Tag Archives: writing

Write on Wednesday

Write on Wednesday for this week is about warm-ups. Warming up is important in a host of activities, from running to singing to, yes, writing. I suppose there are people in this world who can just sit down and churn out great prose, but alas, I am not one of those people. Often my warm-up is a blog post or a book review or a diary entry, but I’ve found even those activities, as unrelated to the task at hand as they may be, help get my mind into the writing groove.

The original post mentions morning pages, as described in The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I have a copy of this book on my shelf, and have read up to the start of Week 1, so I know about the morning pages and the artist dates. I’ve never done the date, but I have tried morning pages from time to time. I can’t seem to make them stick. First off, my mornings are already pretty packed: I get up at 5:45am, eat breakfast, make my lunch, take a shower, and go to work. I’ve tried getting up earlier but every time I end up getting sick within a month. I think the idea of morning pages is fantastic; I’ve just had no success at incorporating it into my life.

That said, freewriting is still a big part of my writing practice. I use a writing prompt or just start rambling about whatever’s on my mind at the moment. Sometimes it’s focused freewriting, which is how I approach quality-free challenges such as NaNoWriMo, but most of the time I just let myself wander. From time to time a nugget of a story pops out, and that makes it all worth it.

Write on Wednesday

Okay, so it’s not Wednesday, but I just discovered this blog and I’ve decided to participate here and there. This week’s Write on Wednesday talks about – what else? – NaNoWriMo, also known as National Novel Writing Month. I’ve blogged about this before, how it’s a month-long challenge every November to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days. I’ve participated four times (2003-2006) and won the latter three times. In 2004 it was a Real Accomplishment. In 2005 I won and got married in the same month. In 2006 I finished in only 13 days. After that I decided that my problem is clearly not blathering on for pages and pages. You see, I have yet to actually read any of my NaNovel manuscripts. I haven’t done any rewriting or editing, and though those stories may conclude with “The End”, they are far from finished.

Do I feel that NaNoWriMo is a waste of time? Of course not! Writing practice is terribly important. The more you write, the better you become. I write pretty much every day, even if it’s just some random scribblings in one of the beat-up old notebooks I drag around with me everywhere. One of these days I may decide to buckle down and churn out a real novel, and I may even use a NaNoWriMo-like schedule to get a first draft. But for now, I think I’m happier doing my own thing. Good luck to all you NaNoers, though. Writing with wild abandon is fun.

Steering the Craft by Ursula K. LeGuin

Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin: The structure of this book is quite simple but surprisingly useful. Each chapter covers a certain aspect of writing (point of view, description, dialogue, etc.), beginning with a brief overview, giving sample passages from other works, and ending with an exercise. The exercise comes with critiquing suggestions for those writing in groups and things to consider for those working alone. The occasional opinion essay comes up now and again, always labeled as such, so you know when you’re learning a rule and when you’re just getting another angle on the topic. I admit I didn’t actually do any of the exercises, but they were interesting and worthy. Much better than your standard “describe your morning routine” exercises that show up in most writing books. I also felt like I was being treated like an adult. Le Guin is not taking you by the hand here; she is showing you the path. There is no talk of publication or rejection letters, nothing about recapturing your creativity or affirming your right to write. This book was clearly not written for people looking to write a bestselling novel or take up a brand new hobby. It is, in short, a book for people who enjoy writing and would like to do so better. Would that more writing books were of this calibre.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Assorted book reviews

I’m behind on my book reviews again. Here’s another bunch.

