Slumping and Pleaping

What’s the opposite of a slump? This blogger needs to know. Because for the past month, I’ve been in a Reading Slump, but a Writing – something else. The opposite. I looked up antonyms for “slump” but it wasn’t helpful: ascent, increase, rise, success, blessing… none of them work.

So, in order to say what I want to say, I’m hereby inventing a new word. If it’s good enough for Shakespeare, it’s good enough for me. From this moment onwards, the opposite of “slump” shall be “pleap” (peak level of enthusiasm and productivity). There. Problem solved.

Now, on with this post. Friends, I have been in a reading slump. In the entire month of September, I read two and a half books. TWO. AND A HALF. If you’re interested, here they are, with my ratings.


This was the half. I started it in August and finished in September. I enjoyed it quite a lot. ⭐⭐⭐⭐




I read all of this one. Inspiring, especially the photographs. ⭐⭐⭐⭐1/2

Miles Vorkosigan is always entertaining. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

As you can see, there was noting wrong with the books. There just weren’t very many of them. I seldom felt like reading. But here’s the thing: I edited over 30, 000 words of my novel. 30,000. To a state I’m finally happy with. A writing pleap if there ever was one. I do not believe these things are unconnected.

It’s a ratio (or a see-saw): the more I write, the less I read. Looking back over the past year, this seems to hold true every month. My most productive reading times are my least productive writing times. It seems there is a limit to the number of words I want to engage with over a period of time. When I reach that limit, either reading or writing, a slump occurs.

So, what to do? Ration my reading and writing time until they balance nicely, neither of them slumping nor pleaping? Everything in me cries out against this logical, but bland approach.

I want to pleap. I need to pleap. I love pleaping. And at the moment, I’m especially loving my writing pleap.

Sorry, reading. I’m afraid you’ll have to wait in the wings for now. You’ve had many a year of pleaping in the past, after all.

Now, it’s writing’s turn to shine.

Pleap on, fellow readers/writers!

Names and Labels

I’ve taken the title of this post from one of the chapters of Madeleine L’Engle’s book Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art.

L’Engle makes a distinction between naming something or someone, and labelling them. Naming, she says, gives us wholeness and freedom to be who we are; labelling reduces us, controls us, limits us. “If we are pigeonholed and labelled we are unnamed.”

It is a profound chapter in a thoughtful and inspiring book and it got me thinking about naming. Or, rather Naming. The capital letter is important. The first story I ever read about this kind of Naming, what you might call true Naming, was The Riddle-Master of Hed by Patricia A. McKillip, way back in the 1970s when it first came out. I absolutely adored the idea that if you know the true name of someone or something, you fully understand it. Or, to put it another way, if you fully understand it, you already know its true name. Then I read A Wizard of Earthsea by the wonderful Ursula Le Guin. Written even earlier, it took the concept to a whole new level. I’ve read many other fantasy stories based around the idea of true names having power in the decades since then. Every one of them has brought me joy. Another exceptional one, of course, is The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.

I like to think that when God tasked Adam with naming the animals, it was this kind of naming. He Named them truly, because he saw and understood them as they really were, fully themselves, in a way none of us have ever been able to do since. Somehow I doubt he gave them labels such as pest or livestock or invasive species.

So what does all this have to do with writing? Back to L’Engle:

To write a story is an act of Naming; in reading about a protagonist I can grow along with, I myself am more Named.

As writers, if we want to truly Name our characters, we need to know them. Not just their appearance, their personality or their abilities, but their deepest hopes and fears, their strongest motivations, the values at the very heart of them. This takes time and work, as our characters slowly reveal themselves and their stories to us. But it’s essential work if we want our readers to fully engage, to “grow along with them”, as L’Engle says. And it’s deeply satisfying work, too, I might add.

The opposite of this is to simply label the people who make up our stories: the Hero, the Villain, the Love Interest, the Comic Relief. These labels are useful shorthand when we’re thinking about the broader sweep of our tales, but if we reduce our characters merely to their labels, if they’re not real, true, living, breathing, fully formed people to us, their creators, they won’t move and transport our readers, either.

