Monday, July 29, 2013

Take Time to Ponder

From Kate's Writing Crate...

            I don't need a lot of sleep so I could be considered a night owl, but I really am a morning person. I love to be up as the sun rises, listening to the birds as they start to sing—a solitary call here and there before they start overlapping each other in their daily chorus.

            That's when I reach for the notebook by my bed and a pen with a light in the tip and start jotting my thoughts down. If I feel really ambitious, I quietly make my way to my computer and start to work there.
            I don't feel superior to those still sleeping, just lucky that I am awake to see the glorious sunrise and feel inspired to write. The day's responsibilities aren't upon me yet. I can think and surmise and reflect. I can write without the pressures I feel later in the day when other people, errands, chores, and business editing and writing deadlines demand my attention and energy.
            I am often surprised at where my thoughts lead me during these quiet moments: a dream I barely remember, a phrase in a conversation, a memory, or a plot twist. Whatever comes to my mind is written down, considered, questioned, expanded, and pondered.
What a fantastic life writers lead! Not many people get to ponder.

            It takes time to ponder and to write. Time we aren't given, but have to take for ourselves, our muse, our gift. It's easier to find this time at the very beginning and the end of days when other people in our lives are sleeping. Then they don't know we are stealing away to commune with ourselves. They don't interrupt or make us feel guilty. They are asleep and we are awake, aware, and writing.
            I am excited as I work my thoughts and ideas into sentences, then paragraphs building them into articles, columns, and posts. I revel in my writing when I complete a piece I love, a piece that forever captures my take on life.
            My main take on life is to take the time to do what I love. Taking sounds selfish, but time is an essential part of the writing process—so no guilt, take the time to write!

Friday, July 26, 2013

On Writing Well with William Zinsser

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

Thanks to my blogging partner, Kate, I’ve taken a whole new interest in books that enhance and cultivate the beauty and style of writing.  Kate developed a theme when we started our blog nearly a year ago called “Reads for Writers”.   She is the partner every writer needs in her corner—because she has both a keen insight and passion for learning more about our beloved craft of writing. 

Kate has turned me on to dozens of books that are a treasure trove for both newbie and experienced writers.  My personal library now has close to 30 books written by authors for writers wanting to take their muse to the next level.  There’s nothing I love more on a rainy day than perusing my personal library of writing books and selecting one that “speaks to me”.  I then curl up in my favorite chair with a cup of hot tea and simply get lost amongst the many pages of inspiration which ultimately beckons me to kick it up a notch with my own personal and professional writing projects.

This week, the book that jumped off my bookshelf was On Writing Well written by the very keen William Zinsser.  In newsrooms, publishing houses and wherever the labor centers on honing sentences and paragraphs, you are almost certain to find among the reference works a classic guide to nonfiction writing called On Writing Well, by Mr. Zinsser.

The book, first published in 1976, grew out of a writing course that Mr. Zinsser taught for several years at Yale University.  William Zinsser is also an editor and teacher. He began his career with the New York Herald Tribune and has been a longtime contributor to leading magazines. His 17 books include Writing to Learn; Mitchell & Ruff; Spring Training; American Places; Easy to Remember: The Great American Songwriters and Their Songs; and most recently Writing About Your Life.  He now teaches at the New School, in New York, his hometown, and at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

I have reached for this book time and again when I’m feeling as though my writing is in a rut or I just plain need to visit the basics again.   William Zinsser's On Writing Well has a history of being used in writing courses. He advocates a writing style is direct, clear and crisp. He divides the book into four sections: The Principles, Methods, Forms and Attitudes. Probably the best parts are the first two. The Principles covers keeping your writing simple, removing clutter, writing for the audience, word choice and usage. The Methods covers things such as unity within the writing, the lead and ending and various other aspects of writing methods.

The section on Forms covers various specific writing techniques and styles for different forms of writing. Specifically it covers areas such as the Interview, Travel Articles, the Memoir, Business Writing and Technical Writing. If you have a specific need for one of these forms then the section has some very good advice. Finally the section on Attitude covers the required Attitude of the writer.

Throughout the book you learn that writing is indeed a craft that can be learned. Zinsser points out the most important patterns and techniques of successful writers so that you can follow their lead. This book is still one of the most recommended texts for people just beginning to learn to write and with good reason, it should be on the bookshelf of anyone serious about writing.

Are you, too, a Zinnser fan or do you have another favorite book on writing that you love to reread when you need to breathe new life into your current writing regime?

