Mur Lafferty Is Nicer Than I Am — You’ll Love Her

I Should Be Writing isn’t just for beginners.

All writers have one thing in common: we face challenges. In our quest to Make Words Happen, we stumble. We slosh through puddles of self-doubt. We cover our ears and try not to weep (okay, sometimes we cry a little) as our muses and inner editors duel (with lightsabers) for our full attention.

Basically, writing is hard. For everyone, in their own way.

Some writers struggle with perfectionism (*slowly sinks lower in chair*). Some writers finish their drafts, edit their drafts, then don’t know what to do with them.

Some writers even succeed — then struggle to keep writing, because they’re afraid they’ve gone as far as they’ll ever go.

No matter what kind of writer you are, what corner of the writerverse you dwell within, how far you’ve gotten in this game called Writing For A Living (or Just For Fun), you need reassurance every now and then. Everyone does.

You need to sit down with another writer who has struggled with the same things you have, listen to what they have to say, and feel confident enough to apply their wisdom to your work.

Not everyone has the chance to make this kind of personal connection with a writing mentor of sorts. But I did. I just got lucky, I guess.

(Actually, I listened to a podcast, sent an email, and got a free book, but whatever.)

Mur Lafferty — author, podcaster, lover of all things sci-fi (she loves it so much she made a career out of it!) — wrote a book. Another one. Her publisher was generous enough to send me (and some other lucky people) an advanced copy of said new book. And after eagerly scooping my copy off an unfortunately damp front porch, hugging it a little too tight, and diving headfirst into its pages, I just have one thing to say …

I want to read it again.

No, that’s not quite right. I need to read it again.

Because this book isn’t just for beginners. It’s for anyone who has ever sat in front of their computer screens, six seasons deep into FRIENDS, tub of half-melted ice cream in hand, and thought, “I shouldn’t be doing this. I should be writing.”

You’ve been here. I know you have, because I have, too. (What, did you think I was just painting you a picture? Real life experiences make the best imagery.)

We all should be writing. And we all need to jump at any chance we can get to listen to a writer — a creative, down-to-earth human being who knows her stuff — use persuasive words to lure us away from Monica and Chandler’s romantic endeavors and back to our own stories (after we finish the ice cream, of course).

That’s what reading I Should Be Writing felt like. A quick refresher course in everything I needed to hear. A one-on-one mentoring session with someone who has been writing professionally much longer than I have (that’s a compliment!), who knows firsthand what I, and my audience, struggle with.

There are lessons woven within these pages that I’d heard before — that’s going to happen when you’re writing a book for writers at all levels!

There were also things I didn’t know I needed to remember — not until they were dangling in front of my face, sprinkled with amazingly relatable metaphors.

(This is the first of Lafferty’s books I’ve read — but it will not be the last. If it weren’t so well-written, this book would probably feel a lot like every other writing-focused book. But it doesn’t.)

This quick read (you could finish it in an afternoon, or savor it in bite-sized treats) will teach you a lot about your writing process — especially relaying the message that you already have the majority of the things you need to succeed in writing. You just need to learn how to use them. (Will this book help you start to do that? Absolutely.)

You’ll also learn why so many writers don’t write — and how not to be one of them. (This is why it’s a nice, compact workshop — reading is important, but only if you eventually close the book and write!)

Most importantly, you’ll learn — or stumble upon a much-needed sequence of friendly reminders — that as writers, we all struggle with the same things. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never written before or you’re a published writer stuck in a slump. We all have moments when we need someone to sit us down and say, “Hey, you can do this.”

That’s Lafferty’s role here — providing the materials, and encouragement, you need to Do The Writing Thing.

Unlike the writing guidance you’ll get here, though, her approach is … well, gentler. Mur doesn’t come sprinting toward you at full speed, screaming at you to get something written already, gosh dang it! (I JUST WANT YOU TO BE SUCCESSFUL OK?) She’s the kind, encouraging friend that will talk you out of quitting and guide you back toward your craft one small step at a time.

This book is smart. It’s helpful. It’s entertaining.

