Monday, May 30, 2016

It's All Copy

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          Time is a funny thing. It seems to pass slowly while we wait for birthdays and holidays or winter to be over, but days fly by as we rush around working and running errands while planning dinners and doing laundry. Years pile up and before we know it we receive reunion invitations with numbers we can hardly believe.

          However, the biggest jolt in time for me is when children of friends who live far away who I remember in baby bonnets or first grade are now driving or going to college. How could that much time have passed?

          These children seem to have spent their time well. They have learned to walk and talk and read and write. They are graduating, moving, and preparing for careers.

          Has my time been as well spent?

          There aren’t as many milestones after graduation except new job titles and possible marriage and/or parenthood. For writers: pages written, assignments completed, and pieces and books published.

          Happiness and satisfaction are good indicators. Stay the course if you are happy and satisfied; shake things up if not. Trying something new can be fun in either situation.

          What we do need to remember in the end is that life is short. Writer and director Nora Ephron, who died a few of years ago, was on a clip from Charlie Rose’s show in her son’s tribute documentary, It’s All Copy, discussing that you know what you want for your last meal but you never know when you’re going to die so have that meal soon. Good advice—plus it answers the everyday question of what’s for dinner!

          "It’s all copy" is a phrase Ephron’s mother, a screenwriter, used to say whenever life didn’t work out as planned. Ephron also noted everything you see, feel, and hear is fair game.

          Don’t just write what you know. Write about what catches your eye, gives you goosebumps, or sparks an interest.

                   We do not write in order to be understood,

we write in order to understand.

                             --C. Day-Lewis

I am rewritten by what I write.

                             --Robert Grudin

          Life is short so write whatever you want whenever you can wherever you are.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Reads for Writers: My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop or as I call it--Bookstore Vacation Destinations

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.

          For readers and writers planning summer vacations, check out My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop, edited by Ronald Rice and Booksellers Across America, published in 2012). There are eighty-one independent bookstores in thirty-six states to choose from as an added bonus to or as the main purpose of any trip.

          After reading the fantastic tributes by writers like Isabel Allende, Wendell Berry, Meg Waite Clayton, Fannie Flagg, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Pete Hamill, Ann Hood, Mameve Medwed, Ann Patchett, Chuck Palahniuk, Michael Tisserand, Luis Alberto Urrea, Abraham Verghese, Terry Tempest Williams, and Simon Winchester, not surprisingly, I want to visit all of them. Luckily, two are within an hour of my home. On the next trip to see my dad, we will visit the one within an hour of his home.

Then I will branch out with friends and other family members in tow. I think we could visit maybe ten or twelve more in daylong trips from their homes—only one or two a day so we have plenty of time to browse, read, and shop once we arrive. That is the point after all.

All of these tributes mention the importance of the book-loving owners and knowledgeable staff. Beautifully summed up by Ann Haywood Leal in her tribute starting on page 201: “Finding a book a home in someone’s heart is a talent. They may not know it, but…the staff of Bank Square Books [Mystic, Connecticut] are in the business of matchmaking.”

Some excerpts from the tributes:

The floors have to creak, of course. There should be a bit of a chill inside—not dank, or damp, but enough to bring on thoughts of curling up somewhere with one of the bound companions. If the table displays, favorite picks, and the like have a quirky randomness to them, in defiance of the latest imperatives from publishers, all the better…

All of this you take for granted at The Elliot Bay Book Company in Seattle.

                                                Timothy Egan (page 88)

At Watchung Booksellers [in Montclair, New Jersey] there’s a daily rhythm to the life of books. Kids are running around—a bookstore like this is where kids are first brought into the wider world of reading—and there are the sounds of conversations about books, and the humming quiet of the browsers, and the crisp tearing and folding of gift-wrap paper at the counter, and it smells like books, with that fresh, subtly seductive smell. Independent bookstores such as Margot’s [owner] collaborate with writing in such an intimate way that makes cyber bookselling seem merely retail.