Monday, July 22, 2013

Reads for Writers: Barbara Kingsolver 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.
                Barbara Kingsolver's High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now or Never is a wonderful book to read any time of year, but summer may be the best season for it. The essays are short enough to finish them on car trips between children's squabbles, but deep enough to give you plenty to think about while schlepping all the accoutrements for a day at the beach from the car to the shore.
                The author shares glimpses into her life along with asides and insights that cement the need for good writing in our souls. As a writer, she shares her experiences and the benefits of this profession. I find great encouragement as a writer when I reread this book. Some favorite examples are:
(page 36) …because in the valley between real life and propriety whole herds of important truths can steal away into the underbrush. I hold that valley to be my home territory as a writer.
(page 97) I can hardly remember how I wrote before my child made a grown-up of me, nor can I think what sort of mother I would be if I didn't write. I hold with Dr. Steinberg: by working at something else I cherish, I can give my child room to be a chip off any old block she wants. She knows she isn't the whole of my world, and also that when I'm with her she is the designated center of my universe.
(page 244) Writing is no curse. The writing life has incomparable advantages: flexible hours, mental challenge, the wardrobe—you can go to work in bunny slippers if you want to. The money, well, that is sometimes a snag, but if you keep your nose to the grindstone the benefits accrue.
(page 250) The artist's job is to sink a taproot in the reader's brain that will grow downward and find a path into the reader's soul and experience, so that some new emotional inflorescence will grow out of it.
                Some of the taproots in this book for me include:
(page 15) Every one of us is called upon, probably many times, to start a new life. A frightening diagnosis, a marriage, a move, loss of a job or a limb or a loved one, a graduation, bringing a new baby home; it's impossible to think at first how this will all be possible. Eventually, what moves it all forward is the subterranean ebb and flow of being alive among the living.
(page 53) If there is a fatal notion on this earth, it's the notion that wider horizons will be fatal.
(page 156) How is a child to find the way to her own beliefs, unless she can stuff her pockets with all the truths she can find—whether she finds them on a library shelf or in a friend's warm, strange-smelling kitchen.
(page 202) Where does it go when it leaves us, the memory of beautiful, strange things?
                This book is funny and sad and full of wisdom. Enjoy!
What book of essays do you love?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Fun Places For Writers to Get Their Ideas

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

My best essay and column ideas have always come to me when I wasn’t even trying to write.  For this very reason, I always have a handy pad of paper and pen close by, including in the car, the bathroom, my nightstand, definitely my pocketbook, in the kitchen, and finally the laundry room.  As any writer will tell you, when a brilliant idea strikes you can’t rely on memory to get it on to paper no matter how focused and detail oriented you are, especially if you have 8 busy kids and two feisty dogs like I do.  I am reaching for one of my pad and pens on a very regular basis so I can add any spark of an idea down immediately before it’s forgotten.

Last week I was waiting for my son at baseball practice and witnessed another mother (who I do not know) shaving her arms in the car while she waited for her son.  After I finished laughing I grabbed my notebook that I keep in the glove compartment and wrote fast and furiously for several minutes because it sparked an idea for the novel I’m writing.  You just never know when inspiration will strike—so be ready!

Here are a few more places and ideas I go to help kick start my writing:

Headlines. Reading the news, whether in newspapers, your favorite online news source or on television can give a writer many ideas—particularly mystery writers. News stories about mysterious disappearances, crimes and murders can easily inspire a mystery writer to get a story going.

Writing prompts. Writing prompts are popular as a means to get creative juices flowing. There are hundreds of websites that provide writing prompts including Writer’s Digest. Writing prompts can be challenging too, particularly if they are one or two word prompts.

Other people’s stories.  It’s actually amazing to me how often my friends and family offer me a story idea because they know I am a writer.  Anecdotes told by friends can be inspiring, as well as listening to their interesting stories from their childhood, or a harrying experience they’ve had or someone in their family had. Listen when friends tell stories from their lives, you may find some buried treasure that you weren’t expecting.

Wal-Mart and other Errand Stops. With 8 kids, I spend lots of time grocery shopping, running errands, attending sporting events and meetings and everything else in between that we parents do to keep their families going strong.  I have found more ideas than I will ever be able use in one lifetime in places that involve my kids or running errands—and I’m never bored in the process!
Do you have a special method for coming up with ideas to write about? Feel free to share them in the comments section.