The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger (unabridged audiobook read by Bernadette Dunne): Since the movie was so popular, I probably don’t need to mention that this is the story of recent college graduate Andrea Sachs and her year of servitude to Runway Magazine editor-in-chief Miranda Priestly. As her time under the thumb of this self-possessed, uber-demanding witch continues, Andrea finds all the things she used to cherish – her family, boyfriend, and best friend – slipping away from her. It definitely had its funny moments, but all in all I wasn’t too impressed with Andrea. She was snobbish and I was simply not convinced that she or anyone else believed her constant torment as Junior Assistant was really worth a vague possibility that Miranda could get her any job she wished at the end of it (her dream is to work at The New Yorker). I found myself repeatedly wondering why she didn’t just quit already. Still, it was a decently light and fun way to pass an otherwise intolerably long commute. I’m looking forward to seeing the movie now. I hear Meryl Streep is absolutely delightful.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (unabridged audiobook read by Justine Eyre and Paul Michael): An interesting take on the Dracula legend told mostly in the form of letters from various people who hunted him. Though a bit slow and academic in some places, by and large it’s a fascinating psuedo-history lesson.

Innumeracy by John Allen Paulos: Innumeracy is not the inability to count, but rather a lack of a general grasp of numbers and how they work. Its dangers, and they are many, are generally outlined in this book, though it is not nearly as alarmist as it could have been. The target audience is mostly the innumerate and those numerates who are curious or concerned about innumeracy. Though I was familiar with all the mathematical concepts covered, I did learn some new things and discovered some new ways of looking at information. Though far from dense, the writing style is not quite as accessible as I’d hoped, and I suspect most innumerates and math-phobes will pass it by. Which is a shame.

Bill the Galactic Hero by Harry Harrison: The first in a series of loony escapades of a country bumpkin turned soldier. In truth it felt more like a prequel, explaining the origins of Bill’s involvement with the Troopers, his two right arms, and his tusks. It was a very quick read and definitely had its funny moments, but it would probably be funnier to someone who doesn’t deal with painfully inane bureaucracy in real life. I have a feeling the next books will be better now that the characters are established.

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer (unabridged audiobook): This is the story of Jonathan the American and Alex the Ukrainian, who are both writing novels and sharing them with each other chapter by chapter. The stories switch off regularly: first a portion of Alex’s novel about his time working as translator for Jonathan as they journey through Ukraine looking for a woman who saved Jonathan’s grandfather from the Nazis during WWII. Next is a chapter from Jonathan’s novel about his ancestors in Ukraine. Lastly is a letter from Alex to Jonathan to discuss their novels-in-progress. There were two readers: one playing Alex and reading his novel and letters, and the other reading Jonathan’s novel. Alex’s frequent malapropisms are quite funny, in no small part due to the talented reader, but the back-and-forth of translation often leads to an obnoxious amount of repetition. Jonathan’s novel is, sadly, a complete waste of time. I’m not sure how much of this is due to the awkward, boring reader and how much is simply overwrought prose.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger: It is extremely rare for me to get emotionally attached to fictional characters. As much as I enjoy reading, it’s more a pastime than a driving need to dive back into the tale. Not so with this book. I adored the characters. I was entranced by Clare and Henry’s relationship, and fascinated by Henry’s genetic disorder that causes him to travel through time without any control over when or where he ends up. I cried – no, sobbed – at certain moments with a depth of feeling I haven’t had for fiction in a very, very long time. I highly recommend this book.

Animal Farm by George Orwell (unabridged audiobook): I’m pretty sure I saw the animated film at some point in my youth, but the book is far better. Orwell is brilliant as usual. And it certainly didn’t hurt that the reader was very engaging.

Anybody Can Write by Roberta Jean Bryant: Bryant believes that above all, writing should be fun. That if a writer isn’t enjoying his/her own story, neither will the reader. She accepts the reality of many drafts and much rewriting, but sees that part of the process as rewarding as the initial creative spurts. All in all it’s an engaging read that didn’t really inspire me. Included are several “Wordplay” exercises, none of which interested me very much. Of course, every writer is different, so perhaps this book would be just the trick for someone with another style.

