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.

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.

I Want to Go Back and Read Books I Read As a Kid

Just for a day, I want to travel back to my own personal literary era of American Girl books and innocent mystery chapter books.

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I turned a year older last week. One year closer to an acceptable quarter-life crisis, even though I’m pretty sure I’ve already had three in the last six months. I’m not one of those people who minds getting older. Growing further and further away from my past, in some cases, is a very good thing.

Except when it comes to reading books.

I’m like many other writers in that books were what inspired me to start writing my own fiction. I don’t remember a time when I read something and didn’t feel curious about how the author came up with a story so amazing. I write a lot more often than I read now, and am struggling to keep up with my 2016 goal of reading 50 books, but I still read a little bit every day. Every once in awhile, I’ll read a book that changes my life. When I was younger, that used to happen with pretty much every single book I ever read.

Where did that go? And can I have that feeling back please?

This is not to say books have gotten any better or worse as time goes on; there’s no way anyone could make a reasonable comparison between literature of different time periods. Add to that the fact that I really haven’t had a reason to stay up to date on children’s literature since I read books in that genre on the regular, and it’s safe to say I’m no expert. I just miss the books I used to read; rather, I want to remember, to feel, things I experienced while reading them for the first time.

I remember only bits and pieces of Ramona’s life, and things that happened in Narnia, and random titles of books I wish I still had on my shelves. Just for a day, I want to travel back to my own personal literary era of American Girl books and innocent mystery chapter books and Goosebumps stories, the ones where you got to pick what happened next. I want to go back to my middle school library and read all those books I returned without ever finishing. But more than anything, I want to travel back to that point in my life where reading was my escape and my pleasure and not just something I feel obligated to do, because I’m a writer and I’m supposed to read.

Call me sappy or whatever, but I want to fall in love with reading again. I’ve been reading a book for almost 2 months that I was supposed to read in college but never did. It’s annoying and I don’t like it. If you have any suggestions for good page-turners or books that have inspired you to sit down and write your own stuff, send them my way (comment below!). Also, favorite children’s book series – GO!

Reading inspires me to write, and I’m really in need of some inspiration right now. And ’90s cartoons. And Ramona.

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.

Image courtesy of pexels.com.

If You Accomplish Only One Thing as a Writer, Please Make It This

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It’s been a long time since I’ve felt so in sync with a book, so captivated by every word of a story, that I’ve finished it, closed it, stared up at nothing for a while and just cried.

I didn’t think I would. I thought I might get a little teary, then finish it, put it back on the shelf and move on to something else.

Sometimes it feels good to be wrong.

I won’t tell you the book or why it resonated with me so much. The subject might give away too much of my story, and that’s not what these posts are for. No, I have something more important to say, something more important than the title of a book which made me, who you don’t really even know, feel something deep.

As writers we’re often too focused on how our readers are going to connect with our words. Not the worst thing to ponder, I suppose, but I wish we didn’t think of it so much. We read books and we comment on how much those characters just “get us.” We wish, we hope, we can do the same thing when we write. Because we all know deep down, one of the things that makes a book great is how it leaves the reader once it’s over.

I’ve read books that I haven’t liked. One of my reading quirks is that once I start a book, I have to finish it. So even if I’m 10 pages in and I hate everything about a book, I’ll read through till the end. I’ve read books that were okay, but that didn’t really challenge my thinking or leave me in a state of wonder or worry or awe afterward. That doesn’t mean those books weren’t good. Their plot lines just didn’t match up with my own, real-life ones.

To write a book that means something to someone, we have to come to terms with something important: not everything you write will mean the same thing to every person who reads it. Like a Sunday morning sermon: you might walk out of that church not feeling a thing, passing by people wiping away tears. There’s nothing wrong with you and the sermon wasn’t bad. It just didn’t fit into that small place in your heart that needed a little love right then.

Books are the same. There are probably a lot of people who have read the book I read and didn’t feel a thing. That’s fine. But I did. So flip that around. You’re the writer. You have this idea you’re head-over-heels in love with. You can’t wait to start writing it. But then … then you start thinking about it more. Worrying that you like it, but what if some people don’t? What if only a few people understand where you’re coming from? What if you’re the only one who loves it?

That place in your head, those thoughts of literary insignificance, are where extraordinary stories go to die.

When we write, we have to listen to our hearts. I have this theory that grief is tangible. Your heart feels empty, but really, it’s just full of stuff. Memories and questions and regrets all sloshing around, weighing the whole muscle down. But no matter the emotion, writing is how some of us release all that.

When you write about things you don’t care about, don’t understand, your heart just sits there in your chest. When you gather strength from inside, though, and you stop worrying about what other people will think, when you stop wondering if anyone will understand what you’re trying to say, a story is born. Your story. A story that, if you give them the chance, other people just might find pretty freaking brilliant.

So, fellow writers. Aspiring or already successful. Wherever you sit on the hierarchy of authorship. If you only accomplish one thing throughout your writing career, please. Write something that lifts itself off the page, reaches out and touches someone. Not their hand, not their cheek, but their heart.

Remind your readers, any readers, it’s okay to feel. It’s okay to be moved. It’s okay to be inspired to change something. Remind them they matter. Remind them if no one else ever tries to understand them, books always will.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

A recent graduate with a B.A. in English and a completed major in nutrition, currently seeking a graduate degree in health communication, Meg is a twenty-something workaholic with a passion for writing, coffee and dietetics. In addition to her status as an aspiring novelist and Grammar Nazi (and the mastermind behind this site), Meg is an editor for College Lifestyles magazine and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine’s Stone Soup.  She is a seven-time NaNoWriMo winner and has written several creative pieces for Teen Ink magazine. Follow Meg on Twitter.