Great Readers Make Great Writers

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This post goes out to those poor souls attempting the NaNoWriMo challenge this month! (That’s National Novel Writing Month if you’re not in the know, and you can find out more about it here.)

There’s this old adage about great readers making great writers, and like most old adages, I find this one to be true. (Hence the title of this post.)

Reading and writing are kind of like bread and butter. (Unless you can think of a more G-free metaphor-peanut butter and jelly?) The more authors, genres and styles you experience as a reader can help you develop your own voice and spark your own creativity.

I’m the kind of reader that has to read absolutely everything (okay, maybe there are some exceptions). As a writer, too, it comes as no surprise that a book about writing finds its way onto my bookshelves. In many ways, I find reading about writing oddly inspiring and- dare I say it- helpful to me as a writer. Here are some of the titles that have stood out:

Writing can be an isolating activity and if you don’t have a fellow scribe to talk to it can start to feel a little lonely. Natalie Goldberg, critically-acclaimed writer, poet and teacher has written a lovely little collection of thoughts and stories about writing called Writing Down the Bones that feels more like a series of letters to fellow writers than it does a book. As such, don’t be afraid to read this book in an untraditional way- it’s the kind of book you stash on your shelf and revisit from time to time, picking a selection at random whenever you’re looking for inspiration or just a chance to connect with someone who knows what you’re going through. At the end, you’ve kind of feel like you’ve made a new friend.

Even if you’re not a fan of chick lit, you may be surprised at how much you’ll enjoy Will Write for Shoes: How to Write a Chick Lit Novel by Cathy Yardley. Aspiring fiction authors everywhere will get a kick at exploring the major story themes and character archetypes of the genre, and it provides fascinating insight into the minds of the writers and publishers who have the chick lit novel down to a fine science.

If you’re looking to unlock your creativity, the legendary book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron may be a good way to start. It’s not necessarily just about writing, although many of the exercises included are designed to help you develop your craft. Instead, The Artist’s Way is about finding a way to express the creativity that Cameron believes is locked inside each of us, no matter which art form you choose. The goal here is not to become a famous author but to find a way to express yourself without fear, anxiety or guilt.

If you feel like your ideas and voice are developed, but you’re struggling with cultivating a writing routine, then How to Write a Lot by Paul J. Silva is for you. Originally conceived with the academic writer in mind, I still found this book an extremely practical guide for incorporating writing into your everyday routine, plus it has some great tips for getting those creative juices flowing.

Finally, if you don’t know where to start, I suggest starting at the beginning with a copy of Three Genres by Stephen Minot. It’s the quintessential guide to- you guessed it- the three genres of writing: prose, poetry and plays. Pick your favorite section to get a crash course, or read the whole thing from cover to cover to gain a better understanding of story structure and language. I loved this textbook so much in high school I almost stole it when I graduated. That’s how invaluable it was to me!

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And of course, this list wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t give an honorable mention to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. (I gush all about it here, if you’re interested.) It’s not necessarily about writing, or for writers, but it was an important reminder for me to keep on creating for the sake of my own joy and self-expression.

Happy reading and writing!

B

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What are some of the books that have helped you in your writing process? I’d love to know! Comment below or drop me a line at keepingbusyb@gmail.com and I may include your suggestions in an updated version of this post!

I love to read and I love sharing my favorite books with you. (For more reading inspiration click here or here.) These lists are totally my own creation and I was not paid or perked to share my opinions with you by any author or publishing company. Full disclosure: I do receive a small commission from Amazon when you choose to buy from my site. It keeps this blog running and food in my dog’s bowl, but rest assured I would never suggest you buy something I wouldn’t buy for myself. Enjoy!

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3 Rules for a Successful Study Routine

I was kind of an over-achiever in high school. Yearbook committee, school newspaper, concert choir, art club- I did it all while taking advanced English, and studying all of the languages my school had on offer (much to the chagrin of my guidance counselor). Oh, did I mention that half of my electives were in French? (Canada is bilingual, so English-speaking students required to study French until a certain grade and have the option of enrolling in an immersive language program.) My GPA was pretty high. And the worst part was, I wasn’t even trying.

Is this you?

See, I was just always kind of good at school. Making top of the class was easy for me so imagine the shock that I got when I went to university and realized that everyone there was at the top of their class, too. Suddenly, I didn’t seem so smart anymore. It really did a number on my self-esteem.

I don’t want this happening to you.

