As a child, I was shy. That’s probably an understatement - I was more of a hermit. My mom couldn’t drop me off at a friend’s birthday party without me bursting into tears until I was in fourth grade. I never raised my hand in class, even if I knew the answer. I wasn’t just shy - I was afraid of the world. In middle school, when others were out on a Friday night, I was home. When the neighbors were playing hide and seek, I was usually sitting on the porch.
The thing is, I wasn’t alone. I actually had tons of friends - they just lived in different worlds.
I Fell in Love with Fantasy Books
My best friends were characters in books. Hermione Granger, Susan Pevensie, Ella, Ron Weasley - the list goes on and on. When I opened a new fantasy book, I entered my safe place.
There was no judgment, no embarrassment, no inhibition. Rather, I immersed myself in worlds like Narnia and Hogwarts, where I felt like I belonged. Drawn to the magical creatures and adventures, I read YA fantasy books like a dog inhales its food each day and then continues to beg for more.
I continued to read fantasy books into my adulthood, and it was then that I started writing in this genre myself.
Reading Fantasy to Writing Fantasy
I consider myself both a technical and creative writer. Though I excelled primarily in technical, science-based writing, I always yearned to see my name on the cover of a YA fantasy book someday.
When I was in graduate school, I decided to go for it. On November 1, 2016, I decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month. For those who aren’t familiar, NaNoWriMo is a nonprofit organization that hosts an annual writing challenge. The goal is to write 50,000 words during November (the first draft of a novel).
I thought my first year of NaNoWriMo was a success. After writing 55,000 words of a young adult fantasy novel, I was sure I’d be ready to self-publish my book in a few months. I soon learned that the editing process is much more extensive than actually writing the first draft.
When the First Draft is Garbage
I spent months reviewing my manuscript and eventually realized that my book didn’t have a solid plot. I’d essentially have to rewrite the entire thing if I wanted it to be useful in any way.
Instead, I put the book aside and continued on smaller writing projects, including poetry, short stories, and essays. However, I always heard that little voice in the back of my head telling me to give fantasy writing another try.
This time I approached my project differently. I had a plan and I outlined my book. In addition, I studied how to write fantasy novels, specifically focusing on the Hero’s Journey.
To learn about the three-act structure and the twelve major plot points involved in the story structure, I not only read instructional books for writers, but I also dedicated more time to reading YA fantasy.
I fell in love with Lisa McMann’s The Unwanteds series (more aptly a middle-grade series) and Chad Corrie’s The Wizard King Trilogy (adult fantasy). There were plenty of other fantasy books that piqued my interest, but these two series were the ones that I focused on as I tried to understand what propels the plotline in the Hero’s Journey story arc.
Reading Like a Writer
While I still haven’t finished the full draft of my next YA fantasy book, I know that the quality of this story is far superior to that of my rushed NaNoWriMo disaster. I invested a lot more time in this project.
Much of the time was spent reading. The difference was that I had to read like a writer. From dissecting the character development to analyzing cliffhangers, chapter titles, and twists - I developed my creative writing skills. As a bonus, I developed a stronger work ethic when it came to my writing.
I mastered techniques to overcome writer’s block and improve productivity, which can be applied to all of my writing projects.
Writers are Readers
In the end, any writer - whether their focus is copywriting, technical writing, SEO, or social media content - can learn about writing by reading. For me, reading fantasy is what brings me the most joy, inspiration, and motivation to continue my writing. For others, it might be mystery or horror. But the key takeaway here is that reading is a core part of writing.