What I Learned from My Reading Diet

I finished reading ten books over the span of a week. I had three nonfiction books I had been needing to read, and my OCD forced me to read them before I got busy on the seven books I bought—which was good, because I'd had them for awhile. I decided to spend as many days as it took just reading all of these. Not just for fun, though. This time, I was reading to learn.

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See, this is what happens when your writing goes stale. I have this writer's block chart on my Pinterest that has been a cool resource: whenever you feel stuck writing, it asks you simple questions over what you're stuck with, such as characters, style, etc. And then it gives you simple prompts and exercises to help get things flowing again. My problem was with my craft. It seemed like every sentence I wrote was crap. So for that it recommended writing only to please yourself and not a bunch of people at once—not bad advice at all for an overthinker and perfectionist like me. But that still didn't get me unstuck because my overthinking and perfectionism still took over. So then it recommended going on a "reading diet" because it will help improve your style, or it said to simply just get air and have time away from your story. So I did both, long story short.

As a writer, there's two types of reading: reading for fun and reading to learn. I wanted to do both, but especially reading to learn, that is, to help me improve my own writing. What I was surprised about, though, is how much I would learn not just for that but also about our culture and the things we believe, the messages that are portrayed in these books and what I've learned from reading them.

The nonfiction books were very good, over Christian themes that I could really take to heart. One of them was even over patience. And while it didn't change my life in the sense that waiting suddenly got easier—ha, when is that ever supposed to happen—it was still a good reminder for me. I'm learning, people, slowly, yes, but I'm getting there. Maybe one of these days I will even blog about what I've learned about waiting. Because if I can, then, yeah, there's hope for anyone.

From that point on, the rest of the books I had to read were all fiction, young adult, which is a genre that is written specifically for the teen audience. Besides Christian fiction, young adult is easily my favorite genre because, well, obviously. I'm right in the age group, so it's the most relatable—except when it's not. Sometimes it's not, when they do the little fairytale storyline crap that I hate. But sometimes it is. You have to find the right books. And oh my gosh, that is HARD. Finding the right books. I think I've just gotten so picky, but there's no variety in it, it seems. And then on those rare occasions when I find a book that I seriously love, I can never find any stories that are similar in what I like about it. Ugh. I guess finding what I DON'T like is helping me narrow it down... Slowly...

But anyway, enough on this. Like I said, I realized a lot of things while reading these books. And the books that I'm going to be talking about are the fictional young adult ones. I bought a whole series that I'd read the first three books of and had enjoyed those—clear back when I was in seventh grade, I believe, and the reason I know this is because I had pictured the hot guy as a hockey player I was obsessed with then—as well as a companion book to that series that I'd also already read, and then I bought two books that completed another series by a young adult author I really like. I liked the majority of the books I got, except for the two books at the end of that five book series. They were told from a different character's perspective, so I was skeptical about how much I would like them. But here's what I learned from all of them:

~There's so many stereotypical perspectives. We need new ones.

When it came to that new character, I couldn't relate to her. In fact, she really got on my nerves. It was like that stereotypical female leader type character, in the sense that to be a female leader the female has to tough, dominating, and snarky. Which I disagree with. There are plenty of great female leaders who don't fit that stereotype, ones who are more gentle or quieter. That can be the young adult genre in a nutshell, though, sometimes, is that it is FULL of the cliche characters. Especially when it comes to guys. You get the same bad boy personalities that are supposed to be portrayed as sexy and blah blah blah. One of my favorite YA authors—who was the author of the other two books I got to finish a series—I think she does a good job of creating realistic characters with varying personalities. She even writes young adult romance, but you can still see how the guys are flawed. And her female characters lean on the side of being more innocent and naive, and before her, I had never found a young adult author who wrote their characters that way, and I LOVED that perspective. As a teenager myself, I have yet to find stories that imitate how relatable those were for me, even if they were secular, too. That's kind of one of my complaints about the Christian fiction genre, too: the characters feel too plastic to me. Like it seems like they're gifted with way too much to the point that it's not realistic, and you don't get an honest portrayal of their flaws. There's this one author who seems to give all of her characters natural beauty, and it's like, okay, not all of us are blessed with that... But sure, we'll pretend to be happy for her when the guys just love her... Oh that's right, I forgot real people usually struggle with jealousy, too—that's what it would be nice to see more of.

~I still hate cliche endings.

Agh, those same books also had the worst endings. They were too fairytale-ish. I don't necessarily mind happy endings, but they have to be authentic for me, like I talk about here.

