Confession: I avoid rereading books when possible.
But that’s not possible when you’re in grad school.
Books you read in high school will appear on your class syllabus as required reading. And having read it five years ago doesn’t count.
I once considered rereading books a waste of time. I have reading lists of books I want to read once, and you can’t highlight a book twice.
Yep, I’m that person.
But there’s value to rereading books. Although my grad school days are long behind me, I still pick up a book I’ve already read from time to time.
And you should too.
So why reread books? Because you’re missing out if you don’t.
You Missed A Lot The First Go-Around
Story details go unnoticed the first time you read a book. Since you already know the “what happens next” parts, reread the book to focus on the little things that heighten each plot point, character, and setting. Can you spot the foreshadowing? Can you find hints of a character’s point of view who isn’t telling the story?
You Have A Different Perspective
When I first read Catcher In The Rye as a teenager, I immediately identified with Holden’s point of view and claimed him to be misunderstood.
After rereading the novel as a grad school grown-up, I found him to be very whiny and depressing.
It’s hard to read a book objectively. And when we don’t read objectively, our personalities and life events change how we perceive a story. Were you in a bad place when you read the book before? Read it before a life-changing event? Reread the book through your new filter to see what you notice now about the story.
You Should Analyze Story Structure
Reading is always a constructive task for writers. After you let yourself enjoy the story the first read-through, it’s time to get to work.
What’s working in the story? What’s not? How did the writer succeed in conveying X, Y, and Z? These are questions you should be asking (and perhaps journaling about) when you reread so that you know how to improve your own writing.
Why do you reread books? Share your thoughts below.
When I was an undergrad student, I had a stubborn view on audience. I argued that the writer wrote solely for him/herself, that the reader either enjoys the writer’s art or does not.
How wrong I was.
I tried arguing this stance in formal papers to professors. Yet their red pens circled and criticized, pointing out that my argument “only further proved that the writer must know their audience.”
And my audience was against me.
My stubborn view changed after my Writing and Genre capstone class. The professor assigned a romance novel for us to read. That’s right, a romance novel.
Although I love a good soap opera, the romance novel audience did not include me.
But there was a point. After reading the romance novel, the professor asked us to consider these questions:
- Who would choose to read this novel?
- Why would they choose to read this novel?
- In what ways is the writer fulfilling the needs of the reader?
It was the first time I ever considered the reader having a point of view. I was so wrapped up in being the writer that I forgot what it was like to be the reader.
Sometimes the biggest lessons are saved for last.
This lesson continued when I started my marketing career in higher education. I loved the college I was hired to promote, but I couldn’t write my ads from my point of view. Boasting stats and rankings wouldn’t have resonated with our potential student audience.
In order to be effective, I had to consider the audience’s point of view and write from there.
So how does the writer take on the reader’s point of view?
Think about a particular writing project of yours and ask yourself these questions:
- What is happening in your reader’s life that would make your writing resonate?
- How would your reader define an enjoyable reading experience?
- How does your reader decide what is interesting to read?
- What are barriers in your reader’s life that keeps him/her from reading your writing?
- Who and what influences your reader’s decision to read your writing?
- What would your reader admire about your writing?
- What would your reader dislike about your writing?
Knowing who your reader is, are you fulfilling the needs of your reader? How can you enrich their experience more? How can you make sure they choose to read your writing?
Reflect on these questions periodically as you write and revise your work. Things change over time: Your writing, your audience, even your perspective on life, your work, and your audience.
Even I changed my perspective.
The librarian called my house when I was five to tattletale on me. Earlier that day, I was exploring the children’s section at the local library, listening to an audiocassette about counting in Spanish in the audiocassette-designated area.
“Uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, seis.”
I really got into it, bobbing my head and singing along out loud. I think I even started dancing around the table, the headphone cord corkscrewing around my body.
“Siete, ocho, nueve, diez!”
So the librarian called right before dinner. Apparently I was too loud, but I was let off with a warning for my noise violation and a pre-dinner parental scolding.
I’ve been a silent patron ever since.
This story always comes to mind whenever I step inside a library. I think of it as children dash around bookshelves for their game of tag. I think of it as an obnoxious ringtone blares from someone’s pocket or purse, when it takes the full duration of the piercing jingle for the owner to silence the cell phone. I think of it as a mother bounces her screaming baby between the librarian help desk and the sign Silence Zone.
