Why Reading Matters: From a Little Girl Who Hated Reading

The second hand seemed to take an eternity to make one lousy rotation.  Tick.  The minute hand moved the slightest fraction.  A minute is forever to a seven-year-old sitting on the living room couch next to her mother, the simple supposed easy-reader book between them.

“Go ahead.  Sound it out.”

The mom’s words could have been encouraging.  Should have been.  Maybe they had been the first, second, or even the third night of this routine, but after weeks of spending what Mom insisted was “important quality time,” the girl heard only impatience in those words.

Trips to the library to pick up books for these evening readings were boring.  The little girl only marvelled at the graffiti-riddled bathroom walls while she stood in the stalls.  Talk of renovating the library in an otherwise nice suburban city had begun.

Reading “x” number of books to get enough stars on that huge poster board chart the teacher had at the front of the classroom with every student’s name and progress on it was perhaps the only motivator.  It was a race to see who could get enough stars to earn another free personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut for the Book-It program.

Mmm.  The thought of a pepperoni pizza just the right size with that melting cheese, on a rare occasion when the family actually went out for dinner…

“Cyndi, please pay attention.”

The little girl sighed.  Too many exceptions to the rules of long vowel sounds and words like “thought” and “rough” and soft and hard “c” sounds… Why did reading have to be so difficult?

So, she trudged through another ten page book with a few words on every page, perhaps taking fifteen minutes that felt like fifteen hours.  All the while, the clock…tick…an eternal minute… tick…tick…

pablo (1)At the end, the girl rather thought these reading sessions were almost as bad at the numerous times she’d fallen while learning to ride a bike without training wheels.  The neighborhood had wooden fences lining the sidewalk in every yard, and going down from the bike, hands out in defense, meant a hundred splinters in the palms…then the painful hour or two of sitting on the bathroom floor while Mom removed them with the tweezers…one by agonizing one.  Yep.  That was what reading was like for this girl.

This girl was me.

It wasn’t that I couldn’t read.  I just didn’t want to.  This general dislike of reading continued as I grew older, and although I managed to usually get a B in English, it was the subject I struggled with.  I was the kid who would rather watch the movie instead of read the book.  In fourth grade, we were assigned C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  I remember trying to read, only to find myself bored after a couple of pages.  I watched an old cartoon movie version from the 70s, which lacked much of the detail of the book…which plainly showed when test time came.

Interestingly enough, when the class was assigned The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White, I loved that book.  Although I’m not sure what it was about this book that captured my interest, to the point that I was reading ahead, I think it might have been the intrigue of a swan who wrote on a chalkboard he wore around his name to communicate with a little boy.  I remember very little about that book all these years later, but it was probably the first book that I enjoyed reading.

By fifth grade, I still wasn’t much into reading.  Then at the class gift exchange for Christmas, I got a Babysitters Club book (by Ann M. Martin).  I was at the age where the prospect of babysitting appealed to me, and the thought of a bunch of girls my age or a little older having a club for babysitting sounded super cool.  I could relate to the characters in the story.  Maybe that was my first indication of a love for reading: needing to find something I related to.

I read that book quicker than anything and for pleasure.  The Babysitters Club series would become my first books I actually read for pleasure.  I spent that next three or four years engrossed in them, anxiously waiting for the next book to come out.  I spent my hard-earned allowance money on them and got them out of the library.  Suddenly, library visits were exciting.  I was seeing that there was a difference between reading what I wanted and having to read for school.

Still, the reading for school didn’t sit well with me.  As I progressed through junior high and had to do summer reading, I remember groaning over it.  I had a whole summer to read a lousy book, which seemed plenty of time.  As you can well imagine, I put off most of the reading until the last minute.  Reading Jurassic Park during the same summer when the movie was out was kind of neat, however, because I felt like I was reading something current.  Perhaps part of my dislike of reading stemmed from the fact that most of the stuff we were forced to read in school was historical.  I remember how deeply it struck me when reading Jurassic Park that there was a time before humans walked the earth and there would be time after.  At 13, such a thought was beyond my world.  It got me thinking.  It was also the first time I heard about DNA.