Monday, July 15, 2013

TV Shows for Readers and Writers 3

From Kate's Writing Crate...
                While visiting my parents, I discovered two new TV shows highlighting books and authors on RLTV—a channel I had never heard of before celebrating retired living. While the channel may be geared for a certain age group (50+), two shows, Books & Beyond and Bookmark, are for anyone who loves to read and write.
                Books & Beyond is on every weekday morning at 7am. An author is shown at a book reading at a bookstore like Powell's. He or she engages with the audience answering questions as well, but the taped reading is interspersed with an interview with the author answering questions about his or her writing practices, ideas, and other works. Both fiction and non-fiction are included in the program.
                On one show, Scott Hutchins, author of the novel A Working Theory of Love, shared his secret for overcoming a writing slump. "Sometimes when I am feeling a little clamped up as a writer, I'll just go over to my bookshelves and start pulling books off that I love and just read a few pages and remind myself about how this works. That it's just a word, a word, and a word. Sometimes it starts to feel like a mystical practice rather than just writing sentences so that's one way I work through that."
While I don't always like the topics of books highlighted on Books & Beyond, I enjoy the interviews with writers. Working authors give the rest of us glimpses into how it can be done—although you have to find your own path and it all begins with picking up a pen or sitting in front of your computer.
                Bookmark, shown at 10pm on Fridays and repeated a few times during the week, is much more varied. Two or three authors are interviewed by host Daryn Kagen as well as publishers. Top 5 and Top 10 lists covering many different categories are listed. For example, Top 5 Reading Cities according to Amazon:  1) Alexandria, Virginia;  2) Cambridge, MA;  3) Berkeley, CA;  4) Ann Arbor, MI; and  5) Boulder, CO. Book suggestions are given. Movies based on books are compared and contrasted by critic Jeffrey Lyons and Kagen. The show covers all aspects of reading including e-books. Also, on a recent episode, a segment showed the importance of libraries and book groups in men's prisons. Books are revered on Bookmark.

                Several authors I have read and two I really enjoy, Jennifer Crusie and Nicole Krauss, have been highlighted on Bookmark along with authors new to me like Ann Leary, author of The Good House, who writes in a bed surrounded by her dogs.  Kagen always asks authors about their writing practices.  I am fascinated by when and how authors write and how they work through to the end of such long projects. I am inspired by their thoughts and admissions.
                Both of these shows have become Must Watch TV for me.
Let me know if you enjoy these shows.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Thoughts on Social Media For Writers

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

The world of social media--facebook, Twitter, and the increasingly popular Tumblr, has dramatically changed communication in the 21st century.  When I was first introduced to facebook several years ago, I thought it was the most ridiculous waste of time a person could spend.  I actually forced myself to post just a couple of status updates during the first few weeks I opened my account, and then something happened to change my pessimistic outlook--my facebook friends started commenting on my posts, I began getting dozens of friend requests, and before I knew it--I was hooked!

We all have reasons for loving or hating the use of social media in our lives, but even if you are still skeptical of the benefits of these high-tech communication tools in your personal life, as a writer there are some well thought-out reasons why you might want to consider becoming more active with sites like facebook and twitter.

I recently read an interesting article on that referenced 10 Prop Tips for Writers Using Social Media.  While I found the entire piece helpful, here are five of my favorite tips:


1. Interact and Engage — Enthusiastically

It's easy to forget that part of successfully using social media is actually being social. While linking to things you like and adding commentary are part of the whole deal, it's important to engage with followers in order to keep them. As a writer wanting to gain a following, you have to try to keep everyone interested in you.
John T. Edge, food writer, columnist for The New York Times and author of Truck Food, uses Twitter "like a madman" when he's traveling. "I use it as a kind of diary to track things I saw, music I heard, food I ate." Edge combines his genre with interesting tidbits that aren't necessarily related to his writing. Your social media account doesn't have to be all writing, all the time.
With Facebook, it's all about pacing yourself. Allison Winn Scotch, author of the bestselling Time of My Life and the forthcoming The Song Remains the Same, says, "I think Facebook users get annoyed if you post too many status updates, so I'm careful to only post at most once a day, and more realistically, a few times a week."
Make sure your personality shines through all platforms. Karen Palmer, author of the novels All Saints and Border Dogs, says that readers are drawn to a writer's voice more than anything. "The most interesting folks are those with curious minds, oddball insights, passion and humor."
Overall, it's important to remember the golden rule. Tao Lin, author of Richard Yates and Eeeee Eee Eeee, makes sure to use social networks "without feeling like I'm doing things I wouldn't want other people to do to me...or that I'm doing things that will alienate people who, based on experience, I like being friends with."

