1) Walk into library 2) Pick a book off the shelves.

Today I’m writing because I’ve recently rediscovered the pleasure of something I haven’t done for fun since high school: walking into a library, picking up a novel I’d never heard of and had no prior plans to read, and getting sucked in from jacket to epilogue.

As a writer, I’m also an avid reader, but here is my issue: I almost always know what I am going to read. I like structure: I work from lists. I’ll read what a friend hands me, what catches my eye on Goodreads. With purpose: books that play off one another, novels I will later be able to watch the film adaptation of, research/background reading, comp titles, work whose writing mirrors what I intend to do next. I read on a mapped route. And to some degree, if you read a lot of the same author, or work through trilogies or series, or even have a favorite table or shelf you always check at the bookstore, you might do the same.

Here is what I think.

I think, like writing, our reading should sometimes surprise us. And not just surprise us; knock our socks off and eat them and spit out a pair of mittens. Okay, maybe minus the eating and mittens. Point is, a good story has the power to floor you. A good, unexpected story can obliterate you.

In the best possible sense.

So here is my reading challenge for you:

  1. Walk into a library or bookstore.
  2. Pick up a book you’ve never heard of (though by all means, read the jacket and go with one that snags your interest). Bonus points for a genre or age group you don’t usually read!
  3. Take the book home and read it.

If you’re lucky (do not underestimate luck), somewhere in number three you will enter a time warp because the book you’ve brought home to read is so ridiculously engrossing you can’t set it down ’til it’s over. Try it. See what happens.

Here are my latest treasure finds, the two books-off-the-shelf that inspired this post:

Wool by Hugh Howey

Thousands of them have lived underground. They’ve lived there so long, there are only legends about people living anywhere else. Such a life requires rules. Strict rules. There are things that must not be discussed. Like going outside. Never mention you might like going outside.

Or you’ll get what you wish for.” –Goodreads


Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

“Stephen King returns to the characters and territory of one of his most popular novels ever, The Shining, in this instantly riveting novel about the now middle-aged Dan Torrance (the boy protagonist of The Shining) and the very special twelve-year-old girl he must save from a tribe of murderous paranormals.” —Goodreads [abridged]

Full jacket copy here.

Writing Challenge, Day 27: Panning for Gold

30 Day Know Thyself Writing Challenge

Day 27: When was the last time you wrote something you didn’t expect to write?

Wouldn’t you know it, the last time I sat down with a clear direction and went on an absolute tangent was only five days ago in answering the prompt for Day 22: “Why should someone read your work?” What resulted was a creative ridicu-list of a dozen fictional reasons to read Julie Israel. They may or may not have included healing all the world’s ills and evolving superpowers… 🙂

But one thing I am learning in my journey to overcome write-as-I-go perfectionism is that, when you sit down and just keep your pen to paper (or fingers to the keys), some of the drivel that comes out will actually be halfway decent. Incredibly, sometimes in that bumbling hodgepodge of thoughts and obscurity there’s an idea or detail that dazzles like a rare coin or gem. You can pan for gold in a freewrite!

Point is, writers are always writing something they didn’t expect to. But it is only when we let go of the need to express ourselves in one fell and flawless swoop—when we aren’t overthinking things—that our writing can surprise us. So the next time you’re stuck, try the classic freewrite bit: trust the reigns to your hands instead of your head. Forge on for ten, even five minutes without stopping to think or lift your tool from the paper; when it’s over, stand back and prepare to be amazed.