A final word from L’Engle:

Stories are able to help us to become more whole, to become Named. And Naming is one of the impulses behind all art; to give a name to the cosmos we see despite all the chaos.

As a writer, I want to Name each and every one of my characters, even the minor ones, because they don’t know they’re minor. And as a reader, I want the characters whose worlds I enter to be fully Named by their creators, too, so that as I grow along with them, I too will be more Named.

Guilty Reader Book Tag

Today I’m doing my first book tag. This one’s been going around for a while and I don’t know who started it, but if you do, tell me in the comments and I’ll acknowledge them. There are ten questions about bookish habits that might cause feelings of guilt. This could be embarrassing!

  • Have you ever re-gifted a book you’ve been given?

Yes, if I know I won’t read it or won’t read it again. I always hang onto them for a while before re-gifting, but if I think someone else will enjoy the book, I’ll pass it on. Whether I’ll tell the gifter or not depends on whether I think it would hurt their feelings, but I don’t feel guilty about it. It would never bother me if someone re-gifted a book I’d given them – pass the books around, I say. Guilt level: zero

  • Have you ever said you’ve read a book when you haven’t?

Okay, second question, first twinge of guilt. I did this quite a lot in college. I minored in literature, but I really didn’t like many of the books chosen by my lecturers. I always started them, but the ones I truly hated, I gave up on quite quickly and bluffed my way through tutorials and assignments with the help of summaries and Cliff Notes. I never actually lied and said I had read the book, but I certainly implied it. I haven’t done it since, promise. Guilt level: 😞

  • Have you ever borrowed a book and not returned it?

Yes, once, and it still haunts me twenty years later. I was taking a pottery class and I borrowed an expensive coffee table book about Japanese pottery techniques from an acquaintance, who has probably never lent a book to anyone ever again. I didn’t steal it on purpose – I just took a long time to get around to reading it and by then we had lost touch. She had moved to another town and I never found her again. This was before we all had mobile phones, you understand. I couldn’t even remember her last name. I kept that book for years – a silent accusation staring at me from my bookshelves – hoping the rightful owner might get in touch (she had my home phone number, but perhaps she lost it in the move?) Finally, I realised it was never going to happen and I donated it to a charity shop. Guilt level: 😞😞😞

CONTINUE READING THIS POST

How to Make me Pick up Your Book, Part Two

PART 2: GIVE ME THE PERFECT JOB

Once we’re past the cover (See PART 1: I’M A COVER GIRL) we get to meet the protagonist or The Main Character. I’m not fussy about the gender or age or even species of the Main Character, but I do want to know how they occupy their time, professionally or otherwise. If your Main Character performs one of these jobs, I’m much more likely to be interested in reading your book:

DETECTIVE

Yes, give me a good sleuth, professional or amateur, and I’ll give them a chance to dazzle me with their crime-solving abilities. But I’ll be sleuthing too, so don’t make them either too stupid or impossibly smart. Ideally, they should solve the mystery about half a page after I do. And please make your detective an individual rather than a copy of a hundred others. No more hard-bitten, hard-drinking, overweight, divorced middle-aged men, please. Please. Instead, give me an old lady in a care home, a child genius, a sentient spaceship. Here are two very different detectives that made me read every one of their cases:

HERCULE POIROT (from numerous novels and short stories by the inimitable Agatha Christie)

Well, naturally, mon ami. Poirot is quirky, sometimes absurd, but brilliant without cheating. His inspired guesses always have logic behind them.

CONTINUE READING THIS POST

How to Make Me Pick up Your Book

PART 1: I’M A COVER GIRL

What makes you excited to read a book? Is it the title, the author, the synopsis, the reviews? Maybe all of those things. But perhaps I’m just shallow, because the first thing that makes me say to myself, “I want to read that” is the cover. Yep, give me a cover I love and I’ll pick up your book. What do I love to see on that cover? I’m glad you asked.

Dear Author, if you want me to notice your book, put one of these on the cover..

Continue reading “How to Make Me Pick up Your Book”