Monday, December 29, 2014

2015 Writing Resolutions

From Kate's Writing Crate…

        Like most years, my 2014 writing resolutions became hopeful targets rather than hard and fast goals.

They were:

             Write every day.

    Write 52 blog posts.

             Write, co-write, and/or edit for trade publications or big projects.

             Write a book by writing a page a day.

             Write a poem.


The reality:

             I wrote almost every day so I feel okay with that one.

             I did write and publish 52 posts.

             I did not co-write an article, but I did edit several big projects.

             I did not write a book, but I finally discovered my milieu: essays.

             I did write a poem, although it was shorter than I planned.

My 2015 Writing Resolutions are:

          Write every day.

          Write 52 blog posts.

          Write articles for regional and/or national publications.

          Write at least two essays a month. Word count 1,000-4,000.

          Write a song.

I'll let you know how these resolutions work out next year.


What are your New Year's writing resolutions?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Reads for Writers: May Sarton 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.

          In honor of the “home for the holidays” sentiment, I write about home for the December Masterclasses. This year, I’m highlighting The House by the Sea: A Journal by May Sarton.

          Sarton wrote poetry, novels, and a series of journals about her life including I Knew a Phoenix, Plant Dreaming Deep, Journal of a Solitude, A World of Light, as well as The House by the Sea. These journals give a detailed look into the life of this writer and how much her homes through the years, complete with cats and dog, meant to her.

          Poets observe life in more detail than most other writers to capture moments in time wondrously in their work. Sarton reveals this truth in her journals.

Wednesday, November 13th, 1974

          “The refrigerator has pots of freesia and daffodil bulbs in it to stay cool for a month or two and then come out to plant in the window, which is really like a small greenhouse. It is lovely now because of a white cyclamen and three Rieger begonia, one bright red, one greenish white, and one salmon pink. When the morning sun streams in, they glow in their transparencies.” (page 17-18)

Saturday, November 16th

          “A serene dawn. I saw the sun first bathing my bureau in rich orange light, sat up, and caught the red disc just as it stood for a second exactly on the horizon’s rim. It is so silent all around that a moment ago when a single wave broke I was startled by its gentle roar.” (page19)

Thursday, January 8th, 1975

          My hope that I would have a whole series of empty days, days without interruption, days in which to think and laze, (for creation depends as much on laziness as on hard work), was, of course impossible. [Jody, a writer hitchhiker, had written she would be stopping by and turned up now.] …I felt dismay at the prospect…She came yesterday, in workman’s boots, overalls, a thin short coat…and a tam-o’-shanter, carrying the usual canvas tote over her shoulder. And I was suddenly delighted!

          …In her knapsack three of my books and a slim new blue notebook in which she jots down poems. I liked her face at once, the quirky mouth and keen blue eyes behind huge gold-rimmed glasses, mousy hair all over the place. (page 177-178)

Sunday, May, 16th, 1976

          Another of those silken days…I am in an ecstasy of birds and their plummeting flight past the terrace. It is very thrilling when a bird closes its wings and shoots along like a torpedo through the air. The elusive oriole is everywhere now, in and out of maple flowers and apple blossom…Out in the field the killdeer give their sharp peep, and the tree swallows go scooting around in the evening. The air they inhabit with such grace is intoxicating in itself, cool and gentle. What days! (page 256)

Tuesday, August 17th

          It is time to close this journal. I need to stop recounting days, one by one, and begin to think about and make notes for a new novel. I am longing to live in an imaginary world again, with people about whom I can know everything and tell the whole truth. That is not possible in a journal intended for publication. (page 287)

          May Sarton also writes in detail about writing, friends, family, gardens, interruptions, disappointments, poetry readings, politics, and many other topics. I mostly chose descriptive paragraphs where readers could picture moments in full color with audio backdrops.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Joy of Writing 2

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          There needs to be more joy in the world so if writing brings you joy, write. Don’t talk about it. Don’t think about it. Just sit down with pen and paper or at your keyboard and write.

          You may meander around topics. You might only jot down words and phrases. Stay seated. Keep going. The hardest part of writing is getting started. As Mary Poppins said, “Once begun is half done.”

          Once I have an idea or reach my stream of consciousness, words fly from my brain onto the page. It happens so quickly, I don’t always realize what I have written until I go back and read it.

I am happy to sit still alone and write. I don’t feel joy then, just excitement when I hit my stride.

The joy comes when I sit back and read what I wrote. Even if it isn’t always good, it’s good to get it down—to have written. There is usually an idea, a phrase, sentence, or, upon occasion, a paragraph worth keeping. The longer I write, the more there is to keep.

But that isn’t all there is to writing. Come back to what you have written a day or two later. You will see what is good and not so good with fresh eyes. You will have more to write as your subconscious has been simmering and considering things. The more you work on a piece, the more it shines.

Give yourself the joy of writing. Following your dream is the best gift!

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Best Writing Advice Ever

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          Concise writing takes more thought, more work, more drafts. However, the results can stand the test of time. Updated 3/30/16: See posts on Mary Oliver on 3/21/16 & 4/4/16. Her thoughts: Give your writing power and time--look for verbs of muscle and adjectives of exactitude.

The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White, published 1935

Omit needless words (page 23).

          Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell. (62 words)

Gettyburg Address, 1863, the Nicolay version—thought to be earliest copy of the speech—is copied here:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that “all men are created equal”

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle field of that war. We come to dedicate a portion of it, as a final resting place for those who died here, that the nation might live. This we may, in all propriety do. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow, this ground—The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have hallowed it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here.

