Reading Like a Writer: Planning It Out

Tracy Townsend just did a terrific workshop this Saturday on Reading Like a Writer, (here’s the highlights from Twitter). One thing I came away with is the idea of planning my reading — or at least some of it — out much more purposefully.

When we did introductions and talked about what people wanted out of the class, it struck me that two ideas kept surfacing. One was the idea of using an activity one loves — the majority of writers are avid readers — to hone one’s craft would be more efficient. The second was a sense that if one was enjoying the writing, such learning couldn’t be happening; that work and joy could not go together.

I heartily disagree with the second, because I constantly draw on the first. Perhaps because now, as in the past, I am perpetually swimming in books, and consider that a dream existence. I was one of those kids who spent most of their hours with their nose inside a book, and at a time when the Internet was yet to appear, so I read and re-read over and over again, particularly L.M. Boston, Zenna Henderson, C.S. Lewis, Andre Norton, Theodore Sturgeon, J.R.R. Tolkein, to name a few.

Nowadays I get sent a lot of books — some attractive, some not so much — partially as a result of the somewhat scattershot way that most publisher marketing departments work, partially because I’m in a lot of anthologies, and partially because I am doing my best to support authors by buying their books through indie booksellers. I also pick up a lot of Storybundles and Humblebundles. While I’m a very fast reader, I’m not fast enough to keep up with the deluge.

So I like the idea of taking the last week of each month to plan the next month’s reading, particularly with an eye to assembling it. Tracy mentioned doing like assembling a D&D adventuring party, making sure it’s a mix. Her suggestions were these categories, all of which may overlap:

  • authors who inspire and excite you
  • authors who bring diversity to your reading list
  • authors who people keep saying you should read
  • authors who are great at the things you need to work on

Here’s some of the things I want to add to that for my personal plan:

  • Some current novelettes/novellas. These get overlooked sometimes because they’re usually something best suited to the electronic, but we’re also in the midst of a resurgence of them, and I want to make sure I keep myself of what’s going on there.
  • Because I’ve been trying to educate myself better about mid-to-late 20th century F&SF history, at least one nonfic book about it and one anthology produced during that period.
  • At least one nonfiction book that is not about gardening or cooking each month.

So here’s my rough notes as I create my reading list for December. I usually read 20-30 books each month, so I’m going to plan out 15 and leave the rest sort of up to the moment.

  • N.K. Jemisin Emergency Skin – novella, huzzah!
  • Diversity – this month I’m going to add a few more LatinX authors to the mix, having read a piece with some recommendations, while also finishing up the collection of Harlem Renaissance novels I started last month. I’ve added two from their list I wasn’t familiar, Felix J. Palma and Adam Silverta, and will find a book from each.
  • Classic – Walter Tevis The Man Who Fell to Earth. I enjoyed the series based on Tevis’s The Queen’s Gambit, but in looking at it, I decided to go with this instead since it’s a pretty classic book that I’ve never read.
  • Classic anthology-wise, I’ve got a ton on my shelves, so I’ve snagged Orbit 3, edited by Damon Knight. I also bought a collection that’s worth working my way through, The Avram Davidson Treasury: A Tribute Collection, particularly since I want to look at Davidson’s methods of storytelling. For nonfiction that fits into that reading project, I’m adding Lost Transmissions: The Secret History of Science Fiction and Fantasy by Desirina Boscovich, which just arrived in the mail and is a handsome looking book.
  • Nonfiction books I recently picked up include NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity by Steve Silberman; American Rule: How a Nation Conquered the World but Failed Its People by Jared Yates Sexton, How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence by Michael Pollan; Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women and the Rest of Us by Kate Bornstein. I’m halfway through the last, so I’ll plan on finishing it and reading at least one of the others.

Looking over my Kindle – man, there is a ton of other stuff I downloaded and would like to get to, so I need to stop buying books until I’ve cleared at least SOME of this away.
Only the Devil is Here by Stephen Michell
Nophek Gloss by Essa Hansen
The Wall by Gautam Bhatia
The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix
The Six-Gun Tarot by R.S. Belcher
The Afterward by E.K. Johnston
The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water by Zen Cho
Banshees by Mike Baron
Touched by Venom by Janine Cross
Brimstone Angels by Erin M. Evans
*starts to add others then goes aiiieee and runs around in circles for a while instead*

I’m still pondering the various notetaking methods Tracy talked about, but certainly reading more mindfully seems worthwhile. Will any of this be useful? I dunno, but it can’t hurt, and in the meantime I get to read.

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About Cat

Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches by the shores of an eagle-haunted lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov's, Clarkesworld Magazine, and the magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Her story, "Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain," from her collection Near + Far (Hydra House Books), was a 2012 Nebula nominee. Her editorship of Fantasy Magazine earned her a World Fantasy Award nomination in 2012. She is the current President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). She is currently working on Exiles of Tabat, the third book of the Tabat Quartet. A new story collection, Neither Here Nor There, appears from Hydra House this fall.
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