Monday, August 24, 2015

Reads for Writers: The Wonders of Solitude edited by Dale Salwak

From Kate’s Writing Crate…


As a reader, I always love finding books that appeal to me. As a writer, I am twice as pleased when the authors also provide masterclasses within their books.

          Masterclasses take place when performance artists and musicians work one-on-one with students. Writers don’t generally have this option, but I have found some books to be masterclasses for characters, backstories, plots, settings, voice and/or creativity.


          I picked up The Wonders of Solitude edited by Dale Salwak and read the inside cover flap. The first sentence:

In a world that devalues solitary time, this inspirational volume of quotations on the essential importance of solitude aids us in bringing contemplation and silence back into our busy lives.

I find solitude essential not only when I write, but at times during the day to stay centered. It’s comforting to know I’m in good company.


There is nothing either / or about being alone, because it is not a role. It is not a reduced way of life. It is a possibility for us to participate in a highly creative endeavor: the discovery of our whole selves.

--Phillis Hobe (page 39)


…that perfect tranquility of life, which is nowhere to be found but in retreat, a faithful friend, and a good library.

                                                                 --Aphira Behn (page 53)


Every kind of creative work demands solitude, and being alone, constructively alone, is a prerequisite for every phase of the creative process.

--Barbara Powell (page 59)


There is nobody else like you. The more you can quiet your own thoughts, fears, doubts, and suspicions, the more will be revealed to you from the higher realms of imagination, intuition, and inspiration.

                                                                 --Kenneth Wydro (page 65)


When we are in the act of writing we are alone and on our own, in a kind of absolute state of Do Not Disturb.

                                                        --Eudora Welty (page71)


When I begin to sit with the dawn in solitude, I begin to really live. It makes me treasure every single moment of life.

                                                                 --Gloria Vanderbuilt (page 89)


To live a contemplative life is to be open enough to see, free enough to hear, real enough to respond... it is a life of grateful receptivity, of wordless awe, of silent simplicity.

                                                                          --Sister Marie Beha (page 114)



Monday, August 17, 2015

Book Use or Abuse?

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          As I read books I’ve purchased, I underline sentences that speak to me. I mark passages I love with vertical lines in the margins. I also make comments there.

I never fold down a page corner to mark where I stopped reading. Scraps of paper are my usual bookmarks or I sometimes leave books splayed open when I stop reading. I fold lower corners to denote pages that I know I will want to reread. I only fold down upper corners if a lower corner is not available having been folded the opposite way on the previous page.

All of this use or abuse is the carnal love of books as discussed by Anne Fadiman in her essay “Never Do That to a Book” starting on page 37 of Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader. [Some people prefer their books stay in pristine condition—that’s courtly love of books.] I believe, as does Fadiman, that “Hard use was a sign not of disrespect but of intimacy.” (page 38)

I’ve treated my books like this since I was in my teens. When I pick up any one of my books and flip through it, I can immediately see if it is important to me even if it’s been years since I read it. When I reread one of these books, I can also read how I felt about it back then. Sometimes I still agree. Other times, I make new comments.

Never guessing that I would be reviewing books in magazines and on blogs in the future, my system now makes it easy to find the lines I want to quote in reviews. Also, my comments remind me why I want to recommend these books to other readers.

Obviously, I don’t loan these books. They are personal—clearly marked and all mine. However, I am happy to share my thoughts about them in hopes other readers will love them, too.

How do you treat books you love?

Monday, August 10, 2015

Screenplay: Writing the Picture by R. Russin & W. Downs

From Kate’s Writing Crate…


          Updating my Personal Screenwriting Class:

I just found the book I really wanted and needed for My Personal Screenwriting Class entitled Screenplay: Writing the Picture by Robin U. Russin and William Missouri Downs. Both graduates of UCLA School of Film and Television who wrote every day and eventually sold screenplays, their book is a truly useful and often funny guide that gives you the basics, excellent advice as well as stating mistakes to avoid.

The authors give examples of screenplays, formats, and discuss line by line what should be there and why. They give terrific explanations of what works and what doesn’t. Then they share what readers for production companies are looking for as they read screenplays.

This book is well organized and easy to read. At the end of each chapter are exercises that get you writing the screenplay you’ve dreamed about in the correct format.

Russin and Downs cover every genre with their suggestions. They presume you have a story in mind so they want to help you polish it as well as look professional when you send your screenplays out.

I wish I had found this book years ago. I can only imagine how many screenplays I would have written by now. However, the important thing is that I found it so I’ll be completing my screenplay sooner than I thought—and in better shape thanks to the authors’ wise insights.


Monday, August 3, 2015

Capturing My Writing Days, But Not With To Do Lists

From Kate’s Writing Crate…


While I have a week to write my blog posts, I start them on Thursdays usually for my Monday-at-midnight deadlines. At 500 words mostly, I could write them all on Sundays, but I wouldn’t have time to rewrite and polish them and that’s the real work I not only enjoy, but is necessary to write my best.

