During my reading slump at the start of this year, I picked up periodicals again. I had burned myself out of genre fiction and YA fiction. I craved a way for me to improve writing craft. So I turned to my stack of literary magazines and picked Room Magazine to marathon. They release publications four times a year and publish writing exclusively from people who are not cisgender men.
The volumes include poetry, short stories, creative nonfiction, interviews, and essays. The bulk of the content is poetry and short fiction. Eight issues of this magazine is two years’ worth of material, and each volume consists of around 90 pages of content.
I read them in the span of a few weeks. I’m a slow reader, so reading that quantity in that time frame is unheard of for me.
I read nearly 800 pages of literary fiction. I love poetry and short stories, and even though there were pieces I didn’t like in some of the volumes, I still read them. There must have been over 100 pieces total—100 complete written pieces. Imagine reading 100 books, or 100 essays, condensed down into a few pages. That many self-contained stories is magical; inspiring; awesome.
I can’t stress enough the importance of reading diversely—and not just sociological “diverse.” You need to read writing from disabled, queer, black, and/or indigenous people, and/o people of colour. Remember they write more than books! Read their poems and short stories and more. Read different forms—poems, short stories, song lyrics, essays—and different genres in fiction. Even if you write in one genre or form, read widely and away from the style and tropes you normally write.
I’m also a poet and short story writer, so I went into the literary magazine reading with the aims of improving my poems and short stories.
Improve writing craft
Writers learn from reading. And I learned a lot, even if I wasn’t consciously studying, analysing, or evaluating. These pieces were vastly different from the writing I was producing. My main project this year has been my older YA high fantasy novel.
The writing I put into my fantasy novel surged in quality. My words became confident. I sat down to my writing sessions and produced deliberate work. Since I write my novels by scene, I had less difficulty creating self-contained segments of conflict. I could more easily visualise and plan out a condensed piece of my story.
And I won’t get into specifics of how my style of writing changed. But poetry is like a salve on trope-laden, saturated genres like fantasy. I attribute much of my good and great writing to the fact that I started out my writing journey with poetry. If I hadn’t learned poems, I wouldn’t be as good of a writer.
In my post about how I beat a reading slump, I outlined three ways I refresh my palette and taste for reading. Literary magazines fall into new genres and other storytelling media. So not only has my wring transformed, but my reading habits have improved and rejuvenated from the change.
If you’d like to subscribe to Room Magazine, I highly encourage you to visit their website and do so. Whether it’s this magazine or another journal, adding a literary magazine to your reading regime will benefit you. And of course all the writers your subscription supports!
The best way for a writer to improve writing craft is to read. Read as much, as varied, and as often as you can. There are so many stories beyond the bestseller and new release shelves in corporate stores. With the Internet at your fingertips, seek out something different to read—and watch yourself change.