My reading this past year: 2012

Just to be weird, I’d like to break down what I read this past year. I have been keeping lists of what I have read since 2003, and here is the latest.

I’ve rated the books by giving them five points, five being the best possible score. Here is the list broken down by genre:

Science Fiction:

  • Excession, Iain M. Banks (3/5)
  • Mad Scientist Institute, Sechin Tower (4/5)
  • Way of the Wolf, E. E. Knight (4/5)
  • Choice of the Cat, E. E. Knight (4/5)
  • The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern (5/5)
  • Revelation Space, Alastair Reynolds (4/5) This was a re-read

Urban Fantasy:

  • Undone Deeds, Mark del Franco (1/5)
  • Blood Rites, Jim Butcher (4/5)
  • Dead Beat, Jim Butcher (4/5)

Books on Writing:

  • 250 Things You Should Know About Writing, Chuck Wendig (3/5)
  • You Are a Writer: So Start Acting Like One, Jeff Goins (4.5/5)

Non-fiction:

  • I’m Ok, You’re Ok, Thomas A. Harris (5/5)
  • Quitter, Jon Acuff (5/5) This was a re-read

Contemporary Fiction:

  • The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Michael Chabon (4/5)
  • Freedom, Jonathan Frazen (4/5)
  • Bel Canto, Ann Patchett (5/5)
  • Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese (5/5)
  • The Girl Who Played with Fire, Steig Larsson (5/5)
  • Flotilla, Daniel Haight (3/5)

Spiritual:

  • Second Guessing God: Hanging on When You Can’t See His Plan, Brian Jones (4/5)
  • Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, David Platt (4/5)
  • O Me of Little Faith: Confessions of a Spiritual Weakling, Jason Boyett (4/5)
  • Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit, Francis Chan (4/5)

Biography/Autobiography:

  • Look Me In the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s, John Elder Robinson (4/5)
  • Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, Eric Metaxas (5/5)
  • Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson (4/5)
  • I Suck at Girls, Justin Halpern (3/5)

Notes about my reading this year:

  • I read much more bios this year than I have in the past.
  • Two of the books were re-reads from previous years. In both instances I liked them better the second time. Much better.
  • As usual, I read an average of one book every two weeks.
  • Worst book of the year: Undone Deeds. This was the final book in a series I enjoyed, but it felt like the author was tired of writing these books and made this one a boring as possible. Too many characters and a convoluted plot ended this urban fantasy series in a disappointing way.
  • Favorite book of the year: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. I could not put this one down. I really learned more about my own spiritual walk by reading about this great theologian.

Well, that’s my reading for this year. Can’t wait to see what worlds I will explore in 2013.

Writing habits: try this, not that

These habits can be good as long as they are not a substitute for the real thing.
These habits can be good as long as they are not a substitute for the real thing.

In my last post, I strongly suggested that practicing writing every day was the big Secret to becoming a better writer. Now, I don’t want to imply that is the only habit to incorporate into a writing discipline. It may be the most important one, but other habits exist that a writer should address. I’ve prioritized them–but remember, this is my opinion:

Do everyday if possible:

  • writing-write in short stints. Don’t wait for the big chunk of time in your busy schedule; when it arrives, use it for writing, but you’d be amazed how much you get done writing for fifteen minutes here, fifteen minutes there. Then when you have a whole Saturday morning free, use it to write as well.
  • reading-read the kind of books you want to write. Then read books from other genres. You may learn something you can incorporate into your own writing style.

Do a few times a month:

  • writer’s support group-this can be anything: critiquing each others’ work; sharing writing resources; encouraging each other to write consistently; or all of these or none of these. It should be a group of friends who make you feel inspired and keep you accountable.
  • blog or journal your writing progress-Oprah always said, “Write down what you eat if you want to lose weight.” Well, the same theory applies for writing a rough draft. Keep a log of how many words you write for each session- Keeping track of how much time you sit at the computer may be deceptive. A person can spend an hour “writing” but may actually be spending much of that playing on the internet. Also, blogging about your writing successes and failures can be therapeutic for you and helpful to others.

Do a few times a year:

  • read a book on writing-it’s okay to read books on writing, like Stephen King’s On Writing. Don’t make that be a substitute for actual writing.
  • take a course on writing-A course in writing fiction can really get you excited about the craft, and you can learn some techniques to improve your storytelling. Just make sure that after the course if over, you stay motivated.

Do once a year if you feel like it:

  • National Novel Writing Month-not for everyone, but highly recommended to get that rough draft done. http://www.nanowrimo.org
  • Copying a scene from your favorite novel-I’ve read about this in several different places. Take a few pages or a short your favorite novel and write it out by hand to learn to appreciate sentence structure and writing style. For fun, take different color markers and highlight the following: dialogue, action, inner monologue, inner emotion, description, flashback, narrative summary.

These are just some habits. Feel free to add to the list.

No, seriously: how can I become a better writer?

There is no way around it; you must practice.
There is no way around it; you must practice.

I use to teach creative writing courses to adults. The excitement the people brought to the class inspired me. They wanted to be there. They had great ideas. They sought ways to become better writers.

They seemed disappointed when I told them the Secret. I believe they expected me to pull out magic pills for them to swallow, like Morpheus gave Neo in the movie The Matrix. They could down the  pill and suddenly they would be able to punch out the next best-selling thriller on their keyboards. If only.

“The secret of becoming a better writer is to just write.”

No, seriously. What’s the secret?

“That’s it. I swear.”

That’s it?

“Well, okay, write everyday. Everyday you can write, write. Even if it’s only for fifteen minutes.”

I believe many people who don’t understand the writing process think it’s a talent or skill that some people are born with and others will never have.  Or they think it’s magic. The truth is, everyone can improve their writing skills, but it takes practice.

I always use the analogy of comparing writing to any other skill like playing the piano or playing on a basketball team. My friend Ryan had a piano recital last year. He never practiced one day in his life. Never even touched a piano until the night of the recital. He performed excellently. Wait. That’s ridiculous, right?

Downtown, next to the building I work in, the city built a huge basketball arena. When the arena was completed and ready to serve the community for basketball games and concerts, everyone in my company was offered a free tour. The local university basketball team played their games on the main court surrounded by thousands of seats for spectators, but a whole wing of the arena was dedicated to just practice for the team. During the tour I saw a huge court in the sub-levels underneath the street where the team would work on their craft. The city and the university would not just let the team go out and play without practicing, right?

Writing is the same way.

If you want to improve your writing style, your writing craft, you practice. Just because you write something, doesn’t mean everyone else is going to see it. You write. And rewrite. And rewrite. Some of it will never be seen by anybody else’s eyes. That’s okay. Ryan hit many bad notes on the piano while practicing.

Maybe I’ve been teaching writing for over a decade to adults, college students and children, but I will never be the best writer I can be. I am always improving, but I will never arrive. To me, the journey is half the fun.

Now that I don’t have a deadline . . .

Winner-180x180On Friday morning, November 30th, twelve and a half hours before midnight November 30th, I passed 50,000 for NaNoWriMo. My story is not finished. What is to keep me motivated?

Well, besides being an interesting story to me, I need to set a deadline for myself. My goal is to finish the novel before midnight December 31st. I have no word count goal–my goal is to just finish the story.

Every time I win NaNoWriMo, I know it’s the deadline that keeps me going. Now I have no deadline except the one that I give myself. So here is my goal:

I will finish telling my story by midnight December 31st, 2012 (EST).

To grow as a writer, I must write every day, NaNoWriMo or not.