2. Make Valuable Connections

Use social media's endless networking possibilities to your advantage. "Have fun with it and engage with other authors you admire," says Winn Scotch. "I follow a slew of writers whom I don't know personally but whose observations on pop culture, for example, I find funny as hell. And you never know where that connection can lead." She says that those connections are important not just for aspiring authors, but for seasoned authors as well.
That said, it's important to be somewhat selective when choosing your followers. "I also find that following too many people can lead to chaos in my feed," Winn Scotch adds, "so I don't follow everyone."

3. Consider Privacy and Comfort Levels

You might be hesitant to join these global virtual communities in which your information and viewpoints are available to anyone, but it's all about focusing on what you're comfortable with in a public sphere.
"I found social media hard to navigate at first, because I’m a private person," Hindley says, but she soon found topics she felt comfortable discussing, such as books, history and her writing process. "Every so often, you should review your tweets to see what you’ve been talking about. Ask yourself if you’re comfortable with the image you’re projecting. If not, make some adjustments."
At the other end of the spectrum, Lin is very open about his contact information with those who follow him on social networks, and he even gave out his phone number when someone asked for it in an HTMLGIANT comment thread. "I've never had problems — that I can remember — from people having my contact information," he says. However, proceed with caution.

4. Aspiring Writers vs. Seasoned Writers

You may be wondering if there are different ways up-and-coming writers should use social media as opposed to those whose work is already established.
"Social media is an extension of your voice," says Orlean. "For aspiring writers, it's a chance to practice miniaturization — how to say something interesting in a very concise way — which is, in itself, a good writing exercise. Seasoned writers might look at it as an ongoing book tour, or at least the Q&A part of the book tour."
Lin, on the other hand, doesn't think there's a difference. "I feel like what I try to do myself has remained somewhat constant throughout my time having these [accounts]."
So it's up to you how to present yourself, but you should be honest with followers about your work's progress.

5. Don't Force It

It's alright to admit that social media isn't for you. "If after experimenting for a while, you find you don’t really enjoy it, don’t do it," Palmer advises. "It’s obvious to others when your heart isn’t in it. And should you come to find you like it a little too much, use social media as a reward for doing your real work — writing."
Do you think social media benefits your writing?


Monday, July 8, 2013

Bookstore Shopping with My Dad

From Kate's Writing Crate...

     After I learned to read, I learned to love book shopping.

     I am not a shopper by nature--my mother and siblings got that gene. I prefer to stay home with a good book like my dad. However, we all got dragged to the mall one weekend a month when I was growing up.

     After 45 minutes or so, my dad would say he was heading to the bookstore and I would grab his hand when really young or start walking away with him when older before my mother could tell me to stay.

     Once we arrived in the bookstore, I would rush to my favorite section which changed as I aged. It was a long, narrow store and my father was taller than the shelves. He could usually see me or he kept an eye out that I did not get past him to the door--as if I would ever walk away from books without being called!

     I felt so grown up. I could browse the shelves before I knew the word browse looking for books I liked all by myself. Heaven!

     I always found a few books, occasionally more than a few. I would carry them to my dad who would gather them up and take them to the counter. I would stand beside him as they were bagged separately so I could carry them myself. That always made the rest of the shopping trip bearable.

     My dad and I went to a bookstore recently--something we hadn't done in a long while as our favorite bookstore had closed years ago. It was a fun outing; we weren't escaping from the rest of the family and now we go to a lot of the same sections even sharing a few favorite authors like Louis L'Amour and Suzanne Brockmann's SEAL series.

     Happily, some things never change. We gather our books separately, but put them in the same basket. Dad carries them to the counter and has mine put into a separate bag, more because we live apart now, but I am so glad we still love to go bookstore shopping together. 

What memories of bookstores do you have?

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Independence Day For Writers

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

 Today, we celebrate the birthday of the United States of America--the day in 1776 that we adopted the Declaration of Independence.   As we celebrate this inspiring and meaningful holiday for our country, it seems fitting that we discuss what "independent" goals and achievements we as writers have made during the first half of the year and those that we strive to meet before 2014 makes its grand entrance. 

