Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes novels. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and an affinity for mentoring teen writers. Since 2013, Shannon has taught mentoring tracks at a local school where she provides junior high and high school students with an introduction to writing and the publishing industry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.
I was going to spend today talking about the mushy middle of manuscripts. It's the next topic to address as I share my process as part of our Grow An Author series. But since both Jill and Steph spent this week giving advice on summer writing, I thought I'd best take a hint and chime in as well. We'll save mushy middles for after the Summer Panels, alright?
My two partners in crime gave you stellar advice on Setting Yourself Up to Succeed and Three Mindset Shifts to Help You Have a (Realistically) Productive Summer. The only thing I can think to add is this:
Reading has been at the top of every summer TO DO list I've ever made. Even with kids and writing and vacationing, the long summer days provide stretches of uninterrupted reading time that I just can't find any other time of the year. This might not be you. You may be so over-committed this summer, you're wondering if you can squeeze any writing or reading time in at all.
To that I would say this: there's a reason teachers give children a summer reading list. Studies show that reading over the summer can help students retain what they've learned throughout the academic year and keep them from taking a step backwards as they move into fall.
For you, an aspiring author, avoiding the summer slide should most certainly be a goal. You've learned a lot this past year, and not just about grammar and punctuation. As a writer studying the craft of storytelling, you've stored away tips and tricks as you've visited here and elsewhere. You've read oodles of schoolbooks and library books and books you purchased with your own money. Every single page has sparked growth in you. Retaining that knowledge will ensure you continue forward in your journey as opposed to playing catch-up when the cooler weather sets in.
So! From me to you, here's some advice on how to Read Like an Author this summer:
1. Mark up those books: My son is starting high school next year and not only did he receive a summer reading list, but he received instructions on how to annotate a book--a task he'll be expected to undertake during the break. I love this idea so much. Some of you are dying a little inside--I know. The thought of actually putting pen or pencil or *gasp* highlighter to your favorite novels is sacrilege. BUT! Consider for a moment that you are a student of writing. Underline, circle, fill the margins of those pages with anything that jumps out at you. Look for the building blocks the author used to construct the story. See if you can pinpoint the inciting incident and the transition between acts. Mark the various increases in tension or stakes. Reading in this way will make you an active participant in your learning. AND, if marking pages is simply not happening in your world, consider Post-It Notes or making notations on a separate piece of paper. There's always a cheat for this sort of thing.
2. Read something old: CS Lewis said this, "It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between." I ADORE THIS ADVICE. Reading the same books over and over can help you identify just how the author got from beginning to end, from one plot point to the next, from story problem to climax. First and second reads of a book ensure you know the story. Third and fourth reads ensure you know the writing.
3. Stop and study: When something confuses you--a word, a historical event, a vocation, a grammar choice--take a few minutes and google that baby. Indulge your curiosity. That knowledge may reveal a new layer to a beloved book and, who knows, it may send you down a rabbit hole full of story ideas you'd not thought to consider.
4. Practice: There are tons of ways you can use a published novel for writing practice. You can rewrite scenes you hate, give the story a different ending, add yourself into crucial scenes, rewrite your favorite scenes in a different tense or perspective, use chapter endings as story prompts. Another thing that will help you process story like an author is to make lists. Make a list of every setting and how it enhanced the story. List the characters and their purpose in the tale. List the things you liked and the things you hated. Make a list of everything you would have done differently.
PLEASE NOTE: These lists are for your growth. You do not, should not, feel the need to share them with the author of the story. You just might break their soul.
5. Turn off your phone: You and I are on electronics so often that our reading stamina has suffered. Consider how many times you've settled in to read a book and found yourself reaching for your phone. Just a quick FB check, need to clear those notifications, the world might have ended while I read that last page and Twitter will tell me. It's one of the obstacles this generation must learn to navigate if we're to build up the stamina necessary to become students of our craft--any craft really, but specifically reading and writing. Crafts that require a lot of individual study without oversight and constant access to a computer or hand-held device. Learning now to be disciplined while you work will pay off in dividends later. Trust me.
SO! Tell me, WHAT do YOU plan to read this summer? Any favorite summer reads I SIMPLY MUST BUY? Your recommendations, friends. I need them all.