Monday, July 28, 2014

Reads for Writers: Dan Brown 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.


        Although published sixteen years ago, Digital Fortress by Dan Brown could not be more current. It's a thriller about codes, code breaking, the NSA, and espionage.

        Don't start reading the book unless you have time to finish it as the plot is a masterclass. You will be annoyed if interrupted and almost incapable of putting it down. It's fast-paced and fascinating.

        I don't want to ruin it for anyone so I dare say no more.


Monday, July 21, 2014

Reads for Writers: My Writing Life by Ellen Gilchrist

From Kate's Writing Crate…

         Ellen Gilchrist lives her life on her own terms. She married four times, gave birth to and raised three sons, and has twelve grandchildren. She studied writing with Eudora Welty. She lives alone happily writing, teaches college students to write better, and then immerses herself with family and friends for balance.

She started writing seriously at forty, winning a National Book Award. To date, she has written novels, essays, short stories, and novellas including a collection of over 50 essays entitled The Writing Life which captures both her joy of writing as well as teaching writing.

On page 68, Gilchrist states: "Why do I come back to the typewriter so headily each morning? Because it feels good. The brain is easily addicted to feeling good and nothing on earth, with the exception of great sex, feels as good as having written well and truly in the morning. Actually it is better than sex because you control the whole activity and the afterglow can last for years if the work is published and other people profit from it. The lasting pleasure is not in their praise but in your knowledge that you have contributed something of value to the culture from which you derive your being."

        Gilchrist lives with √©lan as we all should.

In her essay "How Books Still Change Our Lives," Gilchrist brings you into not only her cul-de-sac neighborhood, but up the hill into her home made mostly of glass. The description of her house, the music she loves, and her reverence for art and her artist friends/neighbors give readers a look into her delightful, creative life.

        In her essay "The Shakespeare Group," she shares that seven or eight friends—poets, writers, an actress—meet at her home every Sunday afternoon to read the plays of Shakespeare aloud. One play every Sunday from beginning to end. Just for fun. Three times through as of the writing of this essay.

        As she notes, "…need to read all thirty-eight to learn that even the greatest writer who ever lived was a novice to begin with, and then got better, and better, and better and better, until he became the best, past, present, and forevermore." (page13) "No one could tire of them. They are not only plays. They are great poetry and they contain novels, essays, stand-up comedy routines, satire, metaphor raised to the tenth power." (page 14)

        As a writing teacher, Gilchrist considers the writing profession from a new perspective. How to inspire students? She highly recommends reading On Writing by Ernest Hemingway. She notes, "If you want to learn how to make characters move around and do things, open up Huckleberry Finn to any page and start reading. No one does it better than the old master, Mark Twain." (page 122)

        Other creative advice from Gilchrist: "Create characters. Think up something for them to do. Start writing. Tell the story and be sure to make it ring true. Believe in the story your imagination gives you. Stick to it. Don't worry about what anyone is going to think when they read it." (page 125)

But she also reminds her students that "Love and marriage and children and broken hearts and disappointments and dreams that don't come true are the stuff of poetry and fiction." (page 139) "…you have to be living a life full of other interests besides writing at the same time that you are writing every day whether you are inspired or not." (page128)    

        The gift she gives writers, besides her books, is the knowledge that we can give ourselves a creative life like hers. We can write in the mornings to give our days an afterglow; we can read Shakespeare plays aloud and in order, along with reading other classics, to appreciate and learn from great writing; we can listen to music we love; gather together with other writers and artists; and be inspired by the happenings in our own lives.


Monday, July 14, 2014

Inspiring Quotes 3

From Kate's Writing Crate…


Here are some quotes that inspire me:



Genius…means little more than the faculty of perceiving in an unhabitual way.

                                                        --William James



Originality does not consist in saying what no one has ever said before, but in saying exactly what you think yourself.

                                              --James Fitzjames Stephen



I never know when I sit down just what I am going to write. I make no plan; it just comes, and I don't know where it comes from.

                                                        --D. H. Lawrence



I think the writer must serve the inarticulate.

                                                        --Nelson Algren



If you can speak what you will never hear, if you can write what you will never read, you have done rare things.

                                                        --Henry David Thoreau



A great deal of talent is lost to the world for want of a little courage.

                                                        --Sydney Smith



As soon as you connect with your true subject, you will write.

                                        --Joyce Carol Oates



I am convinced more and more every day that fine writing is, next to fine doing, the top thing in the world.

                                                        --John Keats



Essays are experiments in making sense of things.

                                                        --Scot Russell Sanders



Man's mind, stretched to new ideas, never goes back to its original dimensions.

                                                        --Oliver Wendell Holmes



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

Monday, July 7, 2014

My First Novel edited by Alan Watt

From Kate's Writing Crate…
        If you are looking for inspiration while writing your first novel—or any novel—read My First Novel: Tales of Woe and Glory edited by Alan Watt. In it, twenty-five writers share their behind-the-desk experiences.
         While the title is My First Novel, several of the writers question what is meant by first novel. Is it the first novel you write? The first novel accepted by an agent? Or the first novel published? Rarely are they the same novel.
        As Aimee Bender notes on page 13, "The drawer is perhaps an active part of the writer's life as the non-drawer, the pages that see the light and go to people. In my view, it's important not to work on everything, to put things aside that are not clicking…"
        Allison Burnett on page 29 shares, "A lesson I like to pass on to young writers: hard work is rarely wasted. Hold on to every scrap you write. You'll never know what you'll make of it down the road."
        And writing isn't the only important part of novel writing as explained by John Dufresne on page 56. "I learned that what you take out of a novel is as important as what you leave in. You can't free the angel until you carve away the stone. Overwriting is essential, and so is ruthless editing."
        On pages 139-140, Dave Newman states, "Time, for writers, is measured in two things: the amount of words we read and the amount of words we write…What I should have done was write my novel straight through then I should have written some poems then another novel then some more poems then more stories and so on."
        Mary Otis thinks on page 147: "Writing a story seems to be about intention and availability—not only to the story itself, but availability to daily life…The trick is that you never know where you will find what, so I try to dwell in a place of possibility, and often the world feels like it is leaning in, conspiring with me to write the story."
        Cheryl Strayed discusses her writing process on page 168. "I wanted to write the best novel that has ever been written in the world, but I finally had to let go of that and simply write the best novel I could write. A novel, I acknowledged, that might end up being mediocre at best, that might never be published or read or loved. Embracing these facts—that I could only write the story I wanted to write and only to the best of my abilities—was extremely liberating and important. It was what allowed me to finally get to work and write my novel."
        If you need inspiration as you write your first novel and you are online, visit Subtitled: Reading and Writing with Friends. Here many authors share their stories behind their first novels.
If all these authors can persevere and succeed, so can we!