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Writing Inspiration: Find it in Your Summer Reading

On the beach, by the lake, or in your home, few things are more enjoyable on warm summer days than the comfort of a great read. From romance novels to classic tomes, our favorite books seem to awaken every summer and call to us from tote bags, dusty shelves and (as of late) the memory chips of our mobile devices.

But more than just an escape from the drone of daily life, a great book can also help you focus on your own writing project. We can take inspiration from other authors, their characters and their plot lines to refine our stories and get the fuel to power through our writing goals. How? Well, it’s all the skill of the choice. Here are a few guidelines for picking a great summer read that will lead to summer writing:

  • Read something with a similar voice and subject matter to your writing project. Reading John Steinbeck to get inspiration for a chick-lit novel is not recommended. You want a book that preferably speaks from the same POV (first person or third person) as your novel in same general style (commercial or literary fiction).
  • For that matter, don’t read Steinbeck or any other best-selling author. Comparing yourself to them will only lead you to a state of utter frustration and despair. Pick debut novels by lesser known authors who don’t have decades of experience and an army of editors behind them.
  • Take notes on the following as you read:
    • Descriptions – Is the book filled with pages and pages of vivid descriptions, or quick explanations with few details? Can you easily translate the author’s descriptions into mental images?
    • Character Development – What information does the author provide that makes you identify or sympathize with the lead characters? Do the characters have a balance of positive attributes and faults? What makes them three-dimensional?

My summer reading choices: The Pink Motel, Alas, Babylon and The Lion's Paw

  • Plot – Is there action on every page or a slower, more gradual build up to to the plot’s turning point and descent into wrap-up? Did you feel like things were evenly paced or did it seem that everything happened at once?
  • Put space between your reading and writing: Don’t sit down to work on your novel moments after finishing someone else’s. Give yourself a little bit of time and clear headspace to digest what you’ve read before you begin producing thoughts of your own.
  • Perform a follow-up: After you finish reading, visit the author’s website for a follow-up. What types of social media and marketing tools are they using to promote their book? Do they have a section for reviews? If you really enjoyed the book, let the author now! Post a review or contact them via email to offer your congrats and maybe you’ll find a new colleague who can help give you advice on finding writing success.

Using the above tips will help you turn your summer reading experience into a productive exercise for your writing project as well!

We wish you luck and as always, if you have some other suggestions, questions or general comments feel free to shout out in the comments below.

Later days,

  • Great post. Thanks!

  • Michael Girard

    Interesting blog post ladies. I particularly liked the part of circling back to an authors webpage and social media properties in order to connect with them. It’s a great suggestion to help forge connections. I would also suggest trying to find communities on book readers on Facebook or using hashtag searches (#scifibooks – or whatever you’re looking for) to connect and share your reviews with a much larger community.

    Michael Girard
    Community Engagement, Radian6

  • I so agree! Several multi-pubbed authors have said that they study other writer’s books. And I think that’s the best teacher – something similar to your genre. I often start reading in the morning and then the creativity starts flowing. Something in a book will trigger a scene I need in my book. For example, the book may reveal something through a past experience and I think, oh yes, my character should mention such and such.

  • Shannon

    Thank you Valerie, Michael and Kathy for your wonderful comments! Michael, that’s a great suggestion to connect with other readers through Facebook and Twitter. And Kathy, I think that’s the perfect way to look at it–like you’re studying an author, but not comparing yourself to him/her. I read to get my creative juices flowing as well! :-)

  • Great post. I was just discussing this same idea earlier in the week, as an author I find some of the best inspiration comes from reading as much for enjoyment as for comparison and improvement of your own work. And the Steinbeck thing, again it’s nice to see someone pointing out that reading and comparing your own work to those kind of authors is invariably going to end with you a feeling more than a little-downhearted about your own stuff.

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  • Great post! I so agree. Saturdays are my big reading days and I have learned to keep a notebook handy because inspiration almost always strikes. Then when Monday comes I usually have an easier re-entry to my writing. Thanks!

  • Haven’t taken notes as I read. I do note overall likes/dislikes about author’s work and catalog that in my TBR spreadsheet but great idea to use a notebook as I read. Another way would be to simply annotate the book (although I’m old school enough that I cringe every time I see my son annotating his school books).

  • Awesome post! Can’t wait to share it.
    The only thing I would disagree with is avoiding reading best-selling authors with years of experience. One of my greatest inspirations has been J.R.R. Tolkein. The key here is why are you reading what you’re reading? I don’t want to write like Tolkein (I also think it is very hard to compete in today’s publishing industry if you do), but I can still learn from him.
    The key here is to not compare yourself to who you are reading. I love both Ally Carter and Suzanne Collin’s work. I would love to be as good as they are, but I know I’m not there yet. And I’m a completely different person, with a completely different story to tell. But, even though my WIP is not in any way dystopian, I still learned a great deal about how to write well from reading The Hunger Games.
    So I would say: Read, read, read. Read books that are similar to what you want to write. Read books that use the same type of character and POV. And read books that are completely off-the-wall and nothing like what you want to write. Approach each one as learning experience. Let them refresh you and let them inspire you. And then pick up your WIP and BE you!