Summer Reading List

Call me weird, but I get excited when my daughter brings home her summer reading list. I can’t wait to see which books the teachers selected. And I feel a certain vindication when one of my favorites makes the cut.

I’m always tempted to read one of the books on the list as a way to connect with my daughter. But after the Twilight mother-daughter book club debacle – I read all four books and she decided after the first one they were too boring – I realized she doesn’t share my enthusiasm for reading. Not to mention the fact that most of the books on her list get read two weeks before school starts in a rush mode that doesn’t invite much conversation. So this year I’ve decided to create my own summer reading list.

Last weekend I read through the New York Times book section for ideas, but nothing jumped out at me. I almost abandoned the idea, but then it occurred to me that my daughter’s list had a plan behind it. The teachers develop the list as a gateway to the coming school year. It’s designed to engage the mind and challenges thinking.  Of course the planning and foresight is often lost on high school students, but the premise of using the lazy days of summer to contemplate new ideas is inspiring.

So here is The Confident Writer’s summer reading list to nurture our inner writer. The list focuses more on categories than specific books. If the books listed don’t interest you, pick another one. The idea is to challenge your thinking and enrich your craft.   Read one from each category or pick your favorites.   Here’s the list:

  • A classic. I know there is some debate about what actually constitutes a classic, butthat doesn’t really matter for our purposes. What’s important is reading somethingthat has stood the test of time. I plan to read either House of Mirth (Edith Wharton) or Lady Chatterley’s Lover (D. H. Lawrence). My only motivation for choosing these two books is that they are both currently on my bookshelf unread.


  • A book on craft. The summer is the perfect time to commit to reading an instructional book, because we are more open to try new ideas. And though this blog is about writing, there are craft books for whatever you like to do. I plan to read either Turning Life into Fiction (Robin Hemley) or Writers and Their Notebooks (Diana Raab).

    • A collection of stories or essays. I’ve been dabbling in this genre with my own writing so I need to read more of it. I’m particularly interested pieces about relationships between men and women as well as suburbia. The nice thing about reading a collection is that you can read it in tiny snippets. My two picks are either How to Be Alone (Jonathan Franzen) or Eleven Kinds of Loneliness (Richard Yates).

Can you think of other books or categories that would be good to add to the list?  It’ll be fun to see what everyone is interested in. Share what you’re planning to read this summer.

Five Ways to Refresh Your Writing

Nothing kills creativity like being stuck in a writing rut. Circling around the same old tired topics make writing flat and uninspiring. And if you’re like me, you find yourself avoiding your writing time. The kitchen has to be cleaned. The dogs fed. Facebook checked. But there are five ways you can breath new life into your writing.

1.  Take an excursion to some new in your community.

Visiting somewhere new stimulates our senses. I recently went to an art fair in an
Atlanta neighborhood. The architecture of the homes was so different than the suburb where I live.

People hung art on their siding. The houses were painted wild and interesting colors. It made me think about the differences between someone who would live those homes and someone in the suburbs. I started to do little character sketches in my mind. I regretted not having my camera to capture what I saw.

2.  Look at old photos

Photographs are excellent writing prompts. But old photos elicit memories and images of time gone by. I came across on an old photograph of my grandparents’ house. It was taken before I was born. The neighborhood looked different, but the house was exactly the same. As I studied the picture, I was reminded of the generations that had grown up in and around that house. I remembered the warm summer evenings sitting on the porch, rocking back and forth on the glider.

I also found a picture of me as the flower girl in my aunt’s wedding. My mind drifted back to the days before smart phones and cable television. It made me want to write about that little girl’s world.

3.  Visit an antique store

There are so many interesting items in antiques stores. There have tons of jewelry, coins, furniture, household tools, dishes and clothing to spark your imagination.  You could write about how a particular item wound up in the shop or use as a prop in your story. The Secret Lives of Dresses is a novel about a woman who discovers each dress in her grandmother’s vintage dress shop has a special story.

4.  Eavesdrop

I had mixed emotions about adding this to the list. But to be honest, I have gotten some the best lines from things that I’ve overheard at the grocery store. Of course, restaurants are wonderful because of the interaction between people as they eat. Sometimes I pay more attention to what’s going on at other tables than my own. Some might call that nosy, but I call it research.  In fact, I wrote an entire short story from a conversation I heard while waiting at a restaurant bar for my girlfriends. I was so inspired that I woke up the next morning writing. It was exciting to have a fresh idea to work with.

5.  Change your perspective

We often write from our own perspective. I always look at the story or the issue through the eyes of a woman. However, sometimes I switch perspectives to get a better view of the story. It helps me to see the situation differently. I end up noticing things I wouldn’t have otherwise. I begin to understand what motivates people to do and think like they do. I wrote a story years ago about a woman who left her husband. One of the writing groups I shared it with said she was a complete bitch. I was so angry about their assessment. I ended up abandoning the story after several rejections. Recently, I rewrote the story from her husband’s perspective. Not only did it help me to get a more complete picture of the story, it also helped me to see why the other group thought she was a bitch.

There are a ton of other things you can do to refresh your writing, but I’m going to stop here.

How do you liven things up in your writing?

Memories

This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about the past. It tends to happen when a loved one dies. Conversations and experiences resurfaced in such vivid details that the writer in me wanted to sit down and mine those memories for material for my writing. But I couldn’t. There were too many other things going on around me and in me.

I played solitaire on my computer, instead.

Yesterday, I gathered with my family to support my aunt and cousin, reconnecting with relatives I hadn’t seen in years. With each interaction pieces of the past emerged. I wondered why I didn’t have such rich recollections when I’m sitting at my desk writing. I wanted to jot down notes so that I would remember all the images and stories that were floating through my mind. But then I’d glance toward my cousin’s coffin and suddenly couldn’t remember what was so important. Grief took over.

I wasn’t in control. My emotions were raw. Images, reminiscences and thoughts came up without a filter.  And it occurs to me that in there is a valuable writing lesson.

When we let go of control, we have access to so much rich material within us.