So once we've cut back on listicles, articles with numbers in the title, clickbait that ends with some variation of "you won't believe what happened next," random marketing and writing process Internet articles/blog posts, and news articles that are really just entertainment, what are we going to read? You know what we ought to do? We ought to set some goals.
By Goals, I Mean What We're Going To Read, Not How Much.
It's not unusual to see litbloggers writing about their reading goals, by which they mean how much they plan to read this year. I believe Goodreads members can set up annual reading goals there and keep track of how they're doing over the course of the year. But for writers who are trying to make the best use of time, what we're reading is more important than how much. We want our reading to do something for our work or our writing lives, to support it, so we can't rely on random reading. Otherwise, we could stick to reading listicles.
Could you elaborate on that, Gail? you ask. Oh, come on. When can I not elaborate on something?
Some Possible Reading Goals
Reading in our genres.Writers should read in the genre they're interested in writing in order to understand how children's books, romances, mysteries, etc., work. That's not to say that we should study the field and then write like everyone else does. But we should know that when we do something different, we are doing something different and why. For instance, someone writing for children will learn from their reading in that genre that children's books are rarely written from an adult point-of-view. Mystery writers will know from their reading that there are an enormous number of tortured detective protagonists out there. They may want to follow that genre standard. They may want to do something different. But they should know what's being done with the protagonists in children's and mystery books in the first place.
Reading within our genre is particularly important for children's writers. Occasionally you'll hear of pre-published children's authors who want to write books like the ones they enjoyed when they were young back in the '60s, '70s, '80s. Will a book like that find an audience among 21st century child readers? There may be a limit on how many Pals in Peril and Penderwicks books the contemporary child market can support.
Then there is the "comparable thing." You know. That thing where authors pitch their manuscripts to agents and editors as being like some best selling book. Maybe being like a mash-up of a couple of them. I heard at the spring NESCBWI conference that agents like to hear comparables not just because it takes care of doing some of their selling for them or because they can only understand a new story in relation to one they already know about. No, they like to hear the comparable thing from writers because it's an indication that the writers know their genre and are thus serious about it. They haven't just knocked off a sweet tale and will never do another piece of work.
So reading in your genre is an excellent use of new found reading time.
Reading Literary Journals. Writers who are interested in writing short stories, and publishing them (that's me again), may want to spend some of their new writing time keeping up with reading literary journals. In The Ultimate Guide To Getting Published In A Literary Magazine, Lincoln Michel says that the best literary journals are the ones that actually publish work we like. "It’s much more satisfying to appear in a journal you read and love, next to authors you read and love, than it is to be in a slightly more prestigious journal among writers that make your skin slough off in boredom." Finding some literary journals we actually like reading (I'm leaning toward Carve right now) and spending time reading them should help us determine if we share some kind of world view with the editorial staff. Could publications we like become a home for us and our writing? Exploring literary journals and reading some of them regularly is truly a reading shift for many writers.
Now that I've cleaned all the marketing and writing process articles out of my bookmarks, I'm filling them with links to litjournals I want to either try out or to read regularly.
Targeted Process Reading. I made a point last week of writing about cutting back on reading random writing process articles. I've found them repetitious and sometimes superficial. But a targeted process article or even book is something different.
With targeted process reading we are reading about something specific. We may be aware of a problem in our writing, and we're seeking out help. We're also going to want to go deeper into this kind of reading then we would with the process articles we stumble across on-line or sometimes even in some established writing magazines.
I Could Go On And On. Then there's research for books we haven't even started or for workshops we haven't even created yet. And pleasure reading, of course.
Oh. Wait. Is anyone else getting overwhelmed with reading again?
Keep Changing Reading Goals
Another thing we can do to help control or at least organize our reading and make better use of time is to keep changing our goals. January we're going to do a certain type of reading. We can then switch to something else in February. Taking part in National Novel Writing Month? We could plan to do any research reading over the summer leading up to our November writing binge.
The whole reading burden seems smaller and more manageable, if we've broken up the reading we want to do and assigned it to specific time periods. What we're going to do, when we're going to do it.
And What About Adding Objectives To Our Reading Goals?
Again, adding objectives to our goals will help make the volume of reading we want to do within the time we have seem more manageable by precisely telling us what we're going to do.
Reading Goal 1. Read Within My Genre
Objective 1: A specific book
Objective 2: Another specific book
Objective 3: Still another specific book.
Reading Goal 2. Read Literary Jouranls
Objecive 1: Read Erika Dreifus's Monday Markets and Jobs for Writers to find new (to me) journals
Objective 2: Subscribe to Carve (Or, in my case, ask for a subscription for my birthday)
Objective 3: Check on-line journal 1 once a month
Objective 4: Check journal 2's website once a month for new material
Can You Summarize This Gail?
Of course, I can.
1. Eliminate unnecessary reading to create time
2. Create reading goals and objectives to make the best use of that new time.