Writer’s Craft: 4 Reading Challenges for Writers to Spark New Ideas and Fall in Love with Reading Again

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There are plenty of good reasons why someone would do a reading challenge. I personally love Goodreads holding me accountable for reading new and exciting books when it’s tempting to slack off. Some challenges force you to read outside of your comfort zone and experience new genres and forms you wouldn’t think of reading. Besides, how long has it been since you were told to read something? Your undergraduate degree? Or if you didn’t major in English in college, it may have been since your high school literature classes since you were assigned a book. Regardless, reading challenges are an asset to a writer’s craft.

For writers, reading is one of our most valuable tools besides plain practice that can help boost your writing abilities. Maybe you’re in a submission slump or just need an excuse to read more books. Reading challenges have helped me read outside of my normal go-to genres and forms, and I can assure you that in the long run it will inspire you, too.

The Sealey Challenge

Named after poet Nicole Sealey, the goal of the Sealey Challenge is to have you read a full-length or chapbook poetry collection every day in August. Luckily poetry is more accessible than ever with books and short collections in a lot of places, from big chain bookstores to independently-owned stores. Try browsing different indie presses for their own poetry collections and purchase a few to support their mission. Low on funds? There are so many great indie poets and presses to support for little to no cost. See below for a list of publishers both active and archived with open access poetry collections.

This is the first year I’m doing the Sealey Challenge and I wanted to recommend some collections I’ve really loved in the past in case you’re still looking for quality picks:

  • Theia Mania by Dallas Athent
  • Wolf Girls vs. Horse Girls by Catherine Weiss
  • Marys of the Sea by Joanna Valente
  • American Sentencing by Jen Karetnick
  • all girls will not feel pretty at some point by Elizabeth Ribar
  • Evergreen by Sarah Frances Moran
  • Dream-Like Houses by Joyce Chong
  • The Politics of Being Ugly by Kayla Altman
  • La Belle Ajar by Adrian Ernesto Cepeda
  • The Red Files by Lisa-Bird Wilson

The New Release Challenge

While this challenge is marketed towards any reader, especially with those who have access to ARCs, I think reading new books that hit the shelves is essential for writers to know what is on the market. What’s already been done and what is being reinvented? While the 2021 challenge is already underway, why not start planning for next year? Or if you want to at least get a taste for it, try some of these new releases:

  • Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • There Plant Eyes: A Personal and Cultural History of Blindness by M. Leona Godin
  • The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

How do you get new releases? Besides buying them off of the shelves, there are many opportunities to review new releases from authors. Some may even send you review copies as PDF files or print books sent to you in the mail. Heck, I’ve seen publishers already preparing their roster for 2023 and are often looking for beta readers and reviewers to help with promotion. Follow some small presses and see the upcoming releases you may want to read and write about. Goodreads also has giveaways in exchange for an honest review!

Out of Your Comfort Zone Challenge

This challenge is exactly what it sounds like: read books that are out of your comfort zone. Do you normally read and write science fiction and fantasy? Why not try a memoir? Reading different forms can inspire you to write something different…or to know what you don’t want to write. Either way, you can say you’ve tried a new kind of book the same way you try a new food dish or hobby.

Genre or topic-based challenges

Maybe you’re trying to come up with the next bestselling memoir or want to reinvent what it means. Maybe you need to do some research on character development or what has already been overdone in your genre. You can create these on your own based off of your interests and needs. For example, you could read exclusively LGBTQ+ literature during the month of June or pledge to only read underrepresented authors for the entire year. Your only limit is your imagination.

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