Monday, October 16, 2017

My Screenplay Update

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I’ve had a full week preparing for deadline for the magazines, preparing for company, entertaining company, and welcoming a new puppy. I was so busy, I didn’t even think of this week’s post until 11:04 PM Sunday. (With a midnight deadline looming, I don’t have time to waste.)

          I also had a huge week working on my screenplay. I was inspired by the TV show This is Us when Sly Stallone was encouraging one of the characters, coincidently named Kate, to follow her dream to become a singer even though she was in her late 30s. He told her not to listen to other people who said she wouldn’t make it. Nobody believed that he could write the screenplay for Rocky in three days, but he did.

          I had never heard that before. He wrote a great screenplay in three days. I’m guessing he had been thinking about it for some time, but he wrote it in only three days.

          I’m not shooting to write mine in three days, but I want it done by the end of this year. So I worked on it among all the other things I had to accomplish this week.

          Along the way, I came up with an excellent tangent project that should make the screenplay a more enticing project.

          I wrote all this down in my monthly notebook. I know I harp on this, but filling a notebook a month enriches my writing. The empty space allows my thoughts to wander and wonder—and come up with brilliant and creative ideas.

          You meet your muse on the page. I’m not the first to say that, but it’s the truth.

          If you are serious about being a writer, you have to write. If you don’t have assignments or a book or other project that you are working on diligently, then pick up a notebook and fill it in a month. See what you have to say. You will be pleased and surprised as well as following your dream.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Writing Vehicles 2

From Kate’s Writing Crate…   
          Writing careers go in all different directions. There is no straight line, only individual paths.

          I always wanted to be an author, but the first professional writing offer I received was intern at a magazine. I had never considered writing articles, essays, columns, and book reviews, yet I learned on the job and have been published regularly since then. I worked my way up to editor, another job I had never considered, but found I had a talent and a love for it. I started blogging, too. Now I’m working on a non-fiction book—I tried writing a novel and failed spectacularly—and I’m also working on a screenplay.

          Recently, I had lunch with a friend who is the author of 16 books. She was an early reader who knew she was going to write books. She writes young adult novels now although her first love was children’s books.

For the latest issue of one magazine, I interviewed an author of three historical novels. I learned that she was a history major in college. She started out as a playwright then turned one of her seven plays into a screenplay. While writing those projects, she had an idea for a novel and started that, too. Several of her plays were produced. Her screenplay garnered some attention, but novels won out in the end.

Bestselling author Louise Penny was a respected journalist who started to write a non-fiction book. Five frustrating years later, she switched to the mystery genre. Her award-winning Inspector Gamache series is 13 books and counting.

Until you try writing a certain format, you won’t know if it’s a good vehicle for you. Try writing what appeals to you, then branch out. Find what works for you. Hone in on those vehicles. See where they take you. 

Monday, October 2, 2017

Favorite Book Recommendation for Writers

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I recommended over 80 books or series in my post on September 25, 2017. Some of the questions I answered wanted only one book listed, but I shared two or three or more because there are so many excellent books to read.

          When I talked to a new writer recently, she asked me to recommend the best book to get her started on either her children’s book or her non-fiction book. Pinned down, I still couldn’t recommend one book. I told her The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Battles by Steven Pressfield (excellent for writers at every level) and Writing Down the Bones (excellent for new writers) by Natalie Goldberg.

          She told me she could only afford to buy one so I had to choose. I said The War of Art because overcoming resistance is the most difficult part of any project. It applies to writing and all creative projects especially because society does not usually support them so there are more battles to fight.

This book is not a step-by-step writing instruction manual. It’s a kick-you-in-the-pants, there-are-no-excuses-not-to-write book. (One note: read page 165 first. If I had been the editor of this book, “The Artist’s Life” would have been on page 1. It’s the most important thing to remember as you create and write.)

As I have written in other posts, I have three copies: one by my desk where I work, one in my informal writing spot, and one in the car so I’m motivated to write every moment especially if I am early for an appointment, if my appointment person is running late, or, sadly, if the car breaks down.

Time is in short supply for writers so put every moment you can to good use. Carry a pen and a notebook or 3 x 5 cards with you at all times. Again I don’t limit myself to one. I carry three or four pens in my purse and at least two in the car. I have a notebook in my purse and another in the car.

If you want to write, then be ready to jot down ideas and observations at any moment, but you also have to put in the hours and hours to hone your craft and find your voice. Inspiration is great, but it’s best to meet your muse on the page as your write regularly.

