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.) Don’t forget to friend me on Goodreads either! Btw: 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.

 

 

Best Books of 2016

I’ve had the same New Year’s resolution for a few years running now (if you haven’t been following along, check out this post here). To recap: I was sad about giving one of my favorite hobbies such a low priority in my life, and I wanted to challenge myself to include more reading in my routine.

I use my Goodreads account to track and rate all of the books I read, and to encourage myself to keep up the pace on my reading challenge. (This year’s goal: read 60 books.) I’m not affiliated with Goodreads in anyway but I find having a visual way to monitor my progress very beneficial.

However, I’ve since discovered something that’s helped me even more.

It’s this blog, and more importantly, you guys (the readers). There has been nothing more special to me as a bookworm than to find a community of kindred spirits like yourselves to share all my deepest, bookish thoughts with, and to commiserate on all of the books we’ve read, both good and bad.

I’m amazing too, to connect with people across the globe, regardless of race, religion or age. We all have something that brings us together in spite of our differences and I think that makes us pretty special.

So thank you, my dear readers, for making this year a great one, both in blogging and reading adventures.

Here are some of my favorite titles that I’ve read this year:

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Fiction

For someone who relies so much on their sight to read, it seems a little ironic that two of my favorite books of this year were about blindness. For instance, the appropriately-titled Blindness by José Saramago resonated so much with me that I included it on my list of reads that have shocked my poor sensitive system. Just imagine if everyone in your city started going blind- you’d be shocked too.

A little less scary, but no less interesting or beautiful, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is about a blind girl struggling to survive through World War II, and a treasure hunt that will leave you wild with excitement.

If modern-day horrors scare you even more than post-apocalyptic worlds and war, be sure to pick up a copy of Lionel Shriver’s So Much for That. It’s one of the many books this year that really made me stop and think, and its darkly humorous take on a family devastated by cancer made it another contender on my list of books that you should read at your own risk.

The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas is another controversial, albeit more gossipy book, about the aftermath of a suburban barbecue where a parent slaps a child that is not their own. No matter where you stand on the discipline issue, the secrets and lies that unravel as a result made this book hard to put down.

Among the serious titles I’ve read this year, I’ve come across a couple of favorites that are a little more light-hearted. The Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules by Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg turns the Scandinavian crime genre on its head with the role of the scheming villain played by an aging pensioner just looking for better treatment. (Ok so maybe it’s a little bit of a tongue-in-cheek look at the way we treat our elders, but it still had me in stitches all the same.)

Finally, one of my favorite fiction books of the whole year has to have been Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. It’s everything a good book should be- funny, bittersweet, thoughtful and surprisingly compelling considering it’s actually about a super-long walk across the English countryside.

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Poetry

Once in a while a book of poetry finds its way to my shelves, and my list of favorite books this year wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention how much I loved this slim volume of poetry and creative prose by Canadian author (and now friend!) Joel Thomas Hynes. Straight Razor Days is a collection of thoughts about nearly everything in Hynes’ life- his hometown, his childhood, his relationship with his son- and even though it seems like he uses just about anything that crosses his mind as material, the works here still maintain a sense of cohesion. It’s beautifully written, so even if poetry isn’t always your thing, I still suggest that you check it out. (And he doesn’t even know I’m telling you that!)

Update: This title isn’t currently available on Amazon, so I encourage you to hunt it down in your local bookstore, or check out some of his other titles. They’re all good!

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Non-Fiction

The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman was a great education for millennials like me in how global events in the 80s and 90s have shaped the interconnected world we live in today. Keep in mind I was just a young’un when a lot of these changes were taking place, and this book helped shed some light on some of the things I didn’t fully understand.

I can’t say enough good things about Elizabeth Gilbert’s creative manifesto, Big Magic. I won’t go on too much about it because of the gushing review I wrote here, but if you’re anyone who has ever felt inclined to do any artistic thing ever, you will find this book valuable.

Do Over by Jon Acuff will forever go down in history as the only career-related book that got me in the feels. If you’re looking to make a change in your career, or just tired of accepting the status quo at your current job, this one is for you. (Don’t believe me? Read the review I wrote about it here.)