Many will celebrate the 4th by going to a picnic or barbecue, enjoying the beach or the lake with family and friends and perhaps winding down the day by watching a colorful display of fireworks.  As we give thanks for our independence, we as writers can also celebrate this patriotic holiday by honoring our creative mind and those very important writing goals we set for ourselves six months ago. 

The mid-year point means it’s time to regroup and refocus. What do you want to accomplish in the second half of 2013?  What do you need to complete by the end of the summer to stay on track? Just break down your goals into manageable parts and they will be way easier to accomplish.
Whether you are writing your first novel or your tenth, launching a new blog, trying to syndicate your column, or just as importantly writing for pleasure each day because it frees your mind of so many precious thoughts that need to come to life on paper, don't fall behind and lose track of those "independent" writing goals of yours that were so important to you several months ago. Write out your goals and look at them regularly, by doing so you’ll reach that finish line!

Here are a few fun ways you can celebrate your "Writer's Independence" this year on the 4th. 
1. Take the day off. Use today to enjoy spending time with friends and family or just read a book or chill out. You need and deserve to take time for yourself! Plus, you’ll get a lot more writing done tomorrow when you are relaxed and refreshed!
2. Do something else creative.  Any sort of creative activity is good for your mind. Find a fun 4th project and jump on in! If you like to scrapbook or take photographs or even draw or paint, let your creative muse go wild and it just might spark some writing ideas for when you get back at after the holiday.
3. Go people watching. A holiday is a great time to go people-watching. Study people’s habits, interactions, and dialogue for use in one of your current or future stories. Take notes while you are out or go home and jot down all that you remember.  As the mother of eight kids, I can't tell you how much fodder I get for my writing by simply stepping back and observing my own family!
4. Tune into your senses. Wonderful descriptive writing starts with the senses. Whether you are out at a party or relaxing in your backyard, take note of what you see hear, taste, smell and touch. Use as many words as necessary to describe the taste, smell, and touch of today’s delicious holiday barbecue, then jot down what you see and all the sounds you hear during tonight’s fireworks. Enjoy!

How are you spending your day? And what do you plan to make your day more creative?

Monday, July 1, 2013

Inspiring Writing Quotes 1

From Kate's Writing Crate...


Writers should write every day, but some days it's hard to get started. Here are quotes that inspire me to keep writing:

When you write from the heart, you not only light the dark path of your readers, you light your own way as well. 
       –Marjorie Holmes

…writing is finally sitting alone in a room and wrenching it out of yourself, and nobody can teach you that. 
     –Jon Winokur

If you want to write, you can. Fear stops most people from writing, not lack of talent, whatever that is. Who am I? What right have I to speak? Who will listen to me if I do? You're a human being with a unique story to tell, and you have every right. If you speak with passion, many of us will listen. We need stories to live, all of us. We live by story. Yours enlarge the circle.  –Richard Rhodes

When I write, I am always struck at how magical and unexpected the process turns out to be.  –Ralph Fletcher

Writing is really rewriting—making the story better, clearer, truer.  –Robert Lipsyte

Don't market yourself. Editors and readers don't know what they want until they see it. Scratch what itches. Write what you need to write, feed the hunger for meaning in your life.      –Donald M. Murray

The fight of all fights is to write.  –Herman Melville

The role of the writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say.  –Anais Nin

Once writing has become your major vice and greatest pleasure only death can stop it.  –Ernest Hemingway

You're a writer and that's something better than being a millionaire—because it's something holy.  –Harlan Ellison

I honestly think in order to be a writer, you have to learn to be reverent –Anne Lamott

Writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar. 
       –E. B. White

There is so much about the process of writing that is mysterious to me. But this one thing I've found to be true: writing begets writing.  –Dorianne Laux

You learn to write by reading and writing, writing and reading. As a craft, it's acquired through the apprentice system, but you choose your own teachers. Sometimes they're alive, sometimes they're dead.  –Margaret Atwood

Writing's an important way of living.  –William S. Burroughs

Writing is harder than anything else; at least starting to write is.  –Kristin Hunter

Every writer I know has trouble writing.  –Joseph Heller

Inspiration comes when you stick your elbows on the table and your bottom on the chair and start sweating. Choose a theme, an idea, and squeeze your brain until it hurts. That's called inspiration.  –Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it's the only way you can do anything really good.  –William Faulkner

What quotes inspire you? Keep them in your Common Book.