                                                Ian Frazier (page 119)

…The event is an author series called Book Your Lunch, and it’s the brainchild of bookseller Jill Hendrix, owner of Fiction Addiction an independent bricks-and-mortar bookstore in my hometown of Greenville, South Carolina. Book Your Lunch is a fantastic way to bring readers and a wide range of authors together—from mystery writers, to award-winning novelists, to non-fiction and cookbook authors. Fiction Addiction sells tickets in advance, and the featured author reads from her work, or gives a short talk, followed by a Q&A session, a delicious lunch, and then an on-site book signing.

                                                          Mindy Friddle (page 121)

Some of the writers of the eighty-two tributes may not be familiar to readers. All of the essays end with writer bios, listings of their books/works, and/or website addresses. (While 84 writers wrote tributes, two were collaborations and The Strand in New York City received two tributes so in total eighty-one bookstores are celebrated.)

As if dream bookstores and writers new and familiar to readers weren’t enough to delight readers of this book, within the essays many of the writers mention their favorite authors.

What more could a reader ask for? Well, I do wish the bookstores’ addresses, phone numbers, and websites were listed at the end of the essays or in the Bookstores by Location index on pages 375-378. Not hard to find online, but still it would have been better in the book.

Whether you are traveling or not this summer, My Bookstore is plain fun--fabulous destinations and numerous book suggestions for readers. It’s almost as good as visiting one of these treasured bookstores!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Ready, Set, Write! But What If I'm Blocked? Plus Bonus Recycled Essay

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I’m ready to write. I’ve set aside time to write. I’m sitting in front of my computer, but I’m not writing…yet.

          It’s frustrating when I’m ready to write essays but nothing comes to mind. The only thing more frustrating when it comes to writing is when I have thoughts, ideas, or sentences in my head, but can’t write them down because I’m too busy doing something else.

          I sit here waiting for thoughts to come, my muse to visit, or for some glimmer of an idea. Too distract myself from becoming more frustrated, I look around my office.

On the shelves of a nearby bookcase, I have a favorite pair of small watercolor paintings of the same stand of maple trees—one done in the greens of spring and one in the golds and reds of fall. They are serene and beautiful. They also capture the passing of time.

          Time is the resource most writers need and most writers waste. If you have the time to write, then write. Keep going even when it is painful prying words out of your head. Eventually something will click. The flow of words will increase. The writing will become less painful.

In the rare cases when it doesn’t, I flip though one of my monthly notebooks looking for a phrase or an idea that inspires me to write now. I also keep a running list of topic ideas at the end of the list of all the posts I’ve written.

I write as long as I can, but if the words don’t start to flow I find it’s better to stop and take a walk or tidy up a room. Inspiration often strikes when I’m not writing. If I’m lucky, it strikes while I still have time to go back to writing at my computer. If not, I jot my ideas down in a notebook planning for my next writing session.

The best writing happens when I’m in the zone. I have an idea and just go with it. It seems so easy. However, sometimes writing is really hard work. I’m prepared with topics, but inspiration doesn’t always take the bait so I have to dig deep to uncover something else to tempt my muse. It’s worth the effort, but can be excruciating.

The reality is the more you write the less often writing is painful. But when it is painful, work through it. You will never get this time back so be ready to make the most of it—whatever it takes.

Below is an example of recycled writing mentioned in post dated 5/2/16. I wrote the essay for today's blog first. The recycled and yet new essay below appeared on my magazine’s facebook page.

On the shelves of a bookcase in my office, I have a favorite pair of small watercolor paintings of the same stand of maple trees—one done in the greens of spring and the other in the golds and reds of fall. They are serene and beautiful. They also capture the passing of time.

          Time is the resource most of us need, but most of us waste. These watercolors remind me I’m in my office to work. The sooner I finish, the sooner I can spend time on other—sometimes more fun—stuff.