Best of all, it has writing prompts! Who loves writing prompts? YOU DO!

If this all sounds like something you need to get your writing back on track, you can get your copy now.

I loved everything about this introvert-friendly writing workshop — and believe me, I’d tell you honestly if I didn’t. Actually, I loved it so much that I ordered a second copy for myself (because pre-orders make authors and their publishers happy, you know).

But I don’t need two copies of the same book — I don’t have shelf space for that. (Yet.)

I want one of you to have a copy instead.

But you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to hear about how you can snag a free copy of this amazing book. Because, though I could ramble on about my love for this piece of art, I really should be writing … about peanut butter, amino acids, and saturated fat. Or something. Probably.

(Tomorrow. Giveaway. Don’t forget.)

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Help Novelty Revisions become a more valuable resource for aspiring writers.

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How to Think Deeper About Everything You Read

Are you an active or passive reader?

I have a confession to make.

I am a passive reader.

Sometimes I read a book, really enjoy the book, put it on my shelf, and don’t think about it again.

I don’t like that I do this. It’s something I’m trying to work on. Because I love books, I love words, and I want part of my reading experience to involve thinking deeper — thinking critically — about the things I’m learning from books.

If you’re feeling the same way — I really hope I’m not the only one — I want to share a few tricks I’ve started using to become a more active reader. They might help you, too.

Write about it

It feels like everyone is writing book reviews and starting book review blogs. Don’t listen to the “advice” that you shouldn’t do that because everyone else is, though. Forcing yourself to follow up a good read with a review not only refines your writing skills, but makes you pay attention to what you feel are the most important elements of whatever you’re reading — and important skill set for an aspiring writer.

You don’t have to write full book reviews to practice this. I’ve started (infrequently) doing micro-reviews on my Instagram. I much prefer writing two- or three-sentence blurbs about my experience as a reader, from the perspective of a fellow writer. It’s not much, but it does force me to reflect on what I’ve just read. That might be a fun way for you to start experimenting with more critical reading outlets.

Take snapshots — literally

Some people annotate. Some people dog-ear pages (!!!). You can highlight, sticky tab, bookmark any page in a book you want. But sometimes, I want to take a (literal) snapshot of a passage quickly, so I don’t have to stop reading for long, so I can store it in a place I won’t lose it and return to it later.

All you heathens with ereaders can pretty much do this automatically — it’s built into the software. If you need to hold and cherish a physical book like the rest of us, all you have to do is take a photo with your phone. Call me old-fashioned, but I know exactly where to find the quote I saved from Bill Nye’s new book this morning. Three finger taps on my phone, and I’m there.

(In case you weren’t sure, I love physical book hoarders and ereader junkies equally. You’re all lovely.)

Discuss it

I know, I know, you’re having English class flashbacks. But admit it — those [required] discussions were vital to your understanding of literature, whether you enjoyed them or not. Sometimes sharing your thoughts about a book — and hearing others share theirs — changes your perspective relating to a specific theme, character, or string of events. As a writer, meeting with others to discuss published books is just as valuable as meeting with other writers and discussing your unpublished work as a group.

Don’t want to venture out into the world and physically interact with other human beings? This is why the internet exists (well, sort of). Join a virtual book club! You can find them all over the place. Or you could start your own. I can guarantee you aren’t the only one who likes to read a specific genre and wants to discuss books with others on the web.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Help Novelty Revisions become a more valuable resource for aspiring writers.

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A Case for ‘Required Reading’ As An Adult

Why don’t more adults read?

Can you recite, off the top of your head, the title of the last book you read? Can you estimate how many books you’ve read in the past month — in the past year?

In my opinion, there are too many people who never pick up (or, sigh, download) another book the moment they don’t have to, if they ever even did their required reading in school at all. I don’t believe there are people who “just aren’t readers.” If you don’t like to read, that’s fine, I’m not going to force you. But there is a subject matter, a format (novel? Audiobook? Comic?), a style of writing, an author, an optimal word length, for everyone. You can choose not to read — but if you do, there’s something for you. And you should do all you can to find it.

