Without thinking too hard about it, either collect ten books from your personal collection or list ten books that you have read and enjoyed from memory. Genre or reason for the selection is irrelevant. Choose what comes first to mind or what beckons from your personal shelf.
Rank them in order one to ten (one being the top).
My picks: Dune, Watership Down, Lord of the Rings, Cujo, An Alien Light, The Descent of Woman, Uncle Tungsten, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh, The Last Unicorn, Island of the Blue Dolphins.
Writers are usually avid readers and I suspect, like me, your shelves are overflowing and you might have a book stack in every room, on every shelf, and in frequently used drawers. There is no shortage of pages to choose from. Include ebooks and things get crazy. My top slots usually contain Dune, LOTR, and Cujo.
But Dune is not always number one. Cujo often occupies that slot depending on the criteria in the moment.
The point is that the ranking is arbitrary based upon my mood, what I’ve recently read, or simply what popped into my head first and grasped the first feel-good memory. This doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of the other books in the ten chosen or the hundred (or thousand) others that didn’t get picked today. It’s been quite a while since I thought about The Island of the Blue Dolphins. It bumped Lightening by Dean Koontz right off the list.
When I rank the books, I am not diminishing the others. I love to read Treasure Island, Black Beauty, Anne of Green Gables just as much as Lysistrata, All Quiet on the Western Front, The Golden Compass, or Clan of the Cave Bear. I have read Poe, Longfellow, Thoreau, Dickinson, Dickens, and Austen. Even if I were to rank them, does that have any bearing on my enjoyment of the story penned by any of them?
So why is it that when we, as writers, find ourselves with another rejection in hand or not making the cut in the contest, we automatically think what we wrote is crap. Judging can be very subjective. Just because we didn’t make the cut today doesn’t mean that the story wasn’t good or enjoyed by the reader. If a story needs another round of polish, it doesn’t mean it’s not good or entertaining or didn’t stick in that reader’s head. Yes, there are instances where something we have written can’t be mended as is, but it can be recycled and reused for something else. We can’t be afraid (no matter how hard that is) to not make the list or to make mistakes or to be imperfect. Novice writers are not imposters any more than a beginner in any other profession.
To improve our craft, we must practice our craft.
We have to stop judging ourselves more harshly than we judge our favorite authors.
Curious minds want to know:
What are you top ten books today?
Do you think they will still be your top ten six months from now?