there are things to learn from those books. But I feel I have a better opportunity for learning from writers I love and admire, than writers whose work makes me ew while I read.
I’m going to stop trying to read books that don’t suit me. If I don’t like it, I’m going to ditch it. Austin Kleon agrees with this sentiment – his pithy post on how to read is generally very awesome.
The last wrong thing I read is writing craft advice. I feel this is important to read, but also dangerous when you’re in mid-creation. I can normally crush my inner editor when writing, but books and blogs about writing tend to invite it back out. During reading week, I’m not going to look at writing advice. I never used to when I was at my most prolific (and happy) as a writer – when I was fifteen years old. I guess I’m a better writer now, but I feel like a lot of the techniques I know, I learned before 1987, and I learned them from reading fantastic examples of them in use – not from writing craft books.
Pursuing writing craft is part of the DIY-MFA that I’m doing, so they will still be on my general reading list. but not next week.
Finding the right things to read
I used to come home from Borders loaded up with delicious books, and plough through them. Now, most books I pick up, I reject when I see the strapline, the back cover blurb, or the first paragraph. My main reactions are either Not this again, or just Ugh so gritty.
Toni Morrison said Write the book you want to read. That’s my goal, but I’d also like to find some examples of it too. So my first task is to identify my favourite things in fiction and seek them out. I love fantasy, so I’ve turned to lists such as Best Fantasy Books as a start point for this.
Next I want to have an idea of what’s current in my genre. Many of these fall into the Not for me category, but I still want to know what’s happening right now. For this, book review sites and publishers’ updates are my friends. And having glanced at the rundown of what was hot in 2016, I have added one or two to my list.
I also want to catch up with the classics in my genre. I’m relatively new to fantasy, and while I’ve read a lot of the obvious genre giants- Tolkien, Holdstock, Anthony, and so on – there are so many classic authors I’ve never tried. I sought out feelgood-fantasy recommendations and found several books that met my ‘sounds like fun’ requirement alongside my ‘learn more of fantasy traditions’ requirement. I mean – I’ve never read Guy Gavriel Kay, Tad Williams, or Roger Zelazny. I’ve started with Marion Zimmer Bradley this week, having been recommended it by a friend when we were at school. I reckon in one bout of ReadingWeek I can remedy my ighnorance with a couple of old-fashioned, ie short, novels.
When will I read? Finding time
Read instead of TV. Read instead of Facebook or whatever else you diddle away your spare time with on social media. Read instead of scowling in traffic (I mean an audio book in this case, obviously). Soak yourself up in reading for a whole delicious week, guilt-free because this is part of your education.
I plan to do three lots of ReadingWeek per year, like at university. And I plan to enjoy it.
*(In fact, up until 1989, the UK government paid not just your university fees but your accommodation too. Hard to imagine these days, but back then education was considered something which should be open to all. You know, what with it offering young people the best chance in life. Obviously various governments since the 1990s have put a stop to this dangerous notion and instead prefer to have universities filled only with kids whose parents can support them or who are prepared to start their working life forty grand in debt. Goodbye working class kids in higher education. …I’m not angry about this AT ALL.)
I’ll be back next week with my regular posts. I have some new ideas for this blog, but I’ve also just signed up for a very intense writing assignment. I have a scant three weeks before things get crazy, which means I’ll be updating and reposting some posts from a long way back – and using them myself. See you next week for the relaunch of the Jigsaw Novel.
Did you like the more frequent posts in April? Were they helpful, and if so, which topics were most useful? Let me know!