Posted by: Kathy Temean | May 29, 2014

Reading to Write – Erica Wassel

Jersey Farm Scribe here on

Reading to Write

Being a writer is sometimes a bit like being one of those people that spins plates in the circus. You know, these guys:

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It’s a combination of balance, persistence and continual attention to a dozen different things at one time.

Everyone has a different list of things going on in their life. We all know we have to make time to write, schedule time out, create the priority if we’re going to be successful.

What’s also important…. and sometimes quick to go to the way-side… is taking time to READ.

It’s a common story. Writer has busy life to being with. But they want to be a serious writer, so they MAKE the time to work on their manuscript. Every spare moment they have…. Right?

Nope. Sorry. It just won’t work like that.

WRITERS MUST READ  

And as children’s book writers, we must read children’s books. A LOT of them.

Everyone has to find the way that works for them as to how they approach this reading. For me, as a chapter book/picture book writer, here’s what I’ve found I get the most from:

For picture books, I can go to the library and “read” 20 picture books in a fairly short period of time. But realistically, for me, that’s not enough to really get what I need. If I did that, they would largely go in one ear and out the other! I need to study them. Count the words. Look at the character development, how quickly did we get to the problem, who is driving the story? How much repetition is there? What sort of picture book authors do I relate MY writing to? When I’m reading a picture book, I ALWAYS have a notebook by my side.

With chapter books, I go to the library and take out 15-20 at a time and read them over the course of a week or two.

For these, I have two distinctly different reading styles. Some I cozy up on the couch and read to enjoy and feel the flow of the story, the plot etc. Children’s literature has a rhythm, and this is the time where I just immerse myself in the ebb and flow of how it FEELs to read it.

Others I read with my trusty notebook and pen. I write down things I liked the author did, and things I want to steer away from. I measure chapter length, percent of dialogue, number of characters introduced, plot development, subplots, vocabulary etc.

Personally, I thrive on competition, even if it’s with myself! So one way I motivate myself to read is I set myself a challenge.

Currently I’m working on my Read 100 Chapter books in Three Months Challenge. It’s going well. I’m about ten weeks in. And while to be perfectly honest, I can’t guarantee that I’m QUITE going to make it. But having read over 65 chapter books in about ten weeks in is still something I’m very proud of.

And the amount that I’ve learned is unbelievable. About 35 books in I had a week where I felt like… okay, yeah, I get it. Do I really need to keep reading so many of these?? 

The next few I read I had to FORCE myself to read, and honestly, probably didn’t get a darn thing out any of them.

But a few books later, something caught my eye, and then something else. My trusty little notebook began to fill up again.

Turns out, the learning really IS endless, because the more I learn, the more I’m able to notice!! I even went back and read a chapter book I had read towards the beginning of my challenge, and the list of new things I noted this time around was almost unbelievable.

Reading to write definitely isn’t something we ever conquer or get to check off of our to-do list. And while I love to read, there are times when with all the spinning dishes, it seems like a harmless one to let slide.

That’s when it’s time for me to remind myself that writing is a craft, and reading is really it’s constant prerequisite.

 

And you know what… our manuscripts deserve it!

 


Responses

  1. I’m a full-time university student as well as a part-time worker. I spend most of my spare time trying to write. I strongly agree with you that reading is just as important, but lately, I find that I have no time for it. I usually end up being more inspired to write rather than read.

  2. This is a great post Erika. Reading is such a necessary part of our “research” as writers, but it’s also fun for me. I find so many new writers to fall in love with. Many books written for children are even more enjoyable than those so-called adult books that make the best seller lists.

  3. Love this post. I would add that reading books about our craft is just as important. I highly recommend Mary Kole’s “Writing Irresistible Kidlit” (I’ve highlighted every page) and Robert McKee’s classic “Story,” which is full of quotable quotes about writing. More plates to juggle, but so worth the challenge!

  4. Excellent post, Jersey Farm Girl AKA Erica. It is so important to read, write and create everyday. I try. Do I really do so everyday? Once again, I try. As an aspiring author of children’s literature, I find reading picture books and studying them so helpful.

  5. I agree that reading is important, but I tend to read the books the kids are reading. I’ll either ask the librarians (at the public library or at the schools) which books are currently most popular or I’ll read the books the teachers read in class, which sometimes has to do with something they’re studying. You don’t have the time to read all books, but you might have time to read the most popular and relevant books.

  6. Great points by everyone!!

    I agree that reading books ON writing can be great as well. And I definitely also agree with Ronda that finding a good librarian to help direct me can be a HUGE help. My local library workers know me by name for sure. (often as the girl with late books…. but that’s okay!)

    Thanks so much for stopping by. 🙂

  7. Writing witIhout reading? Fuhgeddaboutit! There’s nothing more important. I copy down sentences I like. I surround my office walls with encouraging quotes so I feel like other writers are cheering me on. I work and work and eventually the work pays off. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts! Great post!

  8. Thanks, Erika, and Kathy Temean. This post was especially helpful, as are the other comments here. Donna Gephart, an award-winning author of middle grade books (http://www.donnagephart.com) made a point to welcome me to SCBWI-FL when I first moved to Florida a few years ago. We met at a park and talked for an hour and a half! One of the most impressive things she shared with me was how she reads about a hundred middle grade novels a year because it’s so important to read, read, read as well as write. I’ve been reading ever since and do reviews on my blog (http://storyquill.wordpress.com/) which helps me keep track of what I’ve read. The various points of analysis that you mentioned, Erica, pushed me to the next level. I’ve made note of them in two new notebooks, for picture books and middle grade, and will study, analyze, and take notes now as I read. Thanks, again! – Lori Norman


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