Whatever happened to the library being a quiet place?
Although I broke the rule once, I’ve appreciated silence at the library my whole life. I valued the silence so that I could hear myself read silently, imagine the stories inside shelved books, and brainstorm my own story ideas with a paper and pen.
Even if that meant speaking in a whisper.
But the strictness of silence at the library is diminishing. There may be signs suggesting silence and to turn off cell phones, but there is also holiday music playing, storytime in common areas, and patron voices laughing, crying, scolding, and shouting.
And librarians that don’t call your house.
After days of arriving at the library to write yet coming home defeated by the noise, I decided I needed a new out-of-the-house workspace.
So I went to a café.
It’s no secret why cafés are so popular for writers. The building smells like coffee beans, chocolate, and cinnamon. Phone volumes are turned to silent or vibrate, and calls are answered outside. Jazz music plays just loud enough to get your writing juices flowing. Voices aren’t a distraction, not even whispered conversations or those ordering a latté. There are lots of windows bringing in natural light. You don’t even get sideways glances when you hog a large table to spread out all your paper drafts and computer technology.
Plus you can buy a cup of caffeine.
Going to a café is my entertainment fix each week (probably because I don’t get out that much). I am willing to spend $5 to sip a mocha, stretch out at a table, write until my fingers are sore, and show off just how serious of a writer I am to those passing by outside.
So what does the café have that the library doesn’t?
(It’s not the coffee. More and more libraries are selling hot beverages, and most libraries tolerate patrons bringing in tightly sealed drinks.)
It’s the intimacy.
Café customers come in to get cozy with their book, their newspaper, their writing, their homework, their coffee, their friend. What is said, read, or written is often private, and time spent at the café is precious bonding time.
That’s why libraries were once so appealing to me. It seemed like every patron had a relationship with books and reading equal to my own. People came in to browse, to read, to research—anything to strengthen the bond between book and human.
Perhaps now the patron relationship has altered. Patrons come to the library to make book loan transactions, take a class, tutor a student, hear carolers sing.
The library is not a café. It is a community house.
The library’s patron has shifted from the individual to the family. An individual may read all day long, but a family has multiple wants–and reading is only one of them. The library, wanting to stay funded, meets these multiple wants of their new client.
This isn’t the first time a business has evolved. Bookstores now carry music and computer games. Video rental stores shifted to online movie streaming. Restaurants revise their menu to compete with that popular restaurant down the street.
It’s all about meeting client needs.
Since my current need is quiet time to write my novel-in-progress, I choose to spend my resources at a café where I know I’ll write a solid five pages in one sitting. I return to the library from time to time at non-peak hours because I’m always curious to see what’s happening there.
Where librarians won’t tattletale on me anymore.
When I was a sophomore in college, I had absolutely no clue what career I wanted to pursue. I was determined to be a published writer and author (and still am), but I was starting to get realistic about the chances of easily sustaining myself financially with book publications full-time.
So I visited a college career counselor.
I was expecting to learn about new careers that involved writing or editing or endless shelves of books.
Her advice was the reverse: take on a career that has nothing to do with writing.
Work in a greenhouse, she suggested. Be a security guard. Or a hairstylist. Or a bus driver. Or a tour guide. Or a house sitter.
She made her case:
- Some non-writing careers keep you energized about writing. Why come home drained after long hours of writing and editing projects that aren’t your novel or your play? You won’t come home eager to write out a scene–you’ll just turn on the TV and fall asleep.
- Some non-writing careers (sometimes) permit you to write while working. There are jobs that require your attendance but not 100% of your attention. Job breaks are perfect to write a few more pages of your draft or to think up solutions for the problems in your writing.
- Some non-writing careers open you to new ideas for your writing. How can you become an expert on a profession or a place or a group of people when you’re always on the side of the red pen? Writers are exploring scribes, and your craft will only improve by studying the world.
Needless to say, my parents were not amused with this answer.
A lot has changed since 2007. Writing careers aren’t tied down to just big publishing houses and newsstand papers. Websites are breeding like rabbits, blogs are more than just open diaries, indie publishers are on the rise, and social media has the power to make or break a company. Writers and editors are currently in high demand because the perception of (and appreciation of) the writing craft has evolved beyond the pages of a book or the folds of a newspaper.
