Monday, August 29, 2016

Why Write a Blog?

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I cannot stress enough how important a blog is for a writer. A commitment to fulfill assignments and meet deadlines is what makes you a better writer—a professional writer, paid or unpaid. Plus it’s a blast!

          When Cheryl suggested starting a blog, I was nervous, but excited. We both wrote down long lists of ideas. We thought we could write two or three times a week if we alternated days Monday through Friday. However, after discussing our jobs and family obligation schedules, we decided to write once a week at the beginning and go from there.

          Writing once a week turned out to be the perfect blog schedule. It gives me time to continue with book reviews. A two- or three-times-a-week blog would have cut into my reading time which would have meant posting reviews less often as well as made me resentful. I love to write, but reading is just as important to me.

          I get cranky when my To-Be-Read pile is low. Happiness isn’t just the good book I’m currently reading, but also knowing there are more good books waiting for me. Reading is relaxing and inspiring.

          I believe every book is a writing primer as well. It tunes our ears so we know when a voice works and when it doesn’t. We see when settings and characters are vividly alive and when they are flat. We get a feel for pacing, point of view, and plot, too. It’s the best kind of learning because it’s hidden in fun.

          I’m a writer because I’m a reader. I loved books as soon as my mother put them in front of me while we read together. I read early and often. If my mother wanted some quiet time, she put down a stack of books next to me. I stayed put turning pages until she called for me.

          I’m a blogger because I’m a writer. Writers write. Commit to writing and you will be pleasantly surprised at what you produce with the pressure of a weekly deadline. This is the 4th anniversary of this blog—and I’m often surprised by and still pleased with most of my posts.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Reads for Writers: Snoopy's Guide to the Writing Life edited by Barnaby Conrad and Monte Schulz 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.

          I read three highly recommended novels for my post this week, but two failed to keep my attention and the third was good, but not masterclass good so I searched my bookshelves and decided Snoopy’s Guide to the Writing Life met all the criteria.

Before you dismiss this as a joke, 32 authors/writers including Ray Bradbury, Sue Grafton, Elizabeth George, A. Scott Berg, and Elmore Leonard penned essays on The Writers’ Life based on their favorite comic strips of Snoopy sitting in front of his Olivetti typewriter on top of his doghouse which illustrate this tribute to writing.

In the Foreword, author Monte Schulz writes about his beloved father, Charles, their relationship as well as how important literature was in their lives.

“When I was young, my father gave me some of his favorite adventure books to read, like Driscoll’s Book of Pirates and Red Rackham’s Treasure. He wanted me to become as entranced by the storyteller’s art as he was…He own reading was astoundingly eclectic. He loved poetry and prose, fiction and non-fiction…” (page 3)

“Once I’d reached the age where literary art is appreciated as much as bravado storytelling, my father began recommending literary books for me to read. Years later he told me that one of his fondest wishes had been that one day I’d grow into an appreciation of literature so that he and I could share and discuss the same books, some he would find to read, some I’d share with him. And finally we did…” (page 4)

“…Without a doubt, my father used Snoopy the author to express his own love and frustration with the creative process, to illuminate the writer’s life by poking fun at the often incomprehensible divide between author and publisher while showing the amazing resilience of the everyday writer struggling for acceptance and acknowledgment…” (page 11)

          In his Introduction, Barnaby Conrad gives readers a glimpse into Charles Schulz’s writing life describing his working day, writing space, and some of his habits that he caught while interviewing him for The New York Times Magazine. Schulz shared his views on writing, art, music, and genius as well.

In the 32 essays by other authors/writers, they offer advice, reflections, and warnings that are enlightening. Not every essay appealed to me, one even offended me, but here are a few quotes I loved:

“My biggest piece of advice is don’t use desperately boring description to elaborate on something technical or dole out heavy explanation...The reader will ignore it and be bored. Describe it in dialogue. The vision in the in the mind of the reader flies so much faster, and the reader actually understands and enjoys hearing what the characters say about it.

                                                --Clive Cussler (page 36)

“The rules for writing a best-seller are simple:

·        Take an idea you really, really like.

·        Develop it until it is brilliant.

·        Rewrite it for a year or two, until every word shines.

Then bite your nails, hold your breath, and pray like mad.

                                                --Sidney Sheldon (page 40)

“The joy about writing is that as long as you write from your heart, a thousand English degrees cannot compete with that. And remember, an editor can always correct your spelling and fix your grammar, but only you can tell your story.”

                                                --Fannie Flagg (page 69)

“To me, writing a book is a two-part process. The first part, and probably the toughest, is starting a book…

The second part, which I’ve always considered much easier, is completing the book. It’s much longer than starting, but also considerably easier—because now, momentum is on my side.”

