Saturday, August 9, 2014

An Author Who Hated to Read

I’ve thought about writing this personal blog post for a long time, but part of me worried it would make me seem less legit as an author --- which I've come to realize is one of the reasons I really need to write it, so let me just say it:

I used to DESPISE reading.  I didn’t learn to love it until I was out of college.

Why is this important?  A few reasons:

  1. Some people assume that if they don’t like to read, they never will.
  2. Some people don’t understand why they (or their children/spouses/friends) don’t like to read.
  3. Some people assume that people who like to read (and/or write) are entirely different from them.

So let me first make another confession:

I was a BAD teenager.

I was the opposite of a book nerd.  I was the kid who got suspended (repeatedly) for fighting in school and generally being a disrespectful little punk.  I was the kid who flunked sophomore year for skipping too many days.  I was the kid who ultimately got sent to a private school because public school couldn’t handle me, and then had to get homeschooled when private school decided they couldn’t handle me either.  Had it not been for my determined mother, I would have been a high school drop-out.

Rewind: In elementary and middle school, I was always at the top of my class.  I was in all of the advanced classes, including advanced English classes, and I believe this is when my hatred of reading and writing started.  I was swamped with homework.  I was forced to write book report after book report on books I didn’t want to read, and that made me hate reading.  I never had a teacher who helped me figure out what types of books I might like, or who explained that there are all sorts of different genres.  I assumed I hated all books, and I never questioned this, even as an adult.

Lesson: If you want your children to enjoy reading, forcing books on them is not the answer.  Sure, kids should be encouraged and even required to read, but a love of reading can only be borne out of genuine interest.  Encourage your children to pick books they think they might like.

As a teenager, I liked rap.  Yes, rap.  So I liked writing poetry.  Which is initially why I went to college for Professional Writing (after drastically turning my life around).  But even then, I never imagined myself becoming an author, and I still didn’t enjoy reading.

What I did like was zombies.  After graduation, I heard about Max Brook’s The Zombie Survival Guide and decided to read it because it wasn’t traditional fiction.  I loved it so much that I thought maybe I could like reading other books about zombies, even if they were traditional novels—which I had been conditioned to avoid—and I was right.  Books like J.L. Bourne’s Day by Day Armageddon series blew me away.

Zombie lit was my gateway drug.

I began devouring zombie books, but that was still as far as I was willing to venture.  Since my dislike of reading was so ingrained in me by then, it didn’t even occur to me that I might like reading other types of fiction.

Then, a few years later, a coworker (now one of my best friends) randomly brought in a book she thought I might like to read: the first book in The Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa.  My coworker’s reason for suggesting it?  She simply thought the main character’s voice sounded like mine and that I might connect with her.

When she described the book to me, I thought the faeries sounded kind of cool, but romance?  Seriously?  Didn’t all of those books have to have Fabio on the cover?

It took me months to finally pick up the book and read it, but once I did I COULD. NOT. PUT. IT. DOWN.

That was my moment.  That was the book that changed my entire life.

God, I’m getting teary-eyed just writing this blog post because I remember that feeling, that moment when I realized why some people LOVE reading, that *I* could LOVE reading too--and not just zombie novels, but all sorts of novels.  I read that entire series in like three days, and I haven’t stopped reading since.  Now, I can’t imagine my life without books.

My love of writing fiction came just as suddenly and unexpectedly.  Even though I got my Bachelor’s and Master’s in Professional Writing, my studies had always been geared toward nonfiction and teaching, never fiction.  (I’m not one of those authors who spent their childhoods writing stories in notebooks or dreaming up characters in their heads.)  About a year after I began reading romance, I began running a creative writing workshop at the college where I work, and those students pushed me to give creative writing a try myself.  One night, I gave it a go.

The very first creative writing I ever did was my first (unpublished) novel, which I completed in three weeks because I realized I loved writing fiction.

As soon as I started typing that story, I was consumed.  When I wasn’t writing, I was thinking about writing, and I wrote an 86,000-word novel in three freaking weeks.  Granted, it wasn’t my best work, but it was the project that made me aware that this is what I was meant to be doing.

I was meant to be a writer.

So here’s the timeline:

Ages under 22 — despise reading; no interest in writing fiction
Age 23ish — discover love of zombie lit
Age 25ish — discover LOVE of romance, YA, NA, ALL THE BOOKS
Age 26 — write first novel
Age 28 — get agent, get publishing deal, get all the happy

Moral of the Story: It’s never too late to give reading a try.  If you don’t like one genre, try another, and then another.  Everyone has to learn to love reading on their own time, but I truly believe there is a book out there for everyone.

It’s also never too late to begin writing.  If you have any interest in writing, write!  The only way to get better at it is to keep writing and writing and writing.  Write every day; keep getting better.

And finally, it never hurts to offer to lend someone a book.  You might just change their life.  ;)

-- I'd love to hear your own stories about how you learned to love reading and/or writing!  Please share in the comments below!