~More than that, I think I hate the way endings are wrote, period.

Okay, this one may be more of a critique of myself than the actual stories. I'm insatiable when it comes to the way endings are wrote. If they're too happy, I don't like that because it doesn't feel real—it's too cliche. But if they're too sad, then I'm left depressed (if you've never been depressed over a book, you don't know what you're missing, haha) and needing more. And, as I found out just recently with the conclusion to this other series by the teen author I love, I don't like it when they're too open-ended. NORMALLY open-ended types are my favorite because they're more of a middle ground: not too happy, yet not too sad. So maybe it was just because this particular series dealt with a hot guy who she only now got back with at the end of the story, and I would've loved to read more of him BEYOND A PAGE...

Endings aren't fun, though, especially when you're super engrossed in a story, and you feel attached to the characters. I have some characters I love so much, I could read book after book with them and never get bored. I suppose it's kind of like certain people, in a way. You have some you love to see and miss horribly when it's time to say goodbye, and then there are others where you're like get out of my life already...

~I would love to know the psychology behind why I get so attached to certain characters.

Seriously, it's almost insane. I have some characters I just don't forget, but I suppose if they feel real and relatable, you feel like you know them but yet you don't. After the conclusion of the series I loved, my grandma told me to call her to let her know how it ended because I was worried I would get the ending I did, so then I was ranting all about this guy and how much I loved him and how I didn't want to be done reading about him and how ONE PAGE is not nearly adequate enough. My brother thought I had lost my mind, insisting it was only a book. Well, you should see what his video games do to him, so I think I'm fine, and every other teenage girl would agree. This guy, though... He had finally just come around, and he was so sensitive inside and had such capabilities to think deeply, he was great. <3

Okay, I'll quit now, but I guess I definitely learned lots to put into my own writing. My grandma was telling me that now I'll know how to end my book, since I was so unsatisfied with the other series' ending. Well, I don't know about that, but it definitely got me thinking, especially about the power of good characters. I mean, this fictional guy, is like, awesome to me. He's FICTIONAL, though, but as they say, he'll live on in my heart... Maybe it's because in my head I pictured him looking really hot...? I don't know. Well, what I do know is that when it comes to me personally, I have my physical type of guy all down to a T, but personality wise? I have no idea. I guess I should just create a million male characters and see which one I fall in love with. And then somehow find a real life version. Ha. Like that'll happen.

Okay but in all seriousness, it has made me think even about the grand point of why I write fictional stories as a whole: there is something about them that, when done right, can resonate with people on a deep, knowing level, and that literally has the power to change their life. I don't know how or why yet—I haven't started my research psychology career yet—but it does. It really does, and it's not just because of hot guys, not ALL of the time, anyway. It's because when done right, the characters do feel relatable, and you can learn things from their struggles and pick out themes for all of this—all of the stories in the world—that all lead to something bigger than ourselves. And I know that that's God and what He has done for us.

As far as being done right goes, that really depends; there is no set definition of the perfect way to write a novel. But I think there's something to be said for those novels that are completely raw and honest, that show characters' vulnerabilities and inner darkness, and that depict great themes. That's my goal when I write, anyway, but everyone is looking for something different, which is why, as my writing chart says, it's important first to just write for yourself. And it is pretty amazing, what writing can do for its author. You can explore your own darkness and hurts, your own doubts and attitudes about life, all with your imagination. I can't get enough of it, and now, after reading all these books, I really am itching to write my own. Someone once asked me if I prefer to read or write, which one I liked better. It was a very tough choice for me because I've always loved to read, but as I've gotten older, there's only so much reading I can stand before I have to write my own stories. It's like a necessity, a way for me to release my thoughts and comb through them.

So now I must go do that, ugh, and pray I don't let my perfectionistic crap get in my way... That will come in handy for revising, but I've got to get it through my head somehow that YOU CANNOT REVISE WHAT IS NOT FINISHED...

Okay seriously, like I really need to get on that. But I also want to hear from you! What are your fave genres and types of stories to read? Any recommendations for me?! I feel so weird not waking up to read anymore because I read all my books...but now it's time to write my own, I guess!

Oh, one last thing—for reviews on some of my fave books, read this post here. It's from like three years ago, so I really need to do a new one now!!! That one took an emphasis on Christian fiction, but maybe this next one could deal specifically with young adult? Then you could hear all about the hot guys!!!

Okay. I'm done for real now.

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