FMWriters is traveling the web via the Merry Go Round Blog Tour. Site members have grouped together to write monthly on themed topics and turn the blog tour concept on its head: we’re not the ones touring: you are, as you read one writer’s perspective after another. This is my contribution to the Merry Go Round Tour. Enjoy your ride. ~ Dawn
“Books On My Nightstand”
At first thought, this topic seems to call for a “what are you reading now?” segment, but in all honestly, what’s on my nightstand calls more to my frame of mind than my reading queue. It’s what I keep close to me, within arm’s reach. There are other places I keep books within arm’s reach: in the car, at my desk. But the nightstand is more representative of what I want to read and what I want to focus on in my writing. It’s more personal than the audio book in the car, than the anthologies on my desk down in the office. The nightstand exists in a room I don’t entertain in, a place that is visible only to me and those closest to me, and here are the books that are most precious to me. The ones that don’t leave the house. The ones that are within reach as I retire for the evening.
Surely you’re expecting novels. I won’t disappoint. I have two I’m currently reading, yes two, because reading multiple novels is a good way to sharpen the memory (and goodness knows I need that kind of help!) I used to leave one in the living room and one in the bedroom, but the two-year-old changed that habit for me. The novels are different authors, different genres. The characters are as different as night and day. George R.R. Martin’s A Clash of Kings which is slower, more intense reading, and Patricia Briggs’ Iron Kissed, which is quicker and easier to pick up in a flash. I try to alternate which book I pick up, but really it goes by what mood strikes me (or the due date at the library).
When I learned how to write short stories, I learned how different each and every story is, and that to improve mine, I needed to read others. Now I just love them. I try to analyze what I’ve read, to see if there’s an element lacking from my own stories, so I tend to read them slowly, just one story a night and try to let it seep into my brain. I’m reading editors I want acceptances from and anthologies I’d love to be published in. The stack at the moment: JJ Adam’s Way of the Wizard, Warrior Wisewoman 3, Triangulation End of the Rainbow, and Destination Future.
My approach has some merit. I read a story in Destination Future written by K.D. Wentworth while I was working on a short story that just refused to come together. Serious refusal – it had been five years since I had come up with the idea. After reading KD’s story, I decided mine needed to be edgier, and I finally got it written. And when I say it worked? The proof was when I submitted it to the contest KD judges and was awarded an semi finalist standing.
The other books on my nightstand are a few how-to books that have been well read. I’ve owned them all since 1996 or so, and read them several times a year in sections. Writer’s Digest Handbook of Short Story Writing (I and II), and Damon Knight’s Creating Short Fiction. My favorite time to pick these up is when I’m revising a story that’s never been revised before. It can refocus my attention on a particular area in which the story is weak.
So yes, my nightstand reflects what my writing goals are, and the level of writing I want to achieve. If you’re a writer, does that stand for you, as well? If you’re a reader, what analysis can go into what you’re reading?
Today’s post was inspired by the topic What Books Are on Your Nightstand? the opening question in the inaugural cycle of the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour. If you want to get to know nearly twenty other writers and find out what’s on their nightstand, check out the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour. The next Merry Go Round writer is Bonnie. She’ll be posting her take on this same topic on the 5th for your reading pleasure.
I love how you related the topic back to how you write. Since I’m not much of a researcher it would never occur to me to keep so many reference books on hand and yet for you, they’re exactly what you need to keep that forward motion.
I keep meaning to read A Clash of Kings, but so far this year I’ve opted for much shorter books.
I liked how you compared what you read to your writing goals. I do the same thing to an extent and call it “market research”. However, I tend to choose books that give me personal pleasure, and books that truly are research end up in my never-ending queue of “to-read”.
Alex – I can relate anything back to how I write. 🙂 I’m afraid I’m single minded on the matter.
D – have you tried bribing yourself on those research boks? 🙂 Or choosing a specific place you encounter daily that can be designated for that kind of reading? I know I tend to do my best research at the library where there aren’t any distractions. My mind focuses instantly upon entering the library.
In addition to be hyper focused on my writing, I’m also Ms. Fix-It, though I try not to be obnoxious about it. 🙂
My nightstand is always fluctuating, depending on my obsessions. So, right now, it’s covered in chess books (which started out as a writing goal but has, well, veered a little 🙂 ). I think it’s more a glimpse of where I am at a certain moment, rather than what my long term goals and priorities are. The books related to my long term goals and priorities are longstanding and thus, have a permanent place on shelves, rather than the always-changing nightstand.
I don’t like analyzing what I’m reading, really. I mean, if there’s something done really well — foreshadowing that I didn’t notice, for example — I might go back and see how it’s done, but generally, I prefer to read just to read. And read good books and stories so that that soaks in to my subconscious, the same way the classic story plot did when I was a child. I think reading high quality fiction steps up my game in and of itself, without me turning into a critic of others or of my own writing.
I always thought I was weird to have two or three books going at once. :> Thinking on those lines, though, I tend to look at what the author does right or wrong and compare to my writing. Lots of stuff to learn.
Excellent post, Dawn. I feel like I got some real insight into the way your writing process works.
What we read and how we read does affect how we write, so it’s intresting to see how you are approaching this. I’ve found that what I read before I sleep affects me differently from what I study at other times during the day.
Raven: with a daredevil two year old in the house, I no longer have bookshelves. 🙂 Diaper boxes hold my books, and are hiding in the kids’ closets until my boy gets it that you don’t climb the furniture. Chess, huh? Good luck with those veering goals.
Erin: I agree with the subconscious soaking. I think I’d be in trouble without mine.
Brett: if you’re weird, it’s not because of your reading habits. 😀
Bonnie: I’m still learning my process. It’s ever changing. But mostly it’s “stuff in, stuff out”, and repeat.
Zette: agreed, and it goes beyond the creation of nightmares.
Thanks all for stopping in. I hope you’re enjoying the tour.