I started writing a new manuscript last week. It was kind of a spontaneous moment, just thinking about what I’d like to work on and encountering half an idea, which was just enough to get me curious. I put in about 2,000 words and felt pretty good. I also started reading a new middle grade book last week. I’d just finished one, and with the kind of time on my hands that summer break can provide, I wanted to get right into something new.
My middle grade To Be Read pile for the summer is extensive; truthfully, there are likely more books there than I’ll have time to finish (isn’t that always the case?). I sorted them into piles to try and narrow down which would be the best to take on next:
*Books that were considered classics that I’d never gotten around to reading before
*Books I’d bought because of the online buzz they’d received
*Books the media teacher at school had passed on to me
*Books that I knew little about, but somehow found intriguing
*Books that promised broad and fantastic adventures
The pile I spent the most time considering was the intriguing one. What was it about these books that had caught my interest? What, if anything, did they have in common? I looked through the titles, I read the descriptions on the back, and started to put some things together. Each of the books from the intriguing pile had something that reminded me of what I hoped the one I had just started writing would be like.
A common piece of writing advice that gets passed around is to write what you know. I would never take on writing a piece of heavy science fiction or high fantasy because those are genres I haven’t read extensively. Maybe staying inside your comfort zone as a writer can mean playing things too safe and that might not always be a the best way to challenge ourselves and learn.
However, don’t a lot of us end up trying to write the kinds of books that we think our younger selves would’ve liked to read, or even did read? How much of the stories we choose is guided by the stories we know? It seems like a “chicken and the egg” kind of thing: Do we write the books we choose because of the ones we’ve read, or do the books we write guide us to the ones we’d like to read?
I still don’t know which book I want to read next, by the way, but I’ve narrowed it down to two:
THE SAME STUFF AS STARS by Katherine Paterson, or SEE YOU IN THE COSMOS by Jack Cheng. I was drawn to each because of the personal journeys taken by their characters. That both of them are somehow related to space is just a coincidence.
At least I think it is. I was pretty big into astronomy when I was a middle grader….