It is rather for us, the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that, from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people for the people, shall not perish from this earth. (235 words)

I’m not sure I can legally print lyrics here, but these songs are surprisingly concise:

“Time in a Bottle” by Jim Croce, from 1971, is 128 words long.

“Sunshine on My Shoulders” by John Denver, from 1971 is 113 words long.

“Three Times a Lady” by Lionel Richie, from 1978, is only 51 words long.

          Make every word tell. I think that is the best writing advice ever.

Please note: This advice refers to the polishing/self-editing stage, not during early drafts when the goal is to get all your thoughts down on paper.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Festive Book Trees For Christmas

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

I'm in definite, full-blown holiday swing at the moment, which is my excuse for being a bit behind on this week's blog post!

As busy as this time of year is for a mother of eight kids, it also happens to be one of my favorite seasons.  Those who know me well (blogging partner, Kate!) are not surprised that I begin listening to Christmas music as early as late October.  For some, that's absurdly too early, but I find holiday tunes incredibly uplifting and plain old cheerful, and I will be listening to the last jingle bell wafting through my home well past New Year's day.

This week, I am immersed in garlands, wreaths, twinkling lights, shimmering ornaments and everything else that represents the joy of decorating for Christmas.  My kids and I have been back and forth to the attic dozens of times bringing out our treasured decorations, and if we're lucky our home will be all decked out by late this weekend.

While I was doing some research on an article I'm currently writing, I accidentally stumbled upon some amazing photographs of Christmas trees that took my breath away.  No, they weren't 6-feet blue spruces or artificial masterpieces that twinkled in silver or gold, these trees were something even more spectacular--trees made out of one of my favorite items in the entire world--books!

I was so excited when I spotted them that  I immediately sent one to my partner in blogging crime, Kate and a few other friends that are as book crazy as I am.

I know this is a writing blog, but being that I'm presently in the spirit of decorating for Christmas I thought I'd share a few of the tree images I found to be so inspiring.  Who knows, maybe when I finish stringing up the lights on our own tree this weekend, I might attempt a book tree of my own.

Feast your eyes on these beautiful pieces of art!

What are some of the different ways books inspire you throughout the season?

Monday, December 1, 2014

2014 Fun Gifts for Writers

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

 These are holiday gift suggestions for the writers in your life—or for yourself.

By the Book: Writers on Literature and the Literary Life from The New York Times Book Review Edited and with an Introduction by Pamela Paul
          By the Book is a Q&A article included in The New York Times Book Review each week. Here 65 authors share which books influenced them, what they are reading now, what books they recommend, what books they have not read, which three authors they would invite to a dinner party, what books the president should read, what are their ideal reading situations, their opinions on rereading, descriptions of their libraries, and favorite children’s books along with many other questions and answers. You get insights into authors you love, leads on books to read as well as discover authors new to you. An excellent gift!

New Bold Cristal BICs

          These are iconic, inexpensive pens. I have used them, but never loved them until now. The bold BICs have thicker 1.6mm nibs. The ink flows smoothly, although there are the occasional blobs. They are a pleasure to write with when you want to get your ideas down quickly.

A Writer’s Ring (see post dated 3/17/13)

          I love my faux, channel set diamond and sapphire ring that I wear on my thumb so I can see it sparkle in the light as I write, but another way to go may be a very rustic initial that looks like the face of an old typewriter key.

A Year of Writing Dangerously: 365 Days of Inspiration & Encouragement by Barbara Abercrombie

          The 365 mini-essays written by the author include thoughts, observations, and stories about other writers. Topics include: #7 Jumping Off; #28 In the Company of Animals; #35 Eight Ways to Sabotage Yourself;  #68 Making Use of Fear; #127 One True Sentence; #243 Stepping Up to the Plate; and #315 Flying Off Course. Each essay is followed by a quote from another writer.

Literary Necklaces

          I bought a few of these necklaces for fun. However, I don’t wear them. They look like miniature framed quotes so I hook the chains over the corners of my computer screen and around the base of my reading lamp so I can read them. My favorites:

Poetry: the best words in the best order

Whisper Words of Wisdom

Book Vixen

I have taken to living by my wits. (Sherlock Holmes)

Literary Charms

          These charms are book-shaped with titles like Wuthering Heights and Moby Dick.

A Favorite Children’s Book

Memories are wonderful launching pads for writing ideas. I love Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson (post dated 1/21/13), most books by Richard Scarry, and The Frances series by Russell Hoban. New favorites are from the Ordinary People Change the World series by Brad Meltzer including I am Albert Einstein; I am Rosa Parks; I am Abraham Lincoln; I am Jackie Robinson; I am Amelia Earhart; and I am Lucille Ball.

Ceramic Mug, Pot, or Vase

          Pick a favorite color, eye-catching shape, or inspiring quote. They are great for corralling pens for the writer in your life. Of course, the mug can be used for tea or coffee; the pot or vase for flowers—all inspiring for writers, too.

Blank Note Cards

Writing is writing so, if you cannot think of anything else to write, send notes to friends or family members. Make them smile when their snail mail arrives—and help achieve your daily writing goal.

A Pad of To-Do Lists

Writers need goals! Lists are a great way to keep you on track for projects and deadlines.

Happy Holidays!