Getting the words down on paper or screen is was it takes to be published. Rewrites will take care of mistakes so don’t worry about them until later. Write whenever and wherever you can.

Once you are a professional writer, you need to meet deadlines so you still need to be motivated by a kick in the pants. Open The War of Art to any page and you will be back to writing after reading a few pages—sometimes only one!

Writing profusely and regularly is what it takes to become an author or successful in any writing career.

Start now!

Monday, September 25, 2017

A Writer's Voice & Vehicle

From Kate’s Writing Crate…  
Writers need two big things to succeed—a voice and a vehicle.

You will find your voice by writing often. There is no other way. Some people find it earlier than others, but you have to put in the time and effort to see what you have to say and how you say it—not what you think other people want to hear. Believe in yourself!

Vehicles can only be chosen by trial and error. Just because you want to write a novel or a play doesn’t mean you can, but you have to try to find out. Take classes. Read writing books. Whatever it takes to get you writing what you want. Be prepared, you may succeed or fail. Be open, another type of writing might be your vehicle—and you may have more than one.

Filling a notebook a month is a great way to find your voice and your vehicle. Look back and see what ideas you have for projects? Are you good at capturing details? Creating characters? Dialogue? Plotting? Organization? Research? Are you funny? Good at turning a phrase? Do you like interviewing people and working with quotes?

Try writing a short story, essay, article, or book review. As shorter vehicles, you can assess quickly if any of them feels right for you.

Feeling ambitious? Go for a novel, play, screenplay, or non-fiction book. This is all about you so write what you want.

Do not throw away anything you write. It might not appeal to you now, but maybe it will later. You never know.

          In the end, of course, writers need more than just voices and vehicles. They also need talent, craft, good grammar, and good fortune. However, having a strong, unique voice in a perfectly-suited vehicle will take you a long way towards success.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Answers to Questions About Favorite Books

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

           Last week I had just come across a delightful book, a perfect gift for a reader or a writer, entitled I’d Rather Be Reading: A Library of Art for Book Lovers by Guinevere de la Mare.

As I noted, the artwork is mostly fun and colorful. The accompanying text consists of clever slogans, book-related poetry, and essays including “Cheating” by Ann Patchett, which included a list of interview questions about her favorite books. Her essay first appeared on her blog “Musings” which appears on the Parnassus Books web site, her bookstore. To see Ann Patchett’s answers, you will need to visit her blog or buy this book.

Here are my answers although I didn’t confine myself to the rules and I added a list of my favorite books about writers and writing as this blog is about writing. Since many of my favorite books were included in other questions, listing 25 more at the end was fun. I reviewed many of these books under Reads for Writers, Writing Book Recommendations, essays, poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and some by author if you want more information.

Name your 25 favorite books about writers and writing.

A New Kind of Country by Dorothy Gilman

Backpack Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing by XJ Kennedy and Dana Gioia

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

The Book on Writing: The Ultimate Guide to Writing Well by Paula LaRocque (Also, Championship Writing)

The Elements of Eloquence: Secrets of the Perfect Turn of Phrase by Mark Forsyth

Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write with Confidence by William Kenower (Also, Writing Within Yourself—An Author’s Companion)

For Writers Only: Inspiring Thoughts on the Exquisite Pain and Heady Joy of the Writing Life, From Great Practitioners by Sophy Burnham

Handling the Truth: On Writing Memoirs by Beth Kephart

Invisible Ink: A Practical Guide to Building Stories That Resonate by Brian McDonald (Also The Golden Theme)

The Little Black Book of Writers’ Wisdom edited by Steven D. Price

My Writer’s Life by Ellen Gilchrist

On Conan Doyle by Michael Dirda

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life by Julia Cameron

Six Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure edited by Larry Smith, founder of Smith Magazine

The Soul of Creative Writing by Richard Goodman

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield  (Read page 165 first.)

The Way of the Writer: Reflections on the Art and Craft of Storytelling by Charles Johnson

Winter: Notes from Montana by Rick Bass

The Writer’s Devotional by Amy Peters

The Writer’s Home Companion by Joan Bolker, Ed.D.

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg

Zen and the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity by Ray Bradbury


Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus

The Synonym Finder by J. I. Rodale

(You should already own The Elements of Style by Strunk & White)

What are you reading now?