Once I was in high school, I read the assigned books and did well in English class, although it was never my favorite subject.  I was writing poetry since I was 10 or 11 and short stories, but writing for English class was a different matter.  By this time, my homework load was so large that I really didn’t have time to read for pleasure.  I worked part time at a movie theatre, was in marching band, did Aikido, and, of course, had a full course load at school.

My tenth grade English teacher didn’t like that I thought outside of the proverbial box on the test on symbolism in The Scarlet Letter.  I barely managed to pass that test.  Looking back, being forced to conform, to read what only was assigned, to write the answers that we’d been lectured on were the “right answers”….well, I didn’t like that.  Only my eleventh grade teacher (a laid-back guy who seemed like an older hippie and more like a college prof with the messy office, beard, and just-got-outta-bed hair) seemed cool.  He was unconventional.  He told us it was okay to use “I” when writing our papers.  We read a lot of poetry and just talked about it as a class.  Our individuality was encouraged.

As strict at my twelfth grade English teacher was, she was a little spit-fire.  We studied world literature that year, and it was the first time I learned about many of those cultures.  My eyes were being opened to a world much larger than American and British lit.  It was amazing.  And she challenged us.  She was the type of teacher you loved and hated and would always remember, always appreciate, always respect.

I suppose this bigger-world picture is what first got me interested in reading nonfiction, most specifically Egyptology.  I spent the better part of my late teens and early twenties reading about ancient Egypt for fun.

Once in college, I was pleasantly surprised by English 101.  We read current stuff.  Again, much of my beef with reading in English class in high school was that everything was so old.  I didn’t relate to it.  Reading Tuesdays with Morrie, which had only been written two years earlier at the time, was a love-affair with a book for me at age nineteen.  I breezed through the pages, finishing it way before schedule.  Life and death.  Living life to the fullest.  Appreciating every moment.  That was what I took away from that gem of a book.  Current affair topics like racism and sexism and such were what we read about and discussed.  This stuff felt relevant.  It was like someone had opened the window after spending years in a stuffy room.pablo (2)

College was another time in my life where I spent much time reading textbooks, so my time to read for pleasure was limited.  I’d taken more to writing fan fiction, engrossed with meeting people online who had common interests as me.  I read a lot of fan fiction as well, so since I was reading in my favorite genres, it was the escape I needed at times.  I got that escape from writing, too.

Fast forward a few years.  I was 23 and done with college, working as a research technologist.  A good friend encouraged me to pick up the Harry Potter series, of which four books were written at that time.  I’d seen the movies and enjoyed them, so I thought, “Why not?”

I devoured those books, all four of them, in two weeks, which was record time for me.  The fifth book was scheduled to be released that summer, and I joined thousands of others in anticipation.  I.  Could.  Not.  Wait.

So began my love of reading that I never would have imagined possible when I was seven.  Even as I got older, I didn’t love reading most things.  My reading for pleasure was severely limited to fan fiction, not actual books.  But hey, it was something.

I couldn’t tell you all the books I’ve read since 2003 (when I was 23).  According to Goodreads, it’s something like 400.  Most have been fiction, but some have been nonfiction.  I spent a few years diving into the classics, like Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, and discovering a love for the way the authors could paint a picture with their worlds and melt or stab my heart at the same time.  I marvelled at the beautiful poetry of the prose of older books and came to appreciate them deeply, relating to the characters in a way I never imagined when I was younger.

Then I read Jane Eyre in 2006 and loved it so much, I mourned the fact that Charlotte Bronte had been dead for a hundred and fifty years.  She felt so alive through her words.  It was like her breath was on every page.  I longed to discuss her masterpiece with her, what I felt was her heart’s song.  That was the first time I’d felt that passionately about a book.  Those dead authors we’d studied in school suddenly seemed very much alive.

And so I have continued on this love affair with books.  Reading matters as deeply to me as writing now, and it’s thanks to those books I mentioned above (and some great teachers and friends who encouraged my reading) that I love to read.  I am constantly reading something, usually many books simultaneously.

Reading matters because we can lose ourselves for a few hours to another world.  We can be Frodo on a quest to destroy The Ring or Harry Potter in search of the Horcruxes.  

Reading matters because it makes me a better writer.  Even if you’re not a writer, you can appreciate the art of a well-crafted book.

Reading matters because of stories.  Story is the essence of life.  People have shared stories since language existed, long before the written word.  We want to explore the human condition in all its forms, its beautiful messiness.