Why don’t more people read? I ask this question because I’m curious, not because I’m judging anyone who doesn’t. I just wonder if our lives are just way more cluttered with other stuff than they used to be — even though sitting in front of a screen and watching shows, for example, is nothing new.

I’m not going to sit here and say Netflix and YouTube have ruined reading forever, because I spend more hours per week than I’m proud to admit on both of those platforms, and I’m still on book 30 of 50 this year.

There are people who prefer videos and BuzzFeed articles and podcasts to reading, but there are also plenty of people who prefer to diversify their entertainment, or edutainment, depending on the types of books you tend to read. I love streaming TV, but I do get tired of sitting there staring at a screen — I like mixing things up and staring at a physical page full of words for awhile.

So it’s not that we need to stop streaming and replace it with reading. No — we just need to do a better job of balancing watching, listening, reading, playing, and doing.

Maybe we just don’t know what to read, where to look for recommendations, whether or not we’ll like something before we dive into it. I hope that doesn’t stop people from exploring the wondrous world of books! There are so many! Which is probably the issue!

You already know how to read, but there’s so much more to gain from doing more of it on your own time. It forces you to focus — something I’m guessing many adults struggle with today (I do!). You get to use your imagination, picture how things might look and sound, something you don’t get to do when you’re watching a movie. Reading can also make you feel good — it’s a healthy kind of distraction, stress reliever, and when all else fails, go-to BFF.

If you do want to start reading more — even if only to inspire yourself to write more — or you want to encourage someone you know to do the same, start with the books from high school English class. They’re better than you think. In fact, reading them now, having already been exposed to them once before, makes for an even better reading experience.

Everything you had to read for a grade in school, you should read again at some point. I never finished reading To Kill a Mockingbird my freshman year of high school, but I have since read it cover to cover at least five times. A book you read (or were supposed to read) for a grade is much more valuable if you read it at least once for the assignment, and at least a second time on your own.

I’m more aware of my surroundings, I’m exposed to different cultures and religions, I can explore and try to understand ways of thinking that are different than mine — all because I read. If the social internet has taught us anything, it’s that more people need harsh, relatable exposure to all of these things and more. Books can do that. Any kind of story, whether you’re physically holding a book in your hand or not, can.

I think people should read more of what they want to read, because they want to read. I mean, 50 Shades isn’t necessarily what I’d choose, but maybe those kinds of things could be someone’s gateway drug to more … in-depth and insightful literature. You never know until you try. Everyone has to start somewhere.

Read more. Talk about books more. It just makes us all better people, and maybe happier, too.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Help Novelty Revisions become a more valuable resource for aspiring writers.

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On World Book Day, Ask a Writer What She’s Reading

A writer who reads …

Most writers do not discover stories by writing them. They discover stories by absorbing them.

I don’t know which came first: my parents reading old fairytales to me or sitting me in front of their animated Disney adaptions.

But as soon as I could, I started telling my own stories. The older I got, the more I learned, the more I read. The more I read, the more I itched to write my own stories — until I learned to do that, too.

And then I did it. Over, and over, and over again.

I still do. Daily.

For a long time, I wondered why it was easier to discuss books than it was to discuss my own writing. Sharing my own ideas became a source of creative anxiety. Yet sitting down to do a book report in school hardly felt like homework.

I do not like when people ask me what I’m writing. I appreciate it — and I always try to ask other writers I meet what they’re working on.

But there’s a question I like much more than, “What are you writing?”

I would rather ask — and be asked — “What are you reading?”

It’s not that this question is harder to answer than its more common alternative. At least for me, it’s easy to name the book that’s currently sitting on my nightstand.

It’s just more interesting.

Writing, even in its later stages, is still an unfinished product of a writer’s ever-scattered mind. Even a simple elevator pitch is intriguing … but a conversation stopper.

I find that when I ask people what they’re reading, conversations erupt in joy and excitement. Because talking about books — finished, published, circulated — is where all writing starts. When I ask people what they’re writing, they tend to give generic, incomplete responses … because many times, their writing isn’t complete yet. Some people don’t want to talk about it (yet).