And I have also changed. My love for writing has extended beyond the joy of scribbling down words into a passion of learning and becoming an expert on a multitude of topics. I used to write to escape from people and places, but now I write because I want to engage with people and places, because I want to be the one that shapes the telling of their story.
In other words, I now love the process of storytelling.
These were the answers I was expecting to hear in that counselor’s office:
- Writing careers keep you sharp on your craft. Professionals in these careers must continuously be experts on craft, grammar, audience targeting, and formatting. With these industries rapidly evolving, there’s a demand to stay ahead of the competition (because you’re competitive).
- Writing careers are a great way to network. Writing careers work alongside and with people that love to write and read, engage in writing and reading groups, and associate with others that write and read.
- Writing careers build credibility. Even if it isn’t a novel or a play, you will leave work each night satisfied that you have written an article, a blog post, social media conversations, website copy, a grant, a contract–all that can trickle its way into your marketable resume.
- Writing careers keep you writing daily (or close to it). Writing through other mediums keeps your mind fresh and keeps the juices flowing for your personal projects. The problems you solve while writing 9 to 5 may be solutions for your afterhours prose.
So what’s my verdict? I say both are valid approaches.
I am currently searching for full-time employment, and I have been open to both possibilities. A writing career would continue me on the path towards my passion. A non-writing career can lead me to possibilities and stories I have yet to imagine.
Instead of asking which career path to take, ask yourself these questions:
- What are my writing goals?
- What are my writing values?
- What is my strategy to achieve these goals?
Then take action and write your way towards success.
I had a blog back in 2008 when blogs were still fairly new. It was for my writing capstone class at college and every student was assigned to write blogs analyzing our reading assignments with our class discussions on defining genre in writing. Many students in the class wrote hesitantly and rather stiffly in their blogs, perhaps longing for the traditional structure of writing a short paper meant only for the professor’s eyes.
But I ran wild with blogging: I scrutinized over every word in the readings, took notes and spoke confidently during class discussions, brainstormed the story arc of my blog entry, tweaked entry passages to make it even cleverer before I hit submit. My competitive nature turned each week into a challenge to write the most insightful, most creative, wittiest blog. I wanted to make my readers laugh, to think, to frown, to roll their eyes—and all because of what I wrote.
So why did I stop blogging?
For starters, the class ended. Then there were part-time jobs and studying abroad and finishing senior year and graduate school applications and graduate school and holidays that required traveling and thesis after thesis after thesis.
In short, I let my life get in the way.
I had always wanted to return to blogging, but I let insecurities hold me back. Blogs must be complicated to start, too expensive to maintain, too demanding of my time, too miniscule in the big world of blogging to even be read.
Some of my insecurities were backed by facts. There are currently over 56 million WordPress blogs, and that doesn’t include the millions more blogs hosted by Tumblr, Blogger, TypePad, Posterous, or even blogs that don’t use blog publishing websites. Companies blog, people blog, brands blog, organizations blog, foundations blog–everyone is blogging!
I didn’t get the confidence to even start up again until I attended the Rochester Writers’ Conference this year at Oakland University. I sat as a student in one session about blogging and I scribbled down lines of notes about how easy it was to start a blog and how financially pleasing it was to maintain it and the strategies to bring eyes upon my blog. I couldn’t wait to go home and set up an account.
So why did it take me another month to start?
I didn’t know what to write about. Blogs aren’t random ramblings but rather thought episodes on a particular expertise or interest. Blogs aren’t scattered ideas but authoritative accounts on fixing cars or relationship advice or examples of world improvement or even a writer’s way of life. Blogs are where the writer shines as an expert, and I didn’t want to take my expertise lightly.
I also needed to decide who would be my audience. Blogs are audience-driven, and readership depends on how well researched, how captivating, how grammatically correct, and how honest the writer writes. This audience component pushes the writer to catch a new reader’s attention and to hold that attention for weeks, months, years. Blogs can exist in the vast World Wide Web, but it turns into another dusty book on a library shelf if not read.
So I closed my eyes and imagined my future readers. I saw someone with overcrowded bookshelves because of an obsession with reading and writing. I saw someone who just started taking a creative writing class at the community college. I saw someone who loves to network, who loves to listen, who loves to learn. I saw someone who has the confidence to be an expert but not knowing where to start. I saw me. I saw you.
So, after my four-year hiatus, I decided to blog about my journey in developing a writing career so that, through triumphs and failures, we go through our journeys together.