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Archive for June 5th, 2012

What we read is a microcosm of who we are

For the next 25 days, we’ll be taking a little detour from the traditional marketing posts you’ve come to know and love on the Marcie Brock blog as I lead by example and follow my own writing prompts for the Author Blog Challenge. There’s still time to register. Join today and qualify for drawings for daily giveaways for every day that you post.

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Day 4 writing prompt:

How do the things you read impact your writing? What do you love to read? What do you avoid reading at all costs? How would your writing change if you read more of the things you typically avoid?

I have long believed that what we read cannot help but impact what – and how – we write. As writers, everything probably influences us, to some degree or another. Our relationships. Our environments. Our childhoods, histories, and life stories. Our spirituality. Our education. Our hobbies, friends, and political persuasions. But those influences generally can be inferred from the microcosm of what we read. Dark. Grandiloquent. Optimistic. Humorous. Caustic. It’s the words others use that implant themselves into our subconscious and influence the words we ourselves choose to use.

The Law of Attraction tells us that what we focus on expands – and there is perhaps no stronger way to focus on an idea than by reading about it, unless it is to record our own thoughts and feelings. What we read is a marker of who we are: our tastes, personality, preferences, aspirations. Those who read fantasy desire a means to escape. Those who read weighty textbooks or how-to tomes desire specific knowledge. Those who read spiritual and self-help books seek personal evolution. Not that reading any one genre stereotypes or pigeonholes the reader, but it does offer a peak at what makes them tick.

It’s been so interesting to read some of the responses to this prompt – because when I wrote it, I of course had my own thoughts and prejudices in mind. I love sex – and sex scenes don’t offend me in the least. I love politics and will read almost any political writing, barring that from the furthest fringes – although I do lean toward writers who generally embody my own personal beliefs. I enjoy certain spiritual and self-help books. Many business topics. And well-written fiction.

Reading fiction for me is like watching a film. I will suspend all disbelief for a well-told story with highly developed characters. I can even excuse certain lapses in polish for a really good story. If there are holes, however, that give me time to notice clichés, poor grammar, character inconsistencies, or obvious and plodding plot lines, I’m likely to stop reading – and never give that writer another chance.

Interestingly, though I’ll watch crime dramas on TV, I am less drawn to them in literary form. One writer in particular … drives … me … nuts. Patricia Cornwell. I know she has legions of fans and as a result gets paid very well – but I just don’t get it. The first of her books that I read seemed simply to end once she’d met her word quota. No tying up loose ends. No conclusion to speak of. I was ready to be done forever, but a friend convinced me to give her one more try. Surely I’d like this book. WRONG! The self-important former coroner can take all her books and fans and money and go jump in a lake. I was right the first time; she didn’t deserve the second chance.

Because I’m basically a lazy reader, the things I tend to avoid are scientific writings, whether they be books, journals, websites, or blogs. As a creative writing major, I took astronomy to meet my science requirements. The thing is, some aspects of science are fascinating. But my free time is so precious that if I’ve got to sit and look up a handful of words on every page or plod through a paragraph two or three times to be sure I’ve understood it before I can move on, I’m just not likely to make the time for it.

My son’s father was not a reader of any note at all. How I never once managed to beat him at Scrabble over the course of a 10-year relationship, I’ll never know. He read gaming magazines, MacWorld, Sports Illustrated. And Tolkien. He adored The Hobbit. Gave me a gilded hardcover copy as a gift when we broke up, which I passed along to our son because I could never wrap my head around Westron and the inhabitants of Middle Earth. I signed up for a 200-level Intro to Fantasy Literature class in college and dropped it after the first week. Though I admire fantasy and sci-fi writers tremendously, they are not genres I am drawn to.

Because I so seldom breach my tried-and-true favorite genres, I developed a habit when I travel of choosing a magazine I would not normally read. Smithsonian. National Geographic. Psychology Today. Popular Science. It’s not often, but at least I occasionally dip my toe in the left-brain world I normally steer carefully around. Reading such things gives my brain a chance to stretch, exercising muscles in my mind that would surely atrophy if I never worked them out. It helps me see the world through a different lens, and in doing so, to bring a more objective perspective to my writing.

I don’t recommend that anyone punish themselves by forcing down books or authors or genres that simply do not resonate. But unless you are one of those Renaissance readers who greedily digests all writing with equal appetite, there is probably some area you’ve shied away from that could provide new vistas you may never have imagined, if only you’d give it a try every once in a while.

Happy reading … and writing –

Laura

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We welcome and encourage your thoughtful, courteous comments below.

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In honor of our 1-year anniversary (May 2, 2012), we’re hosting the Author Blog Challenge! It starts June 2 and is open to published authors, authors-in-progress, and would-be authors. Come check us out and register today!

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