The Saturday Creativity Quote — simple tools for improving our work

I’ve been talking a lot here lately about the importance of diving in, of getting started. Of moving past our fears and doubts and into the work. Sometimes that means pausing to look more deeply at those fears and doubts, investigating what is holding us back from actually doing the work. Sometimes it means finding tools that help us deepen and improve our work. I’ll be talking about a few of those tools over the next few weeks.

First up, reading. Reading like a writer. In On Writing, Stephen King famously wrote “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

Schedule it. Ten minutes a night before you fall asleep won’t do. You can’t fully dive into a story and connect with it unless you’ve given yourself the time. Mystery writer Catriona McPherson says reading is as much a part of our job as writers as putting words on the page.

Read up. I got this tip from Elizabeth George, at a fabulous week-long workshop when I was a beginning writer. (I reconnected with her at the New England Crime Bake in 2015, when this photo was taken.) Read the authors whose work you most enjoy, who are writing what you write or want to write, whose careers and success you admire. The writers who inspire you. If you’re already published, reading authors in your genre who are publishing at the same level as you may not teach you much about craft, but if they’re stretching the genre in some way, striking readers in a way you want to emulate, or in a way you don’t quite grasp, read them, too. Choose what you read with a purpose.

Analyze what you read. I’ve written about “reading like a writer” before, and I still believe it’s a critical skill. Sum up a book by writing a review, just for yourself. (If you want to write a review on BookBub or another site, that’s great, but it’s a very different type of review!) Reread my earlier post for a few tips on what to note as you write your own reviews. (We’ll talk about more in-depth analysis later.)

Find more tools for reading like a writer in Francine Prose’s book of the same name.

“Reading superior novels arouses the mind in a way that nothing else quite does,” wrote Joseph Epstein in The Novel, Who Needs It?, quoted by Jacob Brogan in the Washington Post.

He’s right. And it will improve your writing like nothing else, too.

The Saturday Writing Quote — on reading

“Studies have shown that reading novels increases our ability to empathize, but not by choice, but by rewiring our brain. … Story isn’t something we humans created for “entertainment” nor is story about something as ephemeral, vague and – honestly unhelpful – as the concept of “art.” In fact, we didn’t create story at all; story created us. Or at least our perception of the world we live in. Story is built into the architecture of the brain, it’s the framework that allows us to process all the raw info that life throws at us 24/7.”
– Lisa Cron, Writer Unboxed blog, 10/8/15

The Saturday Writing Quote — on reading

“Fiction allows our brains to practice reacting to the kinds of challenges that are, and always were, most crucial to our success as a species. … [S]tories make societies work better, by encouraging us to behave ethically. As with sacred myths, ordinary stories—from TV shoes to fairy tales—steep us all in the same powerful norms and values. They relentlessly stigmatize antisocial character and just as relentlessly celebrate prosocial behiavor.”

Jonathan Gottschall, in The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, reviewed in The Writer, June 2012

The Saturday Writing Quote — on reading

“Every so often, when I am feeling overwhelmed and exhausted by all the reading I must do for work, I stop. I pull out something beloved, something from childhood, and I read that instead.”
– Laurie Hertzel, Minneapolis Star Tribune, talking about reading favorite childhood books as an adult.

(Illustration: the current cover of Calico Bush, one of my childhood faves that stands up beautifully on rereading)

The Saturday Writing Quote — on reading (#2)

IMGP2894“In anything fit to be called by the name of reading, the process itself should be absorbing and voluptuous; we should gloat over a book, be rapt clean out of ourselves, and rise from the perusal, our mind filled with the busiest, kaleidoscopic dance of images, incapable of sleep or of continuous thought.”

Robert Louis Stevenson, “A Gossip on Romance” (1882), in Learning to Write 44, 44 (1920).

(photo: a few of my faves from a year ago!)

The Saturday Writing Quotes — on Reading!

A Saturday in winter is just made for reading — and all writers must be readers, too.

“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” — Joseph Addison, English essayist and more, 1672-1719

“Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them all.” — Henry David Thoreau, American writer and philosopher, 1817-62

“Hold a book in your hand and you’re a pilgrim at the gates of a new city.” — Anne Michaels, Canadian poet and novelist (born 1958), in her novel Fugitive Pieces, citing a Hebrew saying