Asking a writer what’s on their nightstand gives them an opportunity to talk about someone else’s words and life and ideas. While it’s true most people love talking about themselves, talking about what you’re writing can feel like you’re sharing a secret you’re not ready to tell.

Yet talking about other writers brings out their raw obsession with an idea — which is much more interesting than pressuring them to get into the logistics of their latest project.

Ask a writer what they’re working on, and their words will spill out accompanied by nerves. Ask them what they’re reading about, and their eyes will light up. It’s amazing to watch.

Some writers still aren’t used to discussing their own work. But chances are, they’ve been discussing the work of other writers for decades.

There’s something magical about a writer who reads.

A writer who reads has a stronger voice.

Their mind is open to more ideas; possibilities; beliefs and worldviews.

A writer who reads is less afraid to explore uncharted territory. They understand that not all conversations are easy, and that stories are tools we can all use to persuade, to shame, to praise, to spread acceptance, to highlight facts, to break down barriers.

Today, don’t ask a writer what they’re writing about. Ask them what they are reading. Ask them their favorite books, their favorite authors. Start with who and what influences and interests them the most. That is where passion for words and ideas begins. Sometimes, putting into words what you haven’t finished writing yet is impossible. But where your ideas come from, where your latest project had its first spark — a writer can discuss that for hours on end.

Most of us, before we can write well, read. That is how we fall in love with stories. And it’s what inspires us to start telling, and then writing, our own.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

That Line in a Book That Speaks to Your Heart

There’s a reason it means so much to you.

I save book quotes. It’s more of a habit than an obsession at this point. There are notes on my phone, post-its on my computer monitor. Sometimes I take physical highlighters to paper, because I do it so sparingly that it still means something significant when I do.

Most often, I save the quotes that relate to me the most in that moment, if I happen to stumble across them. It’s sort of like how people pick verses out of a Bible when they need to be spoken to. Words are important to me. But most of all, they make me feel less alone.

Sometimes, even when I’m not reading something that’s going to speak directly to my life (e.g., Hit Makers), I search for quotes online. Random ones. Anything will do.

I never realized until tonight–searching for quotes about something to keep myself from posting a rant on Facebook, to be honest–why I do this. Why do I seek out random quotes, or pluck them out of books when they leave marks on my heart? Why is it so important?

In large part, it’s because I’m a writer. Literature was my first love. I don’t remember the first time a book’s words mirrored my life, my feelings, my fears–but I know it had to be amazing. If it weren’t, I might not have gone down the path I did. You know the one–the road paved with themes and motifs and characters you come to call friends, even if only imaginary.

But I also savor pieces of writing because I am a creative person. And everyone knows all ideas are born from very small fragments of things that already exist.

When I write, I need to make sure my writing is relatable somehow. I need my characters to think and feel things other people have thought and felt. I need them to experience things others have experienced. That’s how a reader and a character connect. They have something in common. They understand each other.

I don’t write fiction as often as I once did. But one of the reasons I’ll never be able to let it go is because I know what it’s like to be that person, feeling down, searching for a string of words that says all the things I can’t bring myself to say.

I know what it’s like to need to know someone, somewhere, gets me.

That’s why we have to write from our hearts. That’s why we have to write the truth–even when it’s hard and when it hurts. Because people read for many different reasons. And some of them do so because they’re hoping someone out there–even if they’re fictional–understands how they are feeling. Knows what they are thinking. Has the power within them to conquer their fears and earn their successes.

I don’t write to become quotable. But I do write in such a way that, if someone were to come to my words looking to fill a specific need, to calm a certain anxiety, to affirm a certain belief, maybe I could be of some kind of help somehow.

How cool is it, that we can do that–write something that speaks to the hearts of people we’ve never met?

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

You Don’t Have to Read Books to Write Well

Wait … what?

I’ve come across writers in the past who don’t like to read.

It’s boring, books don’t hold their attention — whatever the reason, they don’t mind creating their own stories. But reading others’ tales is a task they’d rather not take on. Neither by demand or by choice.

