How To

Read Like A Writer: Making A Reading Plan for NaNoWriMo

It’s the most magical time of the year– we are stocked up on Halloween candy, the end of the 2016 election is in sight, and writers everywhere are celebrating the return of National Novel Writing Month. Every November, thousands of authors (established and aspiring) take the pledge to write 50,000 words in 30 days. If it sounds impossible, it very nearly is. Luckily, the internet is bristling with helpful hints, GIF-fueled encouragement, and forums for commiseration. Today I’m here to offer yet another piece of NaNoWriMo advice: plan your reading accordingly.

While it’s tempting to forego almost everything (regular meals, thorough bathing)  to reach your daily word counts, dropping reading out your life for an entire month can be extremely damaging to your process. A quote by Laura Lippman often jumps out at me when I start making excuses for skipping my pleasure reading: “There’s always time to read. Don’t trust a writer who doesn’t read. It’s like eating food prepared by a chef who doesn’t eat.”  Reading keeps your imagination supple, allows for the escape that you hope others will find in the story you’re crafting. So let’s accept that reading during NaNoWriMo is a REALLY GOOD IDEA (I’m trying to stay away from the word “must,” but seriously, you should). Now it’s time to figure out which type of reading is going to serve you best. There are as many opinions about how to read while writing as there are humans hunched over keyboards, suffering for their stories.

Opposites Attract

Some people feel very strongly about reading outside of the genre they’re writing in- for instance, I’ve heard of fantasy writers who strictly read nonfiction while they are drafting. The fear here is that reading too closely to what you’re writing will result in some cross contamination. I’m less worried about that during a drafting phase– there is plenty of time to clean up too-obvious connections when you’re revising. Still, if this is a concern, hunker down with something opposite of your piece and let the sparks fly! Is your piece historical? Maybe read a biography of a person who lived during that time. Creating a fantasy world based on a real culture? READ ABOUT THAT CULTURE– bonus points for searching out authors who are an active part of the culture you’re hoping to bone up on.

Be a Not-So-Secret Admirer

On the other hand, you might choose to immerse yourself in some of your favorites. Ask yourself why you’re doing NaNoWriMo. What are the stories that make you excited about reading? Who are the authors you hope to emulate? Rereading stories that mean a lot to me is very inspiring; I’m reminded of the magic that got me into these hobbies. It’s very easy to fall into a trap of wanting to write something based on what you know is popular, or what you think will impress people. Stop it. Think long and hard about the stories you stay up late reading, the ones you recommend to everyone and rave about constantly. Now think about the scenarios that play out in your head, the characters that pop up to chat no matter how hard you try to focus. You’re getting a message about what to write, and likewise, what to read.

Reader on a Mission

If you’re a master planner, you may know which elements of storytelling you want to focus on during NaNoWriMo. Maybe your story isn’t set on Earth, and you’re looking for some examples of great world building. You may have pages and pages of great descriptions, but need some dialogue inspiration to spice things up. This year, my work in progress features a fat female main character, and I really want to do right by her. I plan to revisit some of the fat main characters who made me hungry for more. Gabi, from Gabi, a Girl in Pieces, and Elisa from Rae Carson’s fantasy adventures will definitely be popping up, and I never miss a chance to browse my favorite scenes from Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy.  Think about what you want to really shine in your piece, and look for reading material that will motivate you and influence your words.

How about you? Are you doing NaNoWriMo? What will you read along the way? I’ll greedily accept your every book rec. Happy reading, happy writing, happy life!

For more NaNoWriMo inspiration, read here and here!