Monday, July 31, 2017

Motivation by Deadline

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I’m a big believer in motivation by deadline. I have paying deadlines for the magazines I write for—both in print and online. I also have fun deadlines I assign myself—fill a notebook a month which keeps me writing almost daily and projects like Backpack Literature, a textbook by X. J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia, which I love because it requires reading, learning, and writing. I can choose to complete a chapter a week or a month.

          Because writing is hard work, writers need to keep their skills sharp by reading, learning, and writing. I love books that combine the three.

          While browsing at a bookstore yesterday, I discovered two more books I’d like to set up as personal writing classes: The Jane Austen Writers’ Club: Inspiration and Advice from the World’s Best-Loved Novelist by Rebecca Smith and The Writer’s Devotional: 365 Inspirational Exercises, Ideas, Tips & Motivation on Writing by Amy Peters.

          I don’t know about Austen being the best-loved novelist in the world, but I do enjoy her work so I’m intrigued by The Jane Austen Writers’ Club. With chapters like “A Fine Pair of Eyes: Point of view,” In Jane Austen’s Pocket: Techniques and devices of the great author as well as “And What is Fifty Miles of Good Road? Making use of journeys (and staying at home) in your work” I believe I will have fun studying her work and incorporating her techniques into some of my work.

          I’m even more intrigued by The Writer’s Devotional. This is not a flimsy list of writing prompts, but a disciplined writing course. Mondays:  Writers on Writing; Tuesdays: Motivation—tips and tricks; Wednesdays:  Writing Class; Thursdays: Editing; Fridays: Biography; Saturdays: Books Writers Should Read; and Sundays: Writing Prompts.

          In the first week, the Writers on Writing section starts with a quote by Anais Nin then Amy Peters discusses The Color Purple by Alice Walker, Persepolis by Marjane Sattapi, and Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Authors discussed on other Mondays include: Anne Lamott, Lewis Carroll, Thomas Jefferson, Stephen King, George Moore, Anne Rice, John Hersey, W. D. Wetherell, Mickey Spillane, J. K. Rowling, and many more.

          Tuesdays start with a quote by a writer followed by an essay on motivation—sometimes facts and figures about a writers’ work is listed, sometimes you just need to make a decision about your work or goals, sometimes you just need to read some advice.

          Wednesdays are writing classes. Week 1—write a short bio of your best friend. Week 3—write a blog post about a recently released movie. Week 11—write a haiku about your favorite season. Week 36—record your family history of an event you did NOT attend.

          Thursday are about editing. Learn how to edit your dialogue, delete all versions of “to be” from your work, when to use italics, colons, and semicolons among many other editing tips.

          Fridays are short inspiring biographies of writers like George Orwell, Stephenie Meyer, John Grisham, Marvin Neil Simon, James Baldwin, Rick Riordan, Mary Higgins Clark, and 45 others are highlighted on Fridays.

Saturdays give readers more than 52 book recommendations especially for writers.

Sundays are writing prompts which can lead to the completion of a sentence, a paragraph, or an essay if you want to spend the time.

There is also a list of resources and references in the back along with two indexes—one of literary figures and works as well as one of daily activities. The second index is very useful as it lists all the biographies of writers, books to read, editing by topic, motivations, writing on writing topics, writing classes, and writing prompts.

I like the look of The Writer’s Devotional so it will be my next motivational personal writing class. Now I just need to find the time!

My word count for the week of July 23-29 was 5,598.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Working Writers: Songwriting With Soldiers

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          Don’t ever doubt the power of words—the power to hurt; the power to help; and the power to heal.

          Most of us have heard, said, written, and read words that hurt. We know that power. No need to dwell on it.

But what about the words which help and heal? We should dwell on them.

Several songwriters donate their time to soldiers, mostly with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as part of a healing program called Songwriting With Soldiers. It’s also a PBS show entitled In Their Own Words: Songwritering With Soldiers.

Over 2.5 million soldiers have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. One in five suffers from PTSD.

To help these soldiers, songwriter and singer Darden Smith founded this program several years ago. He wanted to help soldiers tell their stories and, since he is a songwriter, turn those stories into songs.

In this program, soldiers and their spouses go to a weekend retreat. The soldiers meet with the songwriters in the great room with a huge fireplace or at picnic tables outside or even walking through the woods.

Smith said that the most important thing is to listen to the soldiers. Ask questions, but let them tell their stories in their own words. At some point the songwriter picks up on a theme or a phrase. The two then start collaborating on a song.

In 48 hours, 12 songs were recorded and then played for the group along with their spouses. In this event, the wives of the soldiers also wrote a song with a songwriter about having different husbands come home than the ones that left.

People were crying as the songs were played. Smith watched the face of the soldier as he sang their song. He saw a burden lift off the man as he sang. When he finished, the Smith burst into tears knowing he had helped change this brave soldier’s life.

The power of words in action. Amazing!