I don’t think there’s a writer out there who isn’t fascinated by stories in some way. There are so many different kinds of stories out there that you’re bound to meet a fellow writer who can’t remember the last book they read … but they’ll gladly talk your ear off for hours about a story they’ve been following on the evening news.

That’s the thing about stories. They’re everywhere. And everyone collects them in different ways. While I have hundreds of books around me as I write this (well, technically packed in boxes, but whatever), someone down the street from me might be subscribed to 10 different magazines.

It’s not just about books. Some people just don’t prefer them.

Thankfully, there are plenty of alternatives for those who don’t find joy in reading (honestly, I can’t say I know what that’s like, but I respect your lifestyle choices). You can absorb a story through a book, or a television show or movie; you can listen to a serial podcast (or the Serial podcast, if you want) or a good old-fashioned audiobook. You can watch a web series. Or go see a stage play.

You have options. Too many options, it sometimes feels like. So there’s really no excuse for not consuming content as often as you create it. And I’ll admit, there’s also really no reason to judge anyone who doesn’t get that tingly feeling when surrounded by books. Stories are told in all kinds of ways. How you take them in is really a matter of personal preference.

But what’s important is that you DO spend time exploring a variety of stories, regardless of how you do it. Especially if you want to write your own stories. And while a mix of genres and styles is important, spending more time consuming stories similar to the ones you are interested in writing is a great way to become inspired and motivated to write.

If you want to write science fiction novels, pick up more science fiction. If you want to be Shonda Rhimes, watch a lot of TV dramas. If you want your very own niche column in the New York Times, read columns on those subjects in as many publications weekly as you have time for.

So while you might say, “I don’t have time to read,” you might have time — and really need to make the time — to listen, or watch, or read something on a screen and not in a physical book (!). It is essential, if you want to publish/produce your own stories. Only once you start studying stories similar to the kind you want to create do you start to gather the skills and confidence to mimic those stories, except in your own style, with your own unique spin on parallel ideas.

What are your favorite kinds of stories? How do you consume them? Do you write the kinds of stories you read, or do you like to take “breaks” from reading what you write and read something completely different?

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

What Happened When I Read the Same Book as a Teenager, Then Again As an Adult

One book. Two completely different experiences.

After nearly 10 years, my favorite book is still Looking for Alaska by John Green.

I didn’t read it when it first came out, but after I accidentally discovered the Green brothers indirectly though NaNoWriMo, I jumped at the chance to read a book by an author I’d never heard of.

I loved LFA. It was a powerful story that captivated me from the very first page. But I felt no real-world connection to it. It was a good story – but even then, I tended to read a book, say how much I loved it, and then move on to the next one without many further thoughts.

I think it was my favorite book then because it felt different to me. I didn’t understand why then, but it did. I wasn’t a very adventurous reader at 15: I had a few favorite authors, and Meg Cabot’s long list of titles kept me busy the majority of my reading time.

When the 10th anniversary edition of the book came out a few years ago, I was excited enough to buy it, even though I already had a paperback copy. I’d been watching Vlogbrothers videos from start to finish for the first time, and felt very strongly about supporting John in, honestly, a kind of selfish (but still totally worth it) way.

There are only a select number of books I have ever read more than once. I’m one of those people who always says I’m going to reread something before the movie comes out, then never do.

With a new, shiny hardcover in my hands, I made the decision to read LFA a second time.

It was nothing like the first time I read it. Not even close.

The first time, I shed no tears. I related to the characters enough, but not on a deep, empathetic level. I liked the story, but it wasn’t life-changing.

But since I’d read LFA for the first time, I had grown up significantly, both in age and in spirit. I had also lost someone very close to me not long before. I had experienced grief in a number of unexpected ways in my young adulthood by that point. But I did not expect that to matter so much.

I spent what I can only estimate to be about 30 straight pages in tears. I understood it now. That scene in the gym where the MC tells the principal the assembly can’t start yet absolutely destroyed me. Because I had felt that feeling. I got it. It spoke to me.