          Since most of us have to work, it’s the downtime that we get to allocate. We prioritize family, friends, hobbies, TV shows, music, chores, errands, etc. Then there are unplanned emergencies or other surprises. Do we ever get this balance right?

          It would be nice if there were a savings bank for time. If we mow the lawn faster or fold the laundry quicker, we could sock those minutes away for another day, build up balances so we could be at every birthday party, dance recital, game, or get together.

          Since there isn’t a way to save time for another day, we are left to make the most of our time the best we can. It’s important to remember to enjoy the moments when we love exactly where we are and who we are with. These memories sustain us when we can’t be there.

          I read somewhere that Leap Day should be a worldwide holiday. It’s a bonus day. It should be treated with reverence and spent doing fun things we never have enough time for with the people we love.

          In fact, I think every holiday should be that way so make time for your mom this Mother’s Day. She spends a lot of time caring for and thinking about you. Return the favor.

          Memorial Day deserves our time, too. Line the town parade route on May 30 at 10am. Visit a military site or cemetery. These veterans gave not just their time to us; they gave their lives. There is no greater gift so remember and honor them and their loved ones.

We wouldn’t have the freedom to choose how we spend our time without their sacrifice. Thank you to all of them as well as all veterans and active military personnel.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Reads for Writers: The Book Lover's Anthology

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          My book recommendation this week is The Book Lover’s Anthology: A Compendium of Writing about Books, Readers & Libraries published by Bodleian Library. It’s not a book you read straight through, but one you pick up when you only have a few minutes to read or just feel like browsing.
There are inspiring quotes, passages, and poems about: The Friendship of Books; Old and New Books; Good Books and Bad; The Joys of Reading; A Sentimental Education; Bibliophilia; Literary Worlds; and The Library.
          Among my favorite passages are:

                   Rich Fare
…There are other evils, great and small, in this world…Of these, Providence has allotted me a full share; but still, paradoxical as it may sound, my burden has been greatly lightened by a load of books.
          Thomas Hood, letter to the Manchester Athenaeum (page 29)

                   Books are men of higher stature,
                   And the only men that speak aloud for future times to hear.

                             Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Lady Geraldine’s Courtship (page 35)

                   Love and the Library
                   I do not know that I am happiest when alone; but this I am
                   sure of, that I am never long even in the society of her I love
                   without a yearning for the company of my lamp and my
                   utterly confused and tumbled-over  library.      

                             George Gordon, Lord Byron (page 182)

                   I would rather be a poor man in a garret with plenty of books
                   than a king who did not love reading.
                             Thomas Macaulay (page 210)

          Enjoy discovering your favorite passages!

Monday, May 2, 2016

The Benefits of Recycling Writing

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I have taken on writing two more columns for the facebook pages of the magazines I write for and edit. Each week I alternate between book reviews and musings of my choosing. Sounds like a lot more work—and it is—but there are many benefits.

          For the book reviews, I often recycle the ones I’ve posted here. However, since they are slanted towards writers, I have to rework them to fit a general reading audience. This is an excellent way to hone my editing and rewriting skills. It means looking at every line to see if it works for a different audience. Great lines have to be cut, but, when I’m working hard, new great lines appear.

          This is fun work as I love these books. I want more people to discover them.

          Conversely, my musings for the facebook column have led to rewrites for posts for this blog.

I have the freedom to write about almost anything in the column. This can be overwhelming, but the deadline means pressure so thoughts I wasn’t planning on appear on the page. The surprise of discovering what I think is one of the best benefits of this type of writing.

                    How do I know what I think until I see what I have to say.

                                                                   --E. M. Forster


While I’m editing these facebook columns, I often see a way they tie into writing. With a bit of rewriting, I’m sharing these thoughts with my blog audience.

          Taking on more work is working for me. Getting two pieces from a blog post or column topic as well as strengthening my editing and rewriting skills are all terrific benefits to recycling my writing.

Recycle your writing whenever you can. Writing more leads to more writing. As writers, that’s the whole point.