                                                --Jay Conrad Levinson (page 112)

“I always tell my writing students to become completely aware of their bodies as they write. I tell them that their minds will lie to them all the time, but their guts will never lie to them. You know when you are afraid, don’t you? You feel it; you don’t think it. You know when you are excited, too…you have to learn to apply that gut reaction to your writing…”

                                                --Elizabeth George (page 123)

I wish I could reprint Elizabeth George’s entire essay as she gave great advice, but you will have to discover it for yourself. She ends with:

“I think the writing life is the best there is. It’s also the most challenging. It’s filled with a heck of a lot of difficult moments, but overcoming them is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.” (page 124)

          I have to agree.



Monday, August 15, 2016

A Chance to Connect with Readers

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          Every book I look at on my shelves inspires me. These authors could not know how their work would be received, but they persevered. What if they gave up and didn’t finish their work? How much poorer my life would be without their books.

          We cannot judge how our work will affect others. We can only complete our work and give it a chance to be discovered, a chance to connect with readers.

          Focus on writing even as you take in life around you wherever that may be. Jot down impressions and notes if you can’t stop and write full sentences.

Be persistent.

Writing is an adventure. You can plot where you want to go, but twists and turns appear on the page regardless.

          Writing happens on so many levels: what you see or hear now, what happened in the past, what you imagine—and what you don’t.

          You cannot imagine exactly how your life will be changed when you send your work out into the world, but, for writers, that’s what we do.

          Imagine that. Be inspired by that. Do that.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Reads for Writers: Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion by William Kenower

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          When I started out to become a writer, I didn’t know any writers except the ones I read and loved. I didn’t know how to write an article or a book or what comprised a workday. I only knew I wanted to write, too.

          Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg gave me an on ramp into the writing life. As I have mentioned previously, it was a great help to start a writing career.

Since then, I’ve become a professional writer. I know and edit many writers, but the writing process is different for each one of us. Because I mostly work alone, I’m always looking for writing companions.
I’ve found a few books like: For Writers Only: Inspiring thoughts on the exquisite pain and heady joy of the writing life from its great practitioners by Sophy Burnham; The Writer’s Home Companion by Joan Bolker, Ed.D.; Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury; The War of Art: Break Through Your Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield; The Writing Life by Ellen Gilchrist; Blue Pastures by Mary Oliver; The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life by Julia Cameron; Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott; and Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman. As for blogs, I recommend Writing Wednesdays by Steven Pressfield and Kristin Lamb’s award-winning blog.

While browsing for something to read recently, I came across Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion by William Kenower. In his 80 concise essays about writing, Kenower shares some life stories, beliefs, insights, advice, topics to consider, successes, failures as well as quotes from other writers.

On pages 12 & 13:

Every day when writers sit down to write, they must ask themselves this question of, “What do I most want to say?” over and over again…

…What do I most want?

Life, and well-being, is really as simple as that…that question remains the most courageous , the most meaningful, and also the most frightening  question you will ever answer…as a writer, if you answer authentically you may see a combination of words on the page that you have never read before, which is both exhilarating and frightening…

On page 97:

Through writing you can learn the endlessly practical discipline of trust. You learn to trust because you are forever the judge and jury of all decisions in your life, and writing draws this fact into stark relief. You must trust yourself finally, or nothing will ever get written.

          On page 149:

…I only got to discover that I love to write once. And yet writing, like some marriages, can be a constant discovery. As with writing, love is not some destination but a portal, a window through which to see life as I intend to lead it.

          On page 159:

So do not think about writing beautifully, think only about writing clearly and about what you care the most. Let the words take the shape of whatever your clarity demands, and then let it go. If you manage to say precisely what you mean, you will have provided another person the opportunity to share in what you love, and there is little in the world more beautiful than that.


          Like the other companion books I listed, Write Within Yourself sits on a shelf near my writing desk. I write alone, but I have a support system.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Instant Inspiration

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          This morning, I let the dogs out to play in the yard. The youngest is eight months old and ready for anything. He starts each day racing out the door to scare any birds daring to stand on his lawn. He has no hope of catching them, he just loves the chase.

          When he stopped to watch proudly as the birds flew away, a medium-sized, mostly black butterfly fluttering off to his left caught his attention. Immediately, he gave chase.

          I thought the butterfly would soar away, but it stayed low zigging and zagging. The puppy ran, jumped, then pounced. I held my breath, but the butterfly stayed aloft. When it circled around, the puppy lost sight of it. Again I thought he would fly away, but the butterfly flew back to the puppy engaging him in another chase. He did this over and over again.

Was the butterfly playing or panicking or practicing his flying maneuvers?

For almost five minutes the two were unaware of anything but each other. The butterfly would travel about fifteen feet in one direction, then circle around and go in the opposite direction with the puppy frolicking behind him. The butterfly only flew over the fence when the other dogs tried to join the fun.

Back in the house, the dogs drank water and the puppy settled down for a nap. I settled down in front of my computer inspired to catch this unique interaction on the page.