Many people over many lifetimes have been touched by books. I know I’m not the only one. But first of all, it bothers me when people assume young adult books are only for teenagers. I’ve gotten more out of YA books as an adult than I ever did when I was still in high school.

Second of all – how amazing is it, that we can read the same book twice, years apart, and have a completely different experience the second time?

This is important for a writer to understand. You already know that not every person is going to relate on a deeply personal level to every story you write. It’s just not possible. It can be frustrating, because you want to reach everyone.

But just because someone isn’t changed by a story now, doesn’t mean they won’t be someday.

You’re reaching more people than you think. People with very different experiences and disappointments and dreams and failures and fears.

The audience you are writing for is very important. Your genre is important.

The depth of your story, how relatable your characters are, your theme – these are even more important. When you are writing fiction, you are saying to someone, “Here – let me tell you a story.” And you are hoping that at least some piece of it will speak to them. You are hoping that at least one paragraph, one page will be enough to motivate them to hold that book close to their heart. To love it. To need it.

Maybe someone won’t need it now. But they might need it eventually.

A good story isn’t about pleasing everyone. It is about meeting people where they are, about saying to them, “You are okay. You are understood, and you are loved.”

I don’t love books because they make me happy. I love them because they make me feel alive.

Write stories that make people feel. Books are not an escape. They are discoveries. To some readers, books are adventures. Take your readers on epic quests. Change their lives. Make them feel whole.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

How Critical Reading Helps You Take Your Writing More Seriously

Criticize. Praise. Learn what works, and what never has.

In the past, I’ve done exactly what you’re not supposed to do when pursuing any kind of goal: focusing on how many books I could read, instead of focusing on the value of each individual story.

Saying you can read 30 books in a year doesn’t make you a better writer. So having that kind of goal even on your checklist might be fun, and challenging – but it doesn’t get you any closer to your writing goals. At least, not directly.

I love books – I wouldn’t be a writer if I didn’t. I love stories. And knowing I wasn’t taking the time to really appreciate and think about each story I read was kind of heartbreaking.

So recently I started doing something different. Nerd that I am, I figured out that I take away much more from a book if I take notes as I’m reading.

I did not enjoy doing this when I was in school, for the record. Annotations, to me, ruined the whole experience (and took way too much time).

But the pressure’s off now. I have the freedom – and for the first time in a long time, the desire – to make as many notes about a book as I want to … but not on the pages of the book themselves, of course. I’m no monster.

Once I started doing this, everything changed.

80 percent of the time, my mind travels at light speed. It’s the side effect of being slightly obsessive about creating things and being productive, plus the eternal anxiety I can usually suppress but can never completely dismiss.

This makes both reading and writing extremely difficult. I am easily distracted by thoughts and ideas and to-do tasks, which is why I’m so, so grateful to be done with school (forever? Sure ….). If I’m not in a flow state – and it takes plenty of work to get there in the first place, as you know – I’m not retaining much.

Taking notes on the elements of the books I’m reading has made me fall in love with storytelling all over again (for about the ten thousandth time). It helps me organize my thoughts and, quite honestly, forces me to pay constant full attention to the narrative unfolding before me.

I used to hate writing book reviews, and now I can honestly admit it’s because I’ve spent a lot of time reading a lot but not always comprehending everything I should be. I’ve started to turn my (of course, pages’ worth of) notes into more detailed criticisms of the writings I consume. And I’ve decided to turn them into a new project, which I’m not telling you about yet, because I don’t know how long it’s going to take to set up. Patience.

But I didn’t start taking notes on books for the sake of starting a new project. Trust me, that’s the last thing I need right now. I did it because, in the back of my mind, I knew this would change the way I read books. English teachers don’t just make you annotate because they know you hate it, it turns out. It actually can make a difference.

I’m having flashbacks to my literary theory course in college (hi Dr. B!). I forgot how much I loved picking apart stories. Except this time, there’s not the pressure of getting an A. (wooooooo).

Figuring out what works in a story, and what doesn’t, is what makes you a better writer. You already know that. But it can also influence you to start taking your writing more seriously. You notice your own writing weaknesses in books written by other people. You realize you can afford to set the bar higher for yourself. You remember that this book in your hand was written by an actual person, who started out in the same place you did – not knowing a thing about writing at all.