How I Write by Janet Evanovich and Ina Yalof

How I Write by Janet Evanovich and Ina Yalof (unabridged audiobook, multiple readers): I am not very familiar with Evanovich’s work. I read One for the Money and thought it was cute but felt no special desire to read anything else by her. However, I am always curious to hear what bestselling authors have to say about writing since obviously something they are doing is working. I was pleasantly surprised with this one. Evanovich takes us from character development all the way through book tours in a light, funny question-and-answer format. She is realistic about the publication process (she collected rejection slips for ten years before publishing her first book) while remaining optimistic and upbeat about the entire journey. It’s also quite thorough: since the questions come from ten years of reader emails, even minutia like webpage design, paper quality for manuscripts, and transitions are covered, and in the back there is a list of references. This is one of the few books I would recommend all aspiring authors to keep on hand. I borrowed it from the library but I plan on getting my own copy soon. That’s high praise from someone who almost never rereads books.

No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty

No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty: The idea behind this book is identical to that of the internet phenomenon also founded by Baty: National Novel Writing Month, that is, writing 50,000 words of a novel in the span of a single month. There are no quality standards, and indeed you are discouraged from editing, rereading, or anything else besides increasing your wordcount. This book would more accurately be called The Joy of Writing. It’s not exactly a how-to book, but rather an embrace-the-fun book, full of light-hearted encouragement and amusing asides. I will say that I never would have picked up this book had I never participated in NaNoWriMo. Its very subtitle sounds like a scam: “A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days.” The thing is, this book is not about writing a polished, ready-for-publication novel in 30 days (though there are a few pages at the end on revising and rewriting after the month is over). It’s about writing with wild abandon and how much fun it is. You won’t learn much about writing in general, but you will learn a lot about what works and what doesn’t in terms of your own writing habits. If you’re fairly new to the writing scene and have always wanted to try your hand at a novel just for fun, pick this one up. On the other hand, if you are a serious writer who is looking for serious writing advice, you probably won’t find much of use in here.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card

How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card: I’ve read a lot of books about writing, and while this one does not say anything I didn’t already know, it does go into more detail specifically regarding the speculative fiction genre. For example, Card explains things like the use of metaphor in science fiction (very tricky); the importance of backstory, world history, and even alien evolution (and what happens if you skimp on it); and developing the rules of the universe you’ve created. This is a good book as far as writing speculative fiction goes, but it assumes you already know something about fiction writing in general. I would recommend it as a companion or secondary book on writing, not the very first thing you pick up upon making the decision to try your hand at the craft.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss

Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss: What a charming little book! With genuine affection for the subject matter and a large helping of wit, Truss methodically runs down the rules for apostrophes, periods, commas, exclamation points, question marks, dashes, quotation marks, hyphens, and brackets. If the very word “punctuation” causes you to yawn despairingly, this book is probably not for you. However, if you have even a passing interest in communicating more effectively, I heartily recommend picking up a copy. Contrary to popular belief, the purpose of punctuation is not to drive you bats, but to clarify the written word. It’s quite useful, really, as is demonstrated so well in this book. I learned a lot without ever feeling lectured to, and even laughed quite a bit.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

One Writer’s Beginnings by Eudora Welty

One Writer’s Beginnings by Eudora Welty: I confess, I have not read any of Ms. Welty’s stories. The only reason I’d even heard of this book was because some famous author listed it as required reading for all aspiring writers. Having read it, I’m not entirely sure why. Sure, it’s a lovely painting of life in early 20th century Mississippi, but besides making the point of “good writers can come from any background” there isn’t much to be gained in terms of writing advice. So while I may recommend it as a descriptive and nostalgic memoir, I would not include it in my personal list of a writer’s essential texts.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

On Writing by Stephen King

On Writing by Stephen King: I have read very little King in my time – The Gunslinger might be the only one – but he is prolific and popular but not too pretentious, so he is worth listening to. This is a book in two sections: memoirs and writing advice. The memoirs felt a little tedious, but I understand why they were included. Your life – especially your childhood – is what shapes your writing.

Many writing books are either discouraging (you will never get published unless your father owns Random House) or full of shiny happy talk about creative orgasms (anyone can write brilliantly – just let it flow). King finds a happy medium between the two. While he does lay down some strict but reasonable ground rules about grammar, editing, and reading (if you don’t have the time to read, he says, you don’t have the time or the tools to write), he is also full of solid advice and real encouragement. This book was recommended to me as something every aspiring author should read. I concur.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

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