I read multiple books at a time. Right now: The Long Way Home by Louise Penny (10th book in murder mystery series); Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld; Books for Living: Some Thoughts on Reading, Reflecting, and Embracing Life by Will Schwalbe; and born bright: a young girl’s journey from nothing to something in america by c. nicole mason. Still working on summer reading list, Arthur and Sherlock: Conan Doyle and the Creation of Holmes by Michael Sims; Dialogue: The Art of Verbal Action for the Page, Stage, and Screen by Robert McKee; and Grief Cottage by Gail Godwin.

What was your favorite children’s book? Why?

I can’t pick just one. Harold and the Purple Crayon (and all the Harold books) by Crockett Johnson—adventures and solutions all through a writing instrument, great book for future writers; The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew by Margaret Sidney—a tight-knit family faces adversity cheerfully as well as with the help of a German shepherd which is why I now have two of my own; the 199-page novel A Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith (NOT the children’s picture book)—always loved dogs and this has the happiest ending ever for a dog lover; and The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster—such a clever use of language as well as teaching life lessons. None were new when I first read them. They are classics.

What book do you most often reread? Why?

I reread these four books the most: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert Pirsig—made me consider how I see the world. Each time I reread it I reconsider how I see the world. (Also, the sequel Lila.); Running From Safety by Richard Bach—trust yourself! Be who you were meant to be; Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion selected and edited by Diane K. Osbon—discusses many of the myths, ideas, and beliefs in the world and what we have in common and what we can learn; and all of Robert Fulghum’s humorous and thoughtful essays about life—they make me laugh and cry, especially It Was on Fire When I Lay Down On It (pp. 9-15), Uh Oh, Maybe, Maybe Not, and True Love: Stories Told To and By the Author. Having a bad day? Read one of Fulghum’s books.

What book would you want with you on a desert island? Why?

Blue Pastures by Mary Oliver. I can remember the plots of my favorite books so I could replay them in my mind. Mary Oliver’s prose and poetry would make me think and remember and write—because I wouldn’t be on a desert island without notebooks and pens! I would also want the complete works of Henry David Thoreau as I would be without society.

What book would you recommend to a friend? Why?

It depends on the friend. I guess he/she would have to choose one from all that I have listed in the other questions, especially the next one.

What is your favorite biography? Why?

I read more memoirs than biographies. My favorite would be Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell about her best friend, Caroline Knapp, who died at 42. Both writers, Caldwell captures the essence of friendship and loss so beautifully I’m tearing up as I write this. I recommend it to everyone.

What is your favorite holiday book? Why?

The Sweet Smell of Christmas (a scented storybook) by Patrica M. Scarry. More than anything else, aromas bring memories rushing back. This story about a little bear is delightful as is the hot chocolate, peppermint, and orange scents (and more) in the book which I first read as a child. I’m glad it’s still in print as the scratch and sniff patches don’t last as long as the book.

What is your favorite summer read? Why?

The Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter. It was my grandmother’s favorite. I read her copy and remember the discussions we had about the characters and the spring and summer wilderness settings as my grandmother was a botanist.  

What is your favorite mystery? Why?

Almost any book by Agatha Christie as well as the Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny who has won five Agatha awards. They both have deep insights into how humans think and why they commit murder—that frightens me more than the actual mystery.

What book did you think made a better movie than it did a book? Why?

Hasn’t happened yet for me.

What book most influenced your life? Why?

Many have influenced me in different and important ways—so the four I listed under books I reread for a start.
Most important was Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg as it started me on the path to my writing/editing career with her guideline to fill a spiral notebook every month without fail. I wrote regularly and met the deadline—best training for a writer. When I became an intern on staff at the magazines where I’m now the editor, I was ready to write articles on short deadlines as I had no fear of a blank page.

What is your favorite classic?

Again, can’t pick just one. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, and the Emily series by L. M. Montgomery (Emily of New Moon, Emily Climbs, and Emily’s Quest) all about a young girl who wants to be a writer.

What is your favorite coffee-table book?

Our Home, Too by Schim Schimmel. I love his artwork. Also, The Life & Love of Dogs by Lewis Blackwell given to me by my dad, a fellow German shepherd owner, and one every dog owner will love.

Name your 25 favorite books on top of the ones listed above.