And guess what?  I’ve recently reread some of the books I “had to read” in school: The Great Gatsby and To Kill a Mockingbird.  Twenty years later, my perspective is different.  I can see those characters through the lense of a mature woman instead of a child.  I also revisited Jane Eyre and felt just as much in love as the first time.  

Reading matters because those books are like old friends, always there to comfort us and bring us home.  That’s quite something coming from a little girl who hated reading

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Also, check out my novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, available for $2.99 any other time on Amazon: Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful

Keeping the Perspective

It’s hard sometimes when in the midst of a problem to see past it.  Everything looks blurry.  The road ahead is unclear.

It’s easy to let emotions take control during these trying times, and next thing you know, you’re blowing up a balloon meant for a birthday party into a hot air balloon — yes, lots of hot air and a balloon not meant for flying, so it pops.

This is when you and I need to stop.  Just stop.  Seriously.

Take a deep breath.  Several if you must.  Close your eyes.  Count to ten.  Or one hundred.  Whatever it takes to calm down.

My latest frustration — well, one of them — has been educating myself on how to market better.  I am a writer, not a marketer.  I do not have a business degree in marketing.  I am no expert.  Neither am I foolish enough to think that the stuff I write is just going to sell itself.  Something like 1000 books are published every day.  That’s 30,000 books a month!  

It doesn’t take long to get up to my eyeballs in terms like “author platform,” “branding,” and “target audience.”  Say what?

Okay, so I’m a newbie at this marketing stuff.  I don’t know heads from tails, really.  I’ve been reading daily for two meager weeks about marketing, but I am learning.  I highly recommend Rachel Thompson’s book, BadRedhead Media 30-Day Book Marketing Challenge: How to energize your book sales in a month.  It’s somewhere to start.  I’ve learned to use Twitter more.  I’m creating simple, hopefully eye-catching graphics using Pablo at Buffer.com — free and easy to use.  I’m using Buffer.com to regularly post things daily across my social media platforms.

The posting has been going for about a month, and I have to be honest — it’s not generating the “likes” I was hoping for.  Then again, what did I honestly expect?  These things don’t just happen overnight.

So, this whole marketing thing has gotten to me.  It’s easy and tempting to want to whine about it and think that I’m just being ignored.  Oh, poor me.  Pity party city.

To which the grown up side of me says, “Grow a pair, Cynthia.”  Seriously.

This is where I need to stop.  Take a deep breath.  

Let’s talk about keeping the perspective.pablo (12)

I’ve only been writing original works of fiction for a little over two years.  In the sea of authors, that’s dipping a toe in the Pacific Ocean.  I have self-published one book to little success, but I have gotten a handful of reviews.  I have gotten people outside of my circle of family and friends to read it.  That’s a start.

Three years ago: I wasn’t writing anything original.  My first book idea was stuck at four chapters I’d written more than five years earlier.

Two years ago: I was just starting out on my journey as a writer of original stories.  I had no idea if I was even going to finish my first book, but for the first time in my life, I was committed to sitting down every day and writing, even if it was only for ten minutes.

One year ago: I had finished my first draft in ten months.  It had subsequently gone through four months of edits by friends.  I was querying agents, not really having any idea what I was doing.  I had just started (and I mean just) writing my second and third stories.

Now: I have finished books two and three in their first drafts.  Book two is nearly done going through edits.  Book three is about to enter the editing phase.  I am writing books four and five.  I have ideas for six and seven.  I am blogging regularly on a site that has a domain name.  I am active on social media.  I am beginning to market.

Whoa.

And that’s not even to mention all the amazing people I’ve met along the way!  If it hadn’t been for writing, I would have never met most of my online friends years and years ago.  Long before writing original stuff, I was hanging out in the realm of fan fiction.  I made lots of good friends and have years of fond memories because of it.  I have met many of these folks in person.  I have hugged them.  We’ve laughed and cried together.

More recently, I have met and become friends with several people from a writers group that meets regularly at my local library.  We have the commonality of being writers, but when we meet, we bare our hearts and souls at times.  After all, as writers, we often pour our deepest selves into our writing.

pablo (13)

It’s the people who are the greatest blessing from all of this.  And I’m writing, doing what I love.  Yes, even in the midst of learning how to market.

One step at a time.  