You can tell good stories, too. And you will. As long as you put your creative self to work. As long as you take this whole writing thing seriously … at least, as seriously as you need to. Everyone needs to have a little fun every now and then, or writing becomes a chore. Don’t let that happen to you!

Reading is important. I’ll never dispute that point with anyone, writer or otherwise. But taking the time to analyze what you are reading, to think through every story on a much deeper level than the average casual reader, is even more essential.

You’re more than just a casual reader. You are a writer. That changes everything.

My best advice for you at this point is, annotate any way you want. I don’t like underlining and circling and marking up things in a physical book, so I don’t. I scratch out notes on an index card and use it as my bookmark for that book. It’s what works for me.

If you want to look deeper into the stories you’re reading, so you can write better ones yourself, figure out how to make it work for you. Then pay attention. Set a goal, so you’re motivated to keep reading, but focus on getting all you can out of a book before moving on to the next one. It will change the way you write. I can guarantee it.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

On Reading Good Books, and Bad Books

Should we read both good books and bad ones?

Like many writers, I read. A lot. I’ll pretty much willingly give any book you hand me a chance, though I’ll still devour anything YA in a matter of days.

When you read an average of two books a week, you stumble upon some amazing reads. I’m 200 pages shy of finishing The Infinite In Between at the moment, and for reasons I can’t yet fully analyze, it’s wonderful.

You also come across plenty of books that just aren’t good. I don’t subscribe to the belief that a writer should only stick to reading books that are widely publicized and discussed. Every once in awhile I like finding titles no one else has heard of. There’s a chance they could be really good, and just underrated (like the Pendragon series). But there’s a pretty good chance they’re … eh. Just not well put together.

I try not to be over-critical – if a writer has a book out, and they’re not a total jerk about it, I’m happy for them. In publishing, if you have a good story that’s likely to sell, you have a pretty good chance of landing a deal. But I’ve read two kinds of ‘eh’ books – books that are fairly well written, but hollow, story-wise, and books that have intriguing stories with poor, hard-to-get-through writing.

I think it’s important that we read a mix of everything – good and bad. While the good, well-written stories are enjoyable, and sometimes even motivate us to go out and work at our own unfinished projects, less-than-impressive books help us refine our critiquing skills. We see mistakes we’ve made in the past, or things we still do. We notice weaknesses in different parts of the whole. We have that “I would have done this differently” thought – not at all a bad thought, as long as you don’t go tweeting the author directly about it (cringe).

Weirdly, I remember all of the bad books I’ve read over the past few years. They stick out to me in a different way than the really good ones do. It’s not that I don’t like them – I finish reading every single book I start, because I think every author deserves that from me. I just hold onto memories of stories I couldn’t wait to be finished with.

One of the markers of a good story is that it’s nearly impossible to put down. One of the markers of good writing is that it impresses you from start to finish – the kind of writing you pull quotes from because they amaze you so much. I suppose one definition of a good book is that it excels in both of these areas. But just because a book doesn’t, doesn’t mean it’s awful. It just might get only three stars from me on Goodreads (I somehow manage to avoid one- and two-star reviews) which for me means I just didn’t really enjoy it or wasn’t impressed by it.

Reading is essential for writers, in terms of improving skills and initiating a continuous flow of new ideas. Some people only read recommended books – the good ones. Maybe that’s the same mindset as “junk food isn’t good for me so I’m never going to eat it ever” as opposed to “every once in awhile is great.” What do you think?

What do you consider to be a good book? What makes a book “bad”? Do you think it’s a good idea to read both good and bad books, as a writer?

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Readers: You Do Not Own Other Writers’ Stories

It’s not your story. It never has been.


I think there’s a big difference between reviewing a book – saying what you did and didn’t like about a story – and tearing apart a novel to highlight all the awful things about it. Criticizing a story is understandable. People do it all the time. It’s a story; it doesn’t have feelings. But when people turn to the writer of that story and start tearing them down for writing a story they did not like … I don’t know about you, but I have a problem with that.

