A guest post by Belinda Nicoll/@BelindaNicoll
“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” Benjamin Franklin
I am very pleased to feature Freelance Writer, Memoir Author and Creativity Coach Belinda Nicoll in this guest post. Belinda and I met in Sonia Marsh‘s Gutsy Indie Publisher Facebook group. She blogs about creative writing, the changing world of books and publishing and offers a series of rite-of-passages stories by guest writers. Her current series, What is the Gist of Your Story, features guest bloggers who discuss how the premise and themes of their books can be the basis of effective book publicity.
We are told that in order to be a good writer, we need to be a good reader. Belinda shares her thoughts on how her writing process has influenced her reading habits and then how her habits have changed.
As a cognitive process, reading is a means of acquiring knowledge; it’s a complex interaction between the nature of the content—informative, educational, persuasive, entertaining—and the objectives of the reader. When you read, you bring your attitudes, skills, values and beliefs to the experience; if you approach a text with an open mind, it’s likely you’ll feel changed in some way when you get to the end of the book; but if you’re set in your ways, certain content might make you feel uncomfortable or even bring about a dislike of the author.
After I started writing my memoir, Out of Sync, I was unable to read for pleasure. I had work to do—stepping into my student shoes, I plowed through creative writing guides, absorbing the do’s and don’ts of memoir-writing. I read other memoirs to emulate the style of writers I admire: Alexandra Fuller, Jeanette Walls, Frank McCourt, Joan Connor, and many more. I read news reports about the economic growth in post-apartheid South Africa to make sure I get my facts right in describing how the changes there caught my husband and I off-guard after our expatriation to the U.S. in 2001. I read world news to stay abreast of globalization, one of the themes of my memoir and a concept a lot of Americans were still in denial about. I read forecasts about the world economy; we could relate to predictions of rising inflation in the U.S., because we’d been through it in South Africa and were recognizing the signs. I cried every time I read a story about people who’d lost loved ones in the 9/11 disaster—it wasn’t easy writing the chapter of my memoir that deals with our arrival at JFK International Airport on that fateful day. I read and made notes; I read and jotted down references; I read and edited my memoir, again, and again.
Until recently, long after the completion of my memoir, I’ve been the worst novel reader imaginable—I could not read even a chapter without dissecting the text and noting (for instance):
- if the protagonist, antagonist, and others are represented as flat or multi-dimensional characters;
- if point of view is that of the narrator’s or if the story is told from first-, second-, or omniscient perspective;
- how setting is used in providing a historical or cultural context for the characters;
- if dialogue is stilted or natural, or if it’s (mis)used as information dump;
- if the plot abides by the prescribed structure of the book’s genre;
- if the author is making use of special literary devices such as back-story, cliffhangers, flashbacks, or letter and emails (parts of my memoir are told in epistolary style as I inserted certain email exchanges between me and my family).
I had turned into such a critical reader that my husband complained, saying “Please do not tell me what you think of that book or its author until I’ve read it.” When I started selling my published memoir, my reading shifted to the how-to topics of book publicity. Slowly, I started reading novels for relaxation again; and now, when I read the memoirs of my peers with the intention of posting a review for them, I manage to ‘go with the flow’ and concentrate on how the story makes me feel rather than attempt to critique it. I’ve even joined a book club again, and even though the other members seem a little dazzled by having an author in their midst, I’m trying to act like a reader and not a writer.
Having said that, I’m currently working on my first novel, so I’ve got books strewn all over the house in preparation for research: Cults In Our Midst by M.T. Singer, Monster by A. Hall, The Great Anglo-Boer War by Farwell…of course, I’m doing my best to ignore my husband, who’s shaking his head, mumbling, “There we go again…”
Belinda is a freelance writer, indie author, and creativity coach. She blogs about issues related to writing and creativity, as well as her favorite subject: change. Her memoir, Out of Sync, is available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, and Kalahari (South Africa). You can follow Belinda at Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter.
Thank you , Belinda for showing us how the writing process has influenced your reading habits. I know that once I started writing, I started reading books differently, with an eye out for what works and what doesn’t. You bring up a good point though about getting back to reading for the pure enjoyment of being immersed in a story.
How about you? Have your reading habits changed since you started writing?
We’d love to hear from you. Belinda will be giving away a free copy of her memoir, Out of Sync, to a random commenter so please leave your comments below~
Next Week: “Lessons I’ve Learned About Revising My Memoir-In-Progress” on March 4 followed by “Re-visioning Memoir: An Interview with Linda Joy Myers” on March 7.