My problem was that I never learned how to study. I wasn’t sure how to organize my workflow, and I couldn’t identify any issues I had with the material until it was too late, and I’d end falling behind.

If this is your problem too, here’s my best piece of advice: your school probably offers workshops on a variety of things that help you do well in school. Take them all. Glean what you can. There is no one magic formula for studying that works for everyone, so try everything until you figure out a strategy that’s best for you.

I narrowed down some of what I learned until I had it crystallized into three rules for successful studying:

Study like it’s your job. Treat your school day like a 9-5 workday and find time in between classes to catch up on assignments, reading, or studying.

Assess the type of learner you are. Do you respond well to tactile things like flash cards, or copying something out? Do you need to draw a chart to connect ideas, or colour-code your notes for memorization? Maybe you do best when you explain a concept to someone else, or make up a song in order to remember terms for a test. Knowing how your brain works will help you select more useful and productive ways of studying instead of just trying to adopt a method just because someone says it’s the “right” way or the “best” way. There’s no such thing.

Assess your personality type. This can provide the framework for when, where and how often you study, as well as who you should choose as study partner. (Or maybe you don’t do well with them at all!) Are you easily distracted and find it hard to sit still? Study in short bursts. Are you a morning person? Wake up early to find time to review notes before class. Easily distracted? Then high thee to a library, and sequester yourself in a dark corner with your phone on airplane mode.

Also, there’s this thing known as actually hunkering down and doing it, which is probably the most obvious route to successful studying. You’d be surprised though at how many people let it fall by the wayside in favor of completing more immediate, pressing assignments or class readings. Do yourself a favor and don’t break study dates with yourself, or with your study buddies. Good intentions are great, but unfortunately they don’t usually help you pass an exam.

Best Practices for Surviving School

The other day I ran into a girl that I used to baby-sit while I was in high school. She’s a little older now so it was fun to catch up and see how she’s grown. I couldn’t believe when I heard she was finishing university this year, and her younger sister is just starting out at my old alumni. She asked me if I had any advice, so here it is. For those of you just starting out in post-secondary school, or for those of you looking to turn over a new leaf this year- I hope you find it useful. For the girls I used to look after- this one is for you.

Practice self-care. Exercise, sleep and eat healthy. These are the habits you’re most likely to let go of when you go to school so I encourage you to make them a priority. It’s not just about avoiding the Freshman 15- not taking care of your basic needs messes with your focus, your understanding and your mood. (I lost 15 lbs. instead because of all of the stress!)

Practice time management skills. Your success depends on well you can balance your classes, your job, your social life, your family, your home responsibilities, and any activities you engage in when you have free time. (By the way, if you don’t learn this quickly, you won’t have much free time.)

Practice discipline. It’s hard juggling all of those different hats you wear, especially if you’re without parental supervision for the first time. School can be fun, but you have to find a balance between work and play or you’ll find yourself suffering the consequences in your academic and/or personal life.

Practice organization. Your life will be a lot easier if you have everything you need, and you know where it all is. Be prepared. You won’t think I’m silly until the moment your pen dries up during an exam and you have to ask the proctor for one in front of 300 people.

Practice thrift. School is expensive and life can be to. It could mean a lot of trouble for you if you don’t learn how to manage your expenses quickly. This is also the time when many of you are starting to build a credit history, so it’s important to make paying bills – on time and in full – a priority.

Practice being open-minded. You’re going to meet a bunch of different people who come from different places and backgrounds and who do things, say things and think things that are different than what you’re used to. Please keep in mind that your way isn’t always the right way- it’s just all that you know because that’s where you come from. We all have things to learn from one another.

Practice kindness. When no one knows who you are or where you come from, all you have are your actions to represent yourself. Make your first impression a good one and the kindness will come back to you ten-fold during your time at school. I’m so grateful to all the friends I made that helped me through that time- they made me food when I was hungry, brought me coffees when I was tired, gave me pep talks when I was down and even loaned me a laptop when mine went on the fritz the night before a deadline. It really does pay to be nice!

Above all, I hope you keep things in perspective- school is not just about the credits, and the lectures, and the piece of paper at the end. It’s about expanding your horizons, challenging yourself and discovering your own talents and skill sets. It’s an exciting time and one I’ll certainly never forget. I wish you all the best of luck.

What’s your biggest takeaway from your time at school? Share it with the class below or let’s chat about it- you can reach me at keepingbusyb@gmail.com.

If you’re looking for more ways to juggle that whole work/school/life balance thing, click here to find more solutions that worked for me.