KBwB-BFlower-50What were some of your favorite books that you’ve read this year? Send me your list at keepingbusyb@gmail.com or better yet, let’s be friends on Goodreads so we can snoop each other’s virtual bookshelves. Want to see even more of what I like to read? I love talking about books here, here, here and here. Or comment below and let me know what you think of my list. How many books have you read this year? I need to know it all!

 

Book Review: Elizabeth Gilbert on Living Creatively

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Oh boy. Was I ever excited to read this book: not only is Elizabeth Gilbert one of my (living) literary girl crushes, but I couldn’t believe the amount of people who would come up to me, out of nowhere, and tell me how badly I needed to get my hands on a copy immediately.

Luckily- I found this book to be as advertised- a wonderful, inspirational read for virtually anyone looking to add a little bit of magic and creative whimsy to their otherwise busy, dissatisfying lives. Don’t believe me? Ask a friend of mine- let’s call her Wendy. It had been ages since I had seen Wendy so I was ecstatic to have the opportunity to catch up with her a few months back when she dropped by a local event that I had been hosting.

Things hadn’t been going so well for Wendy. She was one of those lucky girls who landed her dream job practically right out of college and had spent the last five years busy working her butt off climbing the corporate ladder when she swiftly and abruptly lost her job. It wasn’t her fault (the company was downsizing) but it was still a real blow to Wendy. For most of her young career she had worked steadily towards what she thought was a definitive goal she had some control over. Getting laid off made her feel adrift at sea, purposeless and uninspired until she picked up a copy of Big Magic.

What happened next to Wendy wasn’t unusual- after reading Gilbert’s manifesto on being creative and living fearlessly, she found the courage to pursue a passion project of her own and opened up an Etsy store. Although her prior job had been in a creative field, Wendy felt like she never had the freedom to put her own artistic touch on any of her work. Engaging in this kind of activity (making and selling things) was the spark she had been missing in her life, both personally and professionally. Even though when I met up with Wendy she was still unemployed, she confessed to me it was one of the first times she had felt fully satisfied with her life since she was an art student. Plus, she was making a few dollars on the side while she looked for a job. It seemed like a win-win situation, and Wendy was convinced it was thanks to the wisdom imparted in Big Magic.

It would be great to stop right here and tell you that Wendy went on to become a world-famous Etsy artist and made millions of dollars selling her wares because of Big Magic‘s advice, but I think what really happened after I saw Wendy was even more interesting.

Because neither of those things happened- Wendy still lives in the same modest (albeit beautiful) apartment and still lives the life of your average twenty-something. She’s still running her Etsy store, but by no means has she put all of her eggs in one basket because Wendy found a job. It’s less stressful and definitely less demanding than her previous job, and she thinks it’s great- having a steady job helps to pay the bills and the change of pace and environment has given her the breathing room to keep on doing what she loves in her spare time.

And that’s kind of the beauty of Big Magic- it’s not your typical “follow-your-dreams-and-make-your-doohickeys-it-will-make-a-lot-of-money-if-you-just-believe-in-yourself” self-help manual. Instead it’s more of a permission slip for those everywhere afraid to pursue their own interests, or explore what makes them excited or curious. It’s not a manual for how to do something creative with your life but instead a guide on how to live creatively.

Wendy knows this- she’s not interested in manufacturing her wares in a factory and shipping them worldwide. She relishes the slow thrill of her meticulous crafting process and the delight that each new customer brings. She’s happy to take a break from her creative work to focus on her professional work. For her, it’s enough.

Big Magic‘s biggest message, then, is the importance of making the room in your life to live it creatively, in whatever way you wish to interpret what creativity means to you. If it means creating for the sake of creation or exploring new interests, Gilbert wants you to go for it. (I do too, for that matter!) Maybe it won’t lead to your big break or a cushy bank account, but if it’s the only thing stopping you from living a happier, healthier, more satisfied life, then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t start, like, immediately.

Whatever the change, big or small, Big Magic wants you to make the shift.

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Psst- wanna see which books have previously graced my bookshelves? Click here. Want even more fun reading recommendations? I’ve got some for you here. Don’t forget to find me on Goodreads so we can snoop each other’s bookshelves and dish about our favourites.