I have two other weekly and two monthly regular deadlines. My freelance work and writing classes have variable deadlines. I keep track of them all on a calendar.

I follow through using To Do Lists. These lists are helpful, necessary even, to meet deadlines, but they are only guidelines for my writing days scribbled down on Post-its and stuck to my computer screen.

When I decided I wanted to capture my writing days—not just the deadlines and what I hoped to write—I bought an academic planner that begins in July and ends in June. Inside, each month begins with a calendar of the whole month on two facing pages where I can highlight all my deadlines. On the following pages, each day of the month is given a quarter of a page space which is lined making it perfect to record notes.

          These are the pages I need, but not for To Do Lists. Instead of writing what I’m supposed to do each day in this space, I record what I accomplished.

Professionally, I write assignments with set topics, but which ones on which days? Did I start with one project and switch to another? Did ideas for new projects come to mind? How many words did I write? What projects did I rewrite and polish? Did I complete any assignments that day? What did I edit?

For my personal writing: What topics did I cover in my fill-a-notebook-a-month notebook? Was I inspired by my Muse? Did I go off on any tangents?  Did I complete my Personal Writing Class assignments? Write an essay? Even a fragment of a sentence I loved?

Since writers don’t have time cards, I can also record the time of day and the amount of time I spent on each assignment. For example, I woke up at 1:24AM on Thursday, July 23. While waiting to go back to sleep, sentences and thoughts rushed into my mind about my Masterclass post on Kinder Than Solitude by Yiyun Li (published on July 27). I grabbed my bedside notebook and pen with a built-in light at the tip, noted the time, then dashed down over 165 words in eight minutes.

Later on I may not remember I wrote early in the morning. By recording this and other facts about all the writing I do, I discover what inspires me as well as my writing patterns. It’s also consolidated proof I put in the time to do my job well.

This planner captures my work in progress, i.e., my writing days. It also motivates me as I don’t want any days with blank pages. I am a writer after all.


Monday, July 27, 2015

Reads for Writers: Kinder Than Solitude by Yiyun Li Provides a Masterclass

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

As a reader, I always love finding books that appeal to me. As a writer, I am twice as pleased when the authors also provide masterclasses within their books.

            Masterclasses take place when performance artists and musicians work one-on-one with students. Writers don’t generally have this option, but I have found some books to be masterclasses for characters, backstories, plots, settings, voice and/or creativity.

First pages are usually the best written in a book—highly polished and edited—so I always want to see if the author sustained that level throughout his or her book.

When I’m in a bookstore, I pick up books and flip through them stopping at random pages to see if the writing style grabs my attention. I only read a sentence or two, not many words to convince me to buy in, but if the author is good, they are enough.
When I’m viewing books online, I can’t do that as only the first pages are available. To be honest, I’m more disappointed in the books I buy this way when I know nothing about the author. However, while online I can view many more books than are in a bookstore so I discover more gems this way.
The latest gem I’ve read is Kinder Than Solitude by Yiyun Li. Her book caught my eye as I looked for something new to read online. I loved the title.
I opened to the first pages and read the first paragraph. Based on that paragraph alone, I decided to buy her book. I also knew if the book lived up to that paragraph, I would use it as the basis for a masterclass post. I’ve never made this decision based on 93 words before, but Li captured the absurdness of human nature during one the most solemn of occasions. She made me think and she made me laugh.
Read the same paragraph for yourselves. If it appeals to you, read the rest of Li’s book. Her insights into human nature keep coming—fresh, true, eye-opening, and heartbreaking.
The plot of the book is sparse: The four main characters grow up in China, but, after a slightly mysterious tragedy, two relocate to America. It’s the author’s voice and the creativity of her insights that made this a masterclass for me. Here are a few examples:
…believing, like most people, in a moment called later. Safely removed, later promises possibilities: changes, solutions, rewards, happiness, all too distant to be real, yet real enough to offer relief from the claustrophobic cocoon of now.  (page 33)
She had never been much of a reader of fiction before, but these [Russian or French] novels, whose characters bore long and unmemorable names had comforted her: even the most complicated stories offered a clarity that she could not find in the world around her…  (page 134)
No, solitude she did not have; what she had was a never-ending quarantine.  (page 229)
While these and many other lines appealed to me, I especially loved the phrase claustrophobic cocoon of now—four words that capture life when difficult perfectly.
Solitude a never-ending quarantine? I never considered solitude any kind of quarantine, but it is whether imposed or chosen.
The clarity of Yiyun Li's insights is why I recommend writers read Kinder Than Solitude. It’s also why I’ll read the rest of her books.