When you’re overwhelmed by whatever problem is trying to eat you, eat it instead by remembering how far you’ve already come.  Don’t compare yourself to others.  That only brings misery.  The only person you should compare yourself to is the person you were yesterday.  

You got this.  Keep going.  It’s worth it.

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The Value of Fan Fiction

My story has over a million reads and over six thousand reviews.  Wow.  Impressive, right?

 

Notice that I said “story” and not “book.”

 

That’s because what I’m referring to here isn’t an original story written by me that’s been published as a book.  Rather, what I’m talking about is a work of fan fiction.  Yes, I wrote this novel-length fan fic that I’ve been kind of bragging about, but the characters and the world aren’t mine.  They belong to the imaginative, wonderful J.K. Rowling.

 

I’ve dabbled and dove deep into the world of fan fiction on and off for twenty years.  I started writing it back in 1995 at the age of 15, before sites like fanfiction.net even existed and when the internet was still very much in its infancy.  My parents didn’t even have a computer, so I was basically writing the stuff for myself, re-imagining ways that the characters I loved would behave in different scenarios than had happened in their canon world.  For me at age 15, this was Disney’s Aladdin.

 

Before I continue, for the uninformed, which I don’t think is many, fan fiction is writing fiction using someone else’s characters.  The possibilities are endless.  You may choose to write them in a different world or do a crossover with characters from another universe (meaning story/movie/book).  You may have two characters fall in love who never did so in canon.  There are really no rules for fan fiction.

 

Why am I writing about fan fiction now?  Because, for me, it’s been a vital part of my writing history, and I don’t believe I would have gotten where I am today as a writer of original works of fiction without it.

 

Because of fan fiction, I also met many friends online and got to make connections with other writers, even if what they wrote was fan fiction.  Not only did I write my own stories, but I spent hours and hours reading the works of others and leaving my thoughts and even beta-reading for a few people.

 

Writing fan fiction was usually easy for me.  Using someone else’s characters and world they’ve already crafted is, of course, more simple than having to come up with everything from scratch for something original.  I was already in love with these characters, so I felt like I knew them inside and out and loved the endless possibilities that fan fiction posed.

 

I was one of the first to join the fanfiction.net community when it opened its doors in 2001.  To this day, I have an account there under the internet pen name of “Sindie.”  It’s funny the fame that my most popular fic (The Moment It Began) got, because to these readers, I was “Sindie,” a faceless writer of Harry Potter fan fiction.  I never expected anything I wrote to gain that much popularity, but what it did tell me was that I was capable of writing something novel-length that most of my readers would enjoy.

 

For any writer, I think, while we first write for our own pleasure, it’s also a wonderful thing to be able to share our stories with others.  Just knowing that there are people out there who read something by me and that they actually liked it is all the more rewarding and compels me to write further.

 

writingWhile I’ll be forever thankful for my history in fan fiction, I must admit that it held me back from writing original fiction for a long time.  The very thought of writing something original was downright daunting for many years, despite I first had the idea for what would become my first original story back in 2006.  In March 2015, I finally began to seriously work on my story instead of writing fan fiction.  Now, I wouldn’t turn back.  I’ve self-published it on Amazon after a year and a half of writing, editing, sharing it with friends, and editing more.  I’m now working on two more original stories.

 

All this got me to thinking: Do other authors and writers create fan fiction or did they write it at one time?  Did they find value in it?  Did they think it helped them become better writers?  So I asked.

 

The vast majority of them said they love fan fiction and have written it.  They agreed with me that there is value in it for many reasons: improving their own writing, practice at coming up with original ideas (even if those involved someone else’s characters), making connections, getting useful feedback, and bolstering their confidence as writers.  And it’s just plain fun.

 

A few said they’d never written fan fiction, but they had read it and could see how writing it could be beneficial for the reasons listed above.

 

There was a small group who thought it a waste of time to dedicate so much to using other people’s characters, but this was a very small group.

 

There is a general consensus that some fan fiction is just downright awful, but the same could be said of original stories, too.

 

Overall, it would seem that many writers are of a mindset like mine when it comes to fan fiction.  That’s good to know, for it validates what I already believed: that fan fiction adds value to our experiences as writers in a number of ways, the best of which is probably the practice it gives us by just doing what we love.  Write.

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#writing #fanfiction