My word count for the week of July 16-22 was 8,939.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Reads for Writers: Updates to My Summer Reading List

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          Hectic week at the magazine. Deadline was moved from the 18th back to the 16th so I’ve had a lot less time to write. For this post, I’ve decided to continue with my Summer Reading List as some readers may be looking for something to read.

          I did read Hunger by Roxane Gay which is a painful memoir, but well-written. Books about trauma are hard to recommend because readers with similar traumas will have totally different and valid takes on it.

          I also completed On Wonder and Other Survival Skills. The essays didn’t all appeal to me so a mixed review. I’m glad I read it, but not a high recommendation.

          I’m partway through Arthur & Sherlock: Conan Doyle and the Creation of Holmes by Michael Sims which is an informative read. Fans will enjoy it. I’ve already added two of the author’s other books to my reading list: The Adventures of Henry Thoreau: A Young Man’s Unlikely Journey to Walden Pond and Charlotte’s Web: E. B. White’s Eccentric Life in Nature and the Birth of an American Classic.

          I also read chapter one in Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson. I learned a great deal about what happened in the first five minutes of the Big Bang. I like the book so far.

          A friend recommended Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache series set in Canada. I like to read books in order so Still Life is in my reading pile now.

          Another friend loaned me My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues by Pamela Paul. Bob is a journal where Paul lists every book she’s read. More than a list, she shares her thoughts and parts of her life. Looks good. I’ll let you know.

Word count for the week of July 9-15 was 8,089. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Reading is Writing Vicariously

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I have filled six monthly notebooks successfully so far this year. June was in doubt as I fell far behind when visitors were here, but wrote 7,471 words on 21 pages on June 30 to meet the deadline. It wasn’t fun, but I didn’t fail.

          However, my life is a bit out of balance right now. I’m meeting all my writing deadlines—monthly notebooks, magazine assignments, and Facebook essays—although sometimes rushed, but I am not reading enough. I have completed two of the twelve books on my summer reading list. I’ve started another, but I’m a fast reader. I used to read four books a week. Now I’m lucky if it’s two.

          I have been working on a big home improvement project while also entertaining visiting friends and relatives. That does lessen the amount of time I have to read, but I guess I’m too tired to disappear into books and use my imagination to flesh out the characters. I find myself watching more movies and TV shows. This is not a terrible thing except that reading uses different parts of the brain and inspires me to write.

I need to allot more time to reading because it is writing vicariously. The words are there—the rhythm; the style; the themes; the facts or the imagination. They are not my words, but, if the writing is good, I appreciate and enjoy the words. They make me think. They invite me to meld with them. They change me. And, best of all, they inspire me.

I just read a piece where the writer (I can’t find name) noted that words were her toys and she loved playing with them. That sums it up nicely. Words, whether I read them or write them, are fun to play with—and I need to schedule a reading and a writing playdate every day.

My word count for the week of July 2-8 was 10,072.  

Monday, July 3, 2017

Reads for Writers--2017 Summer Reading List

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I have lots of books waiting to be read, but I’ve chosen the next twelve I want to complete this summer.

          I started reading Wonder and Other Survival Skills: A Selection of Essays from Orion Magazine on July 1st. I love to wonder, as most writers do, and I think it is a survival skill so the title really appealed to me. Among the contributors, I have read Diane Ackerman and Rick Bass before—in fact, I own most of each of their books—but I have never heard of Michael P. Branch whose essay “A Ladder to The Pleiades” I chose randomly to read first. It was a delight. I will never look at a night sky without thinking of his three-year-old daughter and the life lessons she taught him.

          I am not sure in which order I will read the rest of these books.

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson ties into the essay I mentioned above, but I chose it long before that because of the author and subject. I did the same with Bang! The Complete History of the Universe by Brian May (guitarist in Queen) Patrick Moore, and Chris Lintott.

As I mentioned above, I read Diane Ackerman so her book The Human Age: The World Shaped By Us is on the list.

Since I am a writer, I like to read books about writers as well as books that help me improve my writing including: Arthur & Sherlock: Conan Doyle and the Creation of Holmes by Michael Sims; Dialogue: The Art of Verbal Action for the Page, Stage, and Screen by Robert McKee; and the memoir The Dead Ladies Project: Exiles, Expats, and Ex-Countries by Jessa Crispin.

Also on the list is Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay. I saw her speak and read some of her work on Book TV on C-SPAN. She is an extraordinary writer.

In the fiction category, I have chosen Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan; Grief Cottage by Gail Godwin; and A House Among the Trees by Julia Glass. All of them tie into books and/or authors. 
My final choice is Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World by Jane Hirshfield. I also started reading this book. It is so profound and beautifully written that I recommend it to all writers. This book will be a future Masterclass blog post.

I hope you enjoy your summer reading list as much as I’m going to enjoy mine.

My word count for the week of June 25-July 1 was 15,798.