At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson

Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy (unforgettable)

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking and every other book written by Malcolm Gladwell

Dawn Light: Dancing with Cranes and Other Ways to Start the Day and every other book written by Diane Ackerman

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brian by Betty Edwards (Also, What Really Matters? with Tony Schwartz)

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly

Rain: A Natural and Cultural History by Cynthia Barnett



The I-Team series by Pamela Clare

The Last Enemy by Pauline Baird Jones (thriller) (Also, The Spy Who Kissed Me—funny)

Smooth Talking Stranger by Lisa Kleypas


The Digital Fortress by Dan Brown

The In Death series by JD Robb  (PLEASE NOTE: Adult themes & graphic violence)

(Don’t forget The Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny from my answers above.)


Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie (Also, Fast Women)

Dying to Please by Linda Howard

The Wallflower series by Lisa Kleypas


The Dresden series by Jim Butcher

The Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs


Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman

The Quiet Center: Women Reflecting on Life’s Passages from the Pages of Victoria Magazine, Katherine Ball Ross, Editor

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage (includes “The Getaway Car” an essay about how the author became a writer) by Ann Patchett. (The title refers to one essay. It is not the theme of the essays.)

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Life and Love from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed


Poems by Billy Collins

Poems by Mary Oliver

Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World by Jane Hirshfield


Confessions of a Closet Master Baker: A Memoir—One Woman's Sweet Journey from Unhappy Hollywood Executive to Contented Country Baker by Gesine Bullock-Prado. While the original title seems more true to the author's outlook, it's been repackaged as My Life from Scratch: A Sweet Journey of Starting Over One Cake at a Time. Take note: the recipes cover more than cakes and the text tells wonderful stories from her childhood and life with her mother and her sister, actress Sandra Bullock.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Questions About Favorite Books

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

           I just came across a delightful book, a perfect gift for a reader or a writer, entitled I’d Rather Be Reading: A Library of Art for Book Lovers by Guinevere de la Mare. The artwork is mostly fun and colorful. The accompanying text consists of clever slogans, book-related poetry, and essays including “Cheating” by Ann Patchett on page 53.

          Ms. Patchett wrote her essay about the questions asked by an Australian reporter for an interview to appear in a newspaper. It first appeared on her blog “Musings” which appears on the Parnassus Books web site, her bookstore.

          Any reader will love the questions so I will list them here.

Name your 25 favorite books.

What are you reading now?

What was your favorite children’s book? Why?

What book do you most often reread? Why?

What book would you want with you on a desert island? Why?

What book would you recommend to a friend? Why?

What is your favorite biography? Why?

What is your favorite holiday book? Why?

What is your favorite summer read? Why?

What is your favorite mystery? Why?

What book did you think made a better movie than it did a book? Why?

What book most influenced your life? Why?

What is your favorite classic?

What is your favorite coffee-table book?

          To see Ann Patchett’s answers, you will need to visit her blog or buy this book.

          To see my answers, read my next post as I found the questions too late to answer them this week.

          In the meantime, have fun answering them yourself.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Will I Ever Learn?

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          August was a tough month for writing. I had visitors. I went on a trip. I had my usual professional writing deadlines. However, I still managed to fill my notebook for the month.

What I didn’t have time for was counting all the words. Takes a lot of time when you wait until the end of the month instead of counting them each day. Also, it’s tiring when I put off writing three pages a day which means I then have to write eight or ten or more pages a day during the last week of the month.

Procrastination is not a good habit.

I manage to fight it well when I have to meet a paying or public consumption deadline, but filling a notebook a month is neither—just a goal I set for myself.

Some days filling the notebook is effortless. I have an idea. I jot it down and expand upon it.

Other days I don’t have any ideas so I write observations about the weather, upcoming deadlines, even To-Do Lists, but, if I keep writing, eventually something pops.

One day I got an idea. I expanded on it for a couple more days and thought I was done. But three days later as I was just scribbling, I got a huge idea to add to the one from almost a week ago. The subconscious is a beautiful thing!

If I didn’t fill a notebook a month, would I have had the first idea? Maybe. But I am positive that I would not have had the really big idea if I hadn’t pondered for days about the first one.

Filling a notebook a month takes time, but the payoff in the end is huge:

Keeps my writing muscles (brain and body) nimble;

I can face a blank page without fear;

I write faster, too;

All ideas are written down for future reference;

Even bigger/better ideas show up in this welcoming space; and

Meeting deadlines is a fabulous feeling.

Also, I love seeing full notebooks pile up on shelves in my office. They are physical proof I’m a writer since so many of my assignments fly out of my office via the internet.

I will continue meeting this goal every month. Maybe someday I will learn never to procrastinate!