As attached to her stories as a writer may become, a story does not tell you everything about its writer. They are still separate. I have a few words to share with readers who seem to think they know more about other writers’ stories than the writers themselves. Because as much as it might feel like it, a story that someone else has written is not your story. You do not own it. You cannot change it – not exactly.

Quality writing, rewriting and editing cannot be rushed.

I honestly don’t think enough readers realize how long it takes to write the first draft of a book. And the first draft is only the first draft. A writer will often scrap the majority of their first draft, gradually, during the revision process. And then there’s editing all those layers of revisions, refining and piecing together a book until there’s something there an author is proud of and mostly satisfied with.

I can think of a few writers on my radar who have gone at least a few years without publishing anything. Am I excited for new books, whenever those might come out? Of course. Am I constantly on Twitter nagging them about when they’re finally going to finish writing their books? Um, no. Don’t do that. Writers are already under enough pressure. Begging them to “write faster” pretty much makes them not want to write at all. They still do, because it’s their job and it takes time to write well, but your whining isn’t making it any easier or more enjoyable.

It’s not just about the readers.

Yes, as a business, writing has to cater to what readers want … to a point. First of all, a writer is not going to end a book or series of books a certain way because readers want them to. It’s their story, not yours. Second of all, complaining about how a book “should have ended” doesn’t actually change how the book ends. Once a writer publishes a book, that’s it. They’re done writing it. They aren’t going to – and they can’t – go back and change something because it displeases you.

And phrases like, “I’m not going to finish the book if so-and-so dies” or “I’m going to be angry if so-and-so don’t get together” – why? Of course, everyone is entitled to their own opinions and emotions, and if you don’t want to finish reading a book, that’s up to you. But not getting what you want out of a story, and throwing a public tantrum because of it, has never made sense to me. I don’t understand. Like the book or hate the book, it really makes no difference once you spend your money to purchase a copy. But don’t go telling all your friends, “This is the worst book I’ve ever read, don’t bother,” just because one thing happened that you didn’t like. Let them decide for themselves. Your negative opinion about a book does not automatically make it a bad book.

If you’re looking for a book that doesn’t exist, there’s a solution.

Write the book yourself. If you’re that upset about a book not turning out to your liking, and you’re tired of never being able to find a book that suits all your needs, then sit down and write the kind of story you want to read. Some of the best books ever written are good because they are written by people who had the courage and discipline to write the story they wished they could have read in a book.

Is writing hard? Yes. Time-consuming? Absolutely. If you can’t handle it, then don’t complain about other writers not being able to write a perfect book, because half the time, they can’t handle it either. They’re doing their best. For very little money, they are spending countless hours trying to write a book from start to finish. They then work with an editor that asks them to make changes, which can be even more draining. They’re just trying to tell a story. It’s not always going to be the fairytale ending you prefer. It’s not always going to be worthy of an award. But it’s still a book someone worked very hard on. Is that not enough for you? And if it isn’t – tell me – how’s your 80,000-word novel coming along?

The benefit to readers wanting to influence or change a book that has already been written is, regardless of how you “feel” about it, fanfiction. I love the idea of fanfiction because it encourages people to write, even if characters and settings aren’t necessarily their original ideas. I’m sure some great writers out there have started out writing fanfiction before moving on to creating their own stories. It’s a great way to practice character and plot development. I have nothing against it. If writers want to use fanfiction to develop their skills, I’m all for it.

But that doesn’t mean that an author’s original book is of any lesser value. It’s understandable that you aren’t going to like every single book you read. I’ve read plenty of books I didn’t particularly like. But it’s not my job to tell the author what he or she could have done to make the book better. And it’s not yours either. Book reviews are one thing, but think twice before you start critiquing a published work of fiction. Don’t criticize the writer for writing something you might not have been able to write yourself. And if you do want to write something yourself – focus on that, not on telling a writer how you would have done it if you’d been the one to complete the first draft. It’s not about you. It’s about the story. It’s OK not to like something. But be respectful and considerate.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.