Hello out there, readers. Happy 2017, and welcome to our Brave New World!
As you are aware, most of my writing for this blog last year concerned a year-long experiment I conducted reading only fictional works, then crafting essays about the writing lessons that I drew from each book. While I learned a ton from this experiment, I also learned about my own ability to set expectations as a reader and a writer. I want to delve quickly into the positive and negative aspects of this experiment, and then outline my plans for Another Year of Fiction (AYOF?!).
In terms of writing lessons, without a doubt I encountered more of those last year than any other of my career. Hemingway taught me how to keep things simple; Oscar Wilde showed me how to use a novel to speak truth about your society; and Vonnegut basically schooled me in almost every way possible for a master author. Even the books I wasn’t sure I would enjoy taught me a lot about keeping reader interest. I also read a phenomenal book about the practice and nature of reading, which I would highly recommend to anyone interested in writing.
The biggest lesson learned for me in 2016 was: read fiction. There is simply no better path to understanding the work of others and how it might contribute to your own. The writer Austin Kleon has described the importance of how to “steal like an artist,” and the only way to accomplish this is to read all kinds of stuff, then artfully repurpose what you like about them for your own work. As a voracious consumer of all things nonfiction for years leading up to this experiment, I can make this conclusion with full confidence. Despite my wife’s protestations, I will get back to reading nonfiction at some point in my life (I’m going to need it for novel #4, for one reason). But that is not going to be 2017, as I plan on extending this experiment for at least one more year.
Which leads me to what I didn’t get quite right about this experiment. I’d have to say the biggest takeaway was: don’t over-promise and then under-deliver. I posted two lists of books to read during the year, but did not make it through the second half by the end of the year. Chiefly this was due to the nature of the final book I read and my underestimating of the slog it took me to finish it. But this also gave me a good idea of how long it really will take me to accomplish a task like this, and of how much I can read in a given year. Obviously people have been able to cram in many more works in a given year, and I can always do better. But for now, I’m not going to put out an “official” list of my upcoming fiction titles. Rather, I’m going to take it one book at a time and see how many I can complete in a year. Last year I was able to get through eleven books. Let’s see how many I can get through this year. And for those of you who have given me recommendations: they are still on my list, I just can’t promise I will get to all of them in 2017. Given how much I have learned already, I have a feeling I may be doing a variation of this exercise for the conceivable future...
To that end, I plan blasting through both Neuromancer and Bird by Bird and writing essays on each (hopefully) within a month. Gibson’s epic cyberpunk novel is already blowing me away in countless ways, and I can’t wait to see how Anne Lamont’s recommendations stack up next to Francine Prose. After that, I’ll announce the first “official” title for AYOF 2017!
Thanks to all of you who read and commented on my essays last year. I hope my advice has been helpful for those of you who want to give this writing thing a go in your own lives. Let’s enjoy another year of fiction together.
John Abraham-Watne is an author and freelance journalist located in the Twin Cities, where he lives with his wife Mary and their two cats. This blog is his attempt to catalog all the events that culminate a local writer's life.