Color Me (Unread) Red

Wednesday, May 08, 2013
I collect writing books like twisty ties.

You know those ties that come twisted around plastic bags? I untwist them, stuff them in a drawer in the kitchen, and never use them again.

Pretty much what I do with writing books. I order them, or occasionally win them, and then I stuff those gems on my real or virtual bookshelves where they gather real or cyber dust. It’s embarrassing.

I mean, I wanted those writing books. I spent good money on those books. (Well, except for the books I won. But even when I’ve won a book, I’ve spent my time, tweeting or blogging or spreading the word somehow. You can’t win a book these days just by leaving a comment.) So I’m left asking myself, “Why do I do this? Why don’t I read the book?”

And worse, some of these are dated market books; the material is applicable for one year, more or less. I was looking for a book on my shelf last night and I came across a Children’s Writer Guide for 2007. And I’d barely cracked open the book.

I know this because I’m a highlighter reader. Not in my fiction books, but in market guides or how-to write books, I mark up the pages so much, they practically shine with a golden gleam. So I stood there, holding that nearly pristine 2007 market guide, just fussing at myself. “Why, why, why Cathy? Why didn’t you read the book? What is wrong with you?”

I’ll tell you what I think is wrong with me. I’m like that kid whose eyes are too big for his stomach. I want to be the best writer I can be, and so I pile high the writing books, with every intention of reading each amazing word. And then I try a couple pages—and they’re good—but I’m full of ideas and rarin’ to go. So I put the book down and start writing.

Which is a little bit funny, right? I suppose my writing books succeed in one important way: they motivate me to write. But once I start writing, I rarely look back.

Still, when I stood there, holding that 2007 market guide (with all kinds of helpful articles included), I couldn’t help wondering. Would I be an even better writer if I actually, you know, read a couple of these writing books?

I think the answer is obvious. There are nuggets of writing wisdom to be found on my over-stuffed shelves. I’m challenging myself to find them among the books I already own. And I’m challenging you, too.

Now, don’t act like you’ve never bought a writing book and left it unread. So let’s get started on the “Writing Books Sitting on Your Shelf That Need To Be Read” challenge. I’m going with the Magazine Markets for Children’s Writers 2013, because, heck. (And this is really embarrassing.)

It’s already May.

~Cathy C. Hall


Sioux Roslawski said...

Cathy--I'm going to one-up you. I have a writing book that a friend recommended--lots of writing people love it--and I've read part of it and love it, but haven't read the rest of it.

How stupid is that! Do I win the "contest" of the unread? ;)

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I hear you, Cathy! I've gotten pretty particular over the years about the writing craft books I buy etc - and I still don't read them, or I only half read them. It was one thing when I bought or borrowed every single one I heard about it, but now I'm not even reading the ones I'm carefully choosing! Ugh.

Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan said...

I have a few writing books, but what stalls me is the magazines I receive every month full of great advice. So I decided I'd try and sit down and read the magazine, take notes and turn the notes into a blog post, tear out helpful pages and then recycle the magazine. I've gotten through a few issues of Writer's Digest and was stunned to see the surface of my desk again! I post my notes on my blog under the series "Homework for Writers." Here's a link:

Cathy C. Hall said...

I'm sorry, Sioux, you do not win. Pfffft. We've ALL done that. (Maybe you could have a contest on your blog? Guess the writing book I haven't read? Then give it away so someone else can put it on their shelf, unread.) :-)

Now, Madeline, on the other hand, has given this a whole new twist. I give you props, Madeline, for being so selective in the books you don't read. :-)

And Elizabeth, you win the award for being brilliant! (I came across a stack of Writer's Digest mags in my basement--FROM 2008!--and I still didn't throw them out because eventually, maybe in an alternate universe, I WILL READ THOSE MAGS!!!) :-)

Renee Roberson said...

I am most definitely guilty of collecting books about writing and then never reading them! I also have every.single. issue of Writer's Digest and The Writer going back at least five years. I can't throw them out because there could be something very useful in there that I don't realize I need yet!

Unknown said...

Ohhh cheap (and sometimes free!) writing books offered on Kindle will be my undoing yet. Yes, gathering electronic dust on their little faux wooden shelves. I swear I'm going to read them all. Really. One day. Soon.

Anne Louise O'Connell said...

Twisty ties and rubber bands for me! I grinned ear to ear as I read this. My writing books sit in a stack at my feet that I have to step over in order to get in my chair at my desk to start my writing day. Every once in a while as I wait for something to upload or download on my computer and I'm getting impatient, I'll reach down and pull one out of the pile and read a page or two!

Thanks for my giggle of the day!

Anonymous said...

Cathy, I'm sure you are my identical twin separated at birth. As I sit here, I can see 8 books on a table, one of which I read. Online books - oh, yeah, lots of those, too. Magazines? Ummm, two years' worth of Writers Digest all neatly standing on a bookshelf. I'll get to them - someday...

Cathy C. Hall said...

Now, see? THAT'S what I'm talking about, y'all! Is it wrong that now I don't feel half as bad? :-)

So...go to your shelves. Pick a book. (I'll wait a second...) Okay, good. Next month, I'm asking for your book recommendations--I can't wait!

Margo Dill said...

I no longer get any writing magazine OR writing newsletter. I used to fret because i was behind in reading these. I would NOT want to go do something with friends or family so I could get caught up on my magazine reading. I canceled ALL subscriptions to everything paper (Ugh--I know--I'm the reason they are all going out of business. . .) Now as for WOW! Women On Writing e-zine, we each read every single brilliant article in every issue, right? :)

Eugenia Parrish said...

I think I have everyone beat. Item one: Three years ago I moved from Ohio to California and the truck was small. So I bit the bullet and recycled my Writers Digests from -- ready? -- 1973. I was always sure I'd go back and reread all those gems. Item two: I just plucked a book at random from my several shelves of how-to-write books. "The Art of Compelling Fiction" by Christopher Leland. Doesn't that sound like a page-turner? My bookmark sits about halfway through. I don't remember reading it, and I don't know why I stopped and didn't pick it up again. The copyright is 1998. The good news: when I stopped reading about writing, I wrote. After forty years, I have a novel up on Amazon!

Eugenia Parrish said...

Ladies, why is it so hard to leave a comment under my own name? I really don't want to be "unknown" but if I pick OpenID, the only choice I have is Wordpress, and when I try to log on to WP, it wipes out my comment! A little confusing, to say the least. Eugenia Parrish

LuAnn Schindler said...

Oh, Cathy. You and I are cut from the same cloth!!

I had to count when I read this - I have 45 writing books in my office, another 22 on my Kindle, and two boxes packed away in the garage.


I see a new writing book and THINK I need it, read a bit, and then WHAMY! I want to write. So that's what I do. Very seldom do I crack open the book again.

I'm setting a goal to get through one writing book and apply what I learn, beginning now.

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