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A Writer’s Perspective on What I Learned Reading 52 Books in One Year

Willow Shire is an author who struggles with depression. His non-fiction focuses on depression and the writing life.

 "If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write."—Stephen King.

"If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write."—Stephen King.

If you've read my previous posts then you may know that I suffer from depression. I was sitting in a counseling session one day when I realized that I wanted to change my career path and become a writer.

I am a web developer by trade. There isn’t much writing in my career. There is a lot of creative problem solving, and that’s why I’ve had a successful freelance development career. However, web development feels like a stagnant job though (no offense developers, this is only my perspective.) For the most part, I build my scripts once and reuse them on each project. This gets boring. There is no creative jungle to get lost in with only a pocket knife to get you out. I needed a change. I needed to write.

Mapping Out My Approach

I started mapping out my approach by creating a SMART goal. SMART is an acronym that stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound.

My first SMART goal was to read 52 books in one year. I have included a breakdown of my goal below.

  • The goal is specific.
  • 52 books is measurable.
  • 1 book per week over 52 weeks per year is achievable.
  • I’m a writer, so the goal is relevant.
  • The one year timeframe makes my goal time bound.

I created that goal at the end of 2016 and set out to accomplish it on January 1st, 2017. This post is a little behind, but that’s because I took a year to write, and I’m re-activating that goal for 2019.

I wanted to answer several questions:

  1. Are there people making a living writing like me?
  2. What makes a good story and gives me inspiration?
  3. Can I write like these authors?

Let's tackle what I learned one by one.

Are People Making a Living Writing Like Me?

This was an interesting question. I’m not a typical novelist. My training is in computers and mathematics. I’m told my writing is good, but like any writer, I’m my own worst enemy.

My list of books did not include one genre. I write urban fantasy stories and try to mix in magic and myth. During my 52 book run, I read just one urban fantasy book and that was Jim Butcher’s Death Masks. That's right, just one. I wanted to read different genres to give me a variety of viewpoints. My list of books included science fiction, literature, science and technology, history, and more.

My writing is also unique in that I consider myself a novella writer. So far, all of my stories have been novellas or short stories, but each contains a singular story that ties into the overall storyline. Most series are based around novels which gives me the weebly wobbly, nervous feeling.

During the course of reading these 52 books, I realized I can write and be successful like these writers. Of course, I need to work on building my writing skills more like any good writer should. There are many authors who made a living writing shorter fiction including George Orwell with Animal Farm, Neil Gaiman’s with Ocean at the End of the Lane, and Ayn Rand with Anthem just to name a few. Of course, these authors also write novels, comics and other media, and I plan to do the same as my writing skills grow.

For now, their novellas and styles give me confidence. Not only do they have successful novellas, but they have completely different writing styles. Almost every book I read used a different style—that's 52 different styles!

“You can’t be a good writer without being a devoted reader. Reading is the best way of analysing what makes a good book.”

— J. K. Rowling

What Makes a Good Story and Gives Me Inspiration?

Reading is essential to becoming a good writer. Think about it. How could you work on a car without ever driving one? I’m a programmer, and programmers need to look at other programs, tear them apart, and put them back together. Reading is a superb way to learn how write different material, what works, what doesn’t, and what you don’t like.

While reading through my list of 52, I find styles I could have never thought of, different ways to develop characters and word usage, and most importantly, that I hate description.

Don’t take that the wrong way. I used to love description—the more the better. Writers need to describe characters and places. However, it causes the writing to become boring when someone describes every feature of a character or place in a single paragraph.

I do like description through action and dialogue. I like the imagination to guide the experience. By simply reading I have learned what works for me in stories and what doesn’t.

Can I Write Like These Authors?

The answer is maybe at some point. The authors I mentioned are the cream of the crop. Most of us would be lucky to be anywhere close to J. K. Rowling’s shoes. That doesn’t mean we aren’t good writers and storytellers; it just means we have to work a little harder to get noticed.

Reading the 52 books gave me confidence. I was confident that I could have a different style, a different story, and come from a different background. This helped give me the confidence to start my fiction and eventually post my non-fiction online.

I have no dreams of being the next J. K. Rowling. Worldwide recognition and fame aren’t my end goal. I want my writing to do several other things:

  • To entertain people. Fiction should entertain, not just be a message, but not everybody likes the same genres of fiction, and that’s ok.
  • Introduce people to messages through the themes of my stories. So far, my stories have environmental leanings like a Hayao Miyazaki story. Only my stories are much darker and deal with the Fae world.
  • Provide a living for myself. I want to make money so that I can help the world. Right now, I’m starting small with an end goal to write full-time as a career. Five years from now, I hope to be saving towards building an animal rescue.

What's the Point?

The point is you should be reading. While you’re reading, you should be absorbing the stories, the writing styles, and anything else that comes to mind. Take what you learn to build your confidence. Just because nobody writes like you, doesn’t mean you can’t be successful. We’re all snowflakes building a snowball of reading material, and somebody will pick up your snowball.

I suggest that you set a goal to read 52 books in one year. They don’t have to be full-length novels; you can pick novellas. I even had a few weeks were I read comics, but made sure I read 7+ hours of comics to equate a book. Sometimes we need a break from the normal reading.

I got lucky. I finished my 52nd book on December 31. Keep in mind that I freelance and don’t have kids which gives me more time and flexibility to read. If you have a busy schedule, start small. Try 25 books in one year. Just make sure you’re reading if you plan to write. Also, be sure to choose different books.

Some of the best I read were:

  • Biographical—Black Elk Speaks by John G. Neihardt
  • Fantasy—The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
  • Satire—Animal Farm by George Orwell
  • Climate Change—Unstoppable by Bill Nye
  • On Writing—Sometimes the Magic Works by Terry Brooks
  • Science Fiction—Anthem by Ayn Rand
  • Horror / Science Fiction—Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
  • History—Declassified 50 Top Secret Documents That Changed History by Thomas B. Allen

These eight books represent a partial variety of what I read. As you can see, they are widely different. Some help with fiction writing style and story design while others help with inspiration and non-fiction style.

I hope you take on this challenge as I did, and I’m doing again. Never stop reading. It will build your style, knowledge, and confidence, which will eventually help you on the path to success.

Happy Reading!

Comments

Ellison Hartley from Maryland, USA on January 24, 2019:

Great article! Loved how you described your style of writing and how you developed it.

Lisa Bean from Nevada on January 23, 2019:

Understandable about the comics/short stories. Have a good day!

Willow Shire (author) from Central Pennsylvania, USA on January 23, 2019:

Thanks, Lisa! Goodreads is a great way to track information. I was using it, but moved to a spreadsheet because I'm in them all the time. GR messed with my numbers, too, because I consider some things differently. IE. Comics and short stories don't count as a single book for me, but they do on Goodreads. Either way, tracking is super important. Glad you enjoyed the article! : )

Lisa Bean from Nevada on January 23, 2019:

This was a really enjoyable article. Thanks for sharing it! I too have big reading goals set each year and I really enjoy learning as I read from different genres and authors. I like to keep track of all my reading on Goodreads. I think it's a really neat idea that reading more would improve your writing and I bet it's truly helped!

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