Like many a book enthusiast, I love using goodreads to track and rate what I read. I especially love the yearly reading challenges that keep me on pace with reading throughout the busy year. When I was a child and teenager, I didn’t any external tracker to keep up my reading pace. However, once I got into college and then a post-college job and 20-something ‘what am I doing with my life’ stress, I found the challenge a great way to keep reading as a priority in my life.
My usual goal was 50 books. In 2015, I raised that to 60. (I read 68.) In 2016, I raised my challenge to 75.
In 2017, I will be lowering my challenge.
Why am I and Why Should You?
When I focus on number of books read as my goal, I find myself shirking away from reading longer or more difficult texts due to how it will affect my pace. For example, I’ve been interested in giving Les Mis, the thousand page book, a shot for many years now, but I have not.
This may be either a conscious or unconscious choice of your own, when reading to hit a target number of books. You resort to quantity with shorter or easier books. Now, there is certainly a lot of great shorter works like novellas or faster reads like graphic novels that should be mixed in your year of reading. As a children’s librarian, I read a good deal of children’s middle grade novels for my own professional development (and interest, there is some great work in that genre). So, let me be clear, there is nothing wrong with a short read, and they can indeed be of great entertainment and artistic quality.
On the flip side, I believe we should use the goodread challenge, other internet challenges, and new year’s resolutions to do exactly what is in the name. Challenge ourselves. Stretch ourselves. Resolve to do better. I am at the point that I know I can get a large number of books read in a year on top of my other obligations and interests, so my real challenge this year is to try tackling the larger, challenging books that have been on my mental to-read list.
By: C.S. Pacat, author of the Captive Prince trilogy
This blog, under the tab “Essays” on the website, has -- sadly -- not been kept current. (Nor the website, which is still promoting a book ‘coming soon’ in February 2016.) However, the nine posts in her blog are rich with great writing advice. She exposes some very practical, well-explained writing technique advice about topics like maintaining suspense and creating dynamic dialogue. While she does use examples from her own books to explain some of the concepts, you do not need to have read them to glean some useful techniques that you can apply to your own writing.
I really hope C.S. Pacat returns to the blogosphere and shares on some more techniques, but she really explains the nitty-gritty, how-to aspects of writing better than most!
Link to C.S. Pacat's Website
Rule 1: Books are for use.
Click here for all five of Ranganathan's Rules
This is pretty self explanatory, like all Ranganathan’s rules, but there is still something to be explored here.
Books are for use. To be read. To be perused. To be used for entertainment, edification, and research. Books are for use. And use means broken bindings and wrinkled pages. Books are meant to used and used so much they are worn out.
Certainly, us book nerds appreciate the aesthetics of the codex book as a form. Many of us buy different editions of the same book or series of book because of cover art changes or to collect special editions. I would never shame that wholeheartedly, but that is not the purpose of the book. When we have those pretty, leather bound books up on our shelves for ourselves and our nerdy friends to admire, we are treating the book as piece of visual art, instead of a book.
I guess that is to say that we use books for different things than their most primary intent. We use them as art pieces and decoration. We use them as a way to show off intelligence or wealth. But I gather that’s not what Ranganathan meant, especially in regards to a library, where the books are not personal possessions, but shared possessions, community possessions.
While in different days of the ancient past, books took a lot longer to produce and had many less copies and were much more expensive, there was bigger need to impress this ideas. Books are for use. By people no less! People who might damage them, but the same people who will benefit from reading them.
While ebooks are not my preferred way of reading, this reason (Book! Are! For! Use!) is why I find the hate towards the ebook form silly. If the books are being read, what is the issue? You know what’s more important than books being printed on paper, being bound, being designed aesthetically… The stories, the artistry, and the information inside of them.
So say it with me everyone. Chant it aloud. Books Are For Use!
When I was an undergraduate earning a creative writing degree, we were challenged in a literature class to define what made literary fiction... literary. A classmate's hand shot into the air. “Sad endings” he said to the amusement of the class. And followed was a rousing debate about the definition of literary fiction. I don’t remember the end conclusion. Perhaps that is one of those unanswerable questions.
Although that question or similar was probably proposed in many classes during my educational career, I remember this class in particular. It was a comic book and graphic novel literature class. So, all in all, a pretty cool class. We learned about the history of comic books and graphic novels and read examples of different genres, from superheroes to manga to memoir to informational, but also some literary graphic novel fiction.
These literary graphic novels didn’t have sad endings. They had ambiguous endings.
There is a lot said about sad endings and happy endings, but ambiguous endings? My question -- to you and to myself -- is: Are ambiguous endings a cop out?
As a writer, I truly believe, your most important audience is yourself. You are the first person you need to write for. This is not a call to disregard all others, just to prioritize yourself. As a reader, I firmly believe that readers can pick up on the joy and enthusiasm of the author.
This is also a matter of personal motivation. I have wasted years of my writing life trying to write for a certain audience instead of myself. The enthusiasm isn’t there, and when the enthusiasm isn’t there, the motivation isn’t there.
Sometimes you temporarily lose enthusiasm and motivation for a project you love or for writing in general, but that is a matter of the human spirit. And again, temporary. We all have down days or other parts of our lives that drag us down.
But if you find you can't spurn up that love to write because you are trying to write for a marketable genre you don’t personally care for, or a prestigious audience you’re trying to impress, or can’t get that dream project out of your head… that might be a sign.
Write for yourself. Don’t overthink your audience. Let the enthusiasm run through you. Let your creativity and individuality break free on the page. Write what you want, write what you love, write it your way.
(From a Person who got a BA in Creative Writing but didn’t go for an MFA)*
*To clarify. I earned a Bachelors of Art in Creative Writing at a liberal arts college in a program that was structured to be like the Master of Fine Arts programs with the workshop structure. Although encouraged by my advisor to pursue a MFA, I decided that I wanted “go out in the real world” and stretch my writing wings outside of academia.
Pro: A Writing Community
Being part of a community of artists can be very exciting, very inspiring, and (on the flip side) very intimidating. Regardless, the community aspect is probably the best part of pursuing a degree (whether Bachelors or Masters) in creative writing, as you get to meet and befriend tons of people who are as passionate about writing as you. After all, they are putting their (student loan) dollars where there mouth is.
You can learn so much from your peers both in class, but better, outside of the classroom environment. Whether it's a dedicated ‘sit down and write’ time shared together, an open mic night, reviewing each other’s work outside of class assignments, or sharing ideas over dinner or drinks. Working alongside similarly passionate people can be a real motivation, better than elusive future career success or class grades.
Don’t write what you know.
Write what you love. Write what you’re enthusiastic about. Write what you’re passionate about.
Because if you love it, if you are excited about, you will learn what you need to know. Or you already know it.
In conclusion, write what you love, not what you know.
Insights from the life of an aspiring, struggling writer; a passionate reader, and a working librarian.
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