Monday, July 20, 2015

New Bookcases I've Discovered

From Kate’s Writing Crate…
 (This is NOT a paid endorsement! Just sharing thoughts on bookcases.)
          I’m surrounded by books which are well organized in bookcases if I’ve read them or they’re reference books. However, books I’m reading/reviewing are in piles on my desk, next to my reading chair, and next to my bed.
I’m one of those readers that have twenty books, usually many more, going at the same time. I switch between them depending on my mood or deadlines. They include: the books from my Personal Writing Classes, reference books for writing projects, and books I’m reading for fun or reviews. Then add in books recommended by family and friends, books I’m rereading, and new books I’ve chosen for myself.
I want all these books nearby so I can grab the one I want easily. I’ve tried a table on wheels, but the piles fall over. Bookcases on wheels are expensive and not built for paperbacks so there’s a lot of wasted space.
Then I saw a shoe rack on wheels and realized it would solve my problems. Paperbacks are displayed beautifully spines out at a downward angle—I can quickly find the book I want. The top shelf can hold taller books. No piles. No toppling over. Easy to move. I love it!
The four-shelf shoe rack works well in my office and by the bed. The larger 10-shelf shoe rack is great for paperback storage. The books can only fit on every other shelf, but it’s big enough (57” tall, 35” wide, and 9.5” deep) to hold over 200 books—30 to 50 paperbacks per shelf on five shelves or the top shelf can hold taller books. Because the rack is easy to move, it doesn’t have to sit against the wall facing out. If you get more than one, you can have them face each other or put two or three in front of each other and pull them out to find the book you want.
I also discovered Origami bookcases. These metal bookcases are fully assembled, but arrive flat. You unlock the latch at the bottom and pull the sides apart and lock the back support and the top shelf into place to use. They are 67” tall, 24” wide, and 10.5” deep.
Like most fixed-shelf bookcases, they are not designed well for books. Paperbacks can only be stacked, two deep to fill the depth space or five stacks across with no titles visible, and can easily fall out the back. Even for taller books, there is a lot of wasted space as each shelf is about 12” tall. I found the best usage of space is to have two piles of taller books stacked at each end of each shelf with three to five books upright between the piles.
What I do love about these bookcases: they are fully assembled, easy to move when folded up, the shelves don’t buckle like particle board, and they are a great price for the quality.
 I’m always looking for good bookcase ideas. Let me know if you have any.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Reads for Writers: Two Books Filled with Quotes for Writers

From Kate’s Writing Crate…
          Summer is a busy time—beach, pool, visitors, BBQs, vacations, and, hopefully, writing. While writers should read as much as possible, there isn’t always time to settle down with a novel so I’m recommending two books of quotes for writers. They are easy to pick up and put down and filled with support and wisdom.        
          A Writer’s Commonplace Book by Rosemary Friedman offers quotes in eight categories: On Writers and Writing; On Literary Endeavour; On Knowledge, Discovery and Travel; On Creativity and the Arts; On the Human Condition; On Love, Marriage and Family; On Life and Death; and On Random Thoughts.
          Some of my favorites:
                    A writer knows more than he knows. He has a subconscious
ability to read signs.
                                                                   --Nadine Gordimer  (page 13)
It is a delicious thing to write, whether well or badly, to be no longer yourself but to move in an entire universe of your own creation.
                                                          --Gustave Flaubert  (page 75)
The aim of literature was to write a book that would reveal to the reader things he had never thought of before.
                                                          --Simone De Beauvoir  (page 82)
All normal people require both classics and trash.
                                                          --George Bernard Shaw  (page 84)
Learning, thinking, innovation and maintaining contact with one’s own world are all facilitated by solitude.
                                                          --Anthony Storr  (page 164)
There is power that works within us without consulting us.
                                                          --Voltaire  (page 208)
In The Writer’s Quotation Book: A Literary Companion edited by James Charlton some of my favorites include:
In a very real sense, people who have read good literature have lived more than people who cannot or will not read…It is not true that we have only one life to live; if we can read, we can live as many more lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish.
                                                --S. I. Hayakawa  (page 12)
There is more treasure in books than in all the pirates’ loot on Treasure Island…and best of all, you can enjoy these riches every day of your life.
                                                --Walt Disney  (page 16)
When you reread a classic you do not see more in the book than you did before; you see more in you than there was before.
                                                --Clifton Fadiman  (page 19)
Literature is an occupation in which you have to keep proving your talent to people who have none.
                                                --Jules Renard  (page 55)
Advice to young writers? Always the same advice: learn to trust your own judgement, learn inner independence, learn to trust that time will sort the good from the bad—including your own bad.
                                                --Doris Lessing  (page 73)
Nine out of ten writers, I am sure, could write more. I think they should and, if they did, they would find their work improving even beyond their own, their agent’s and their editor’s highest hopes.
                                                --John Creasy  (page 94)
          Take time to read, but keep writing!