It’s a short week here in the U.S., as Thursday is Thanksgiving, so I thought I’d share another of The Paris Review blog‘s wonderful series of videos where writers share their “first time” getting into print/publishing. So often writers are told to write the thing they want to read. In the case of Katori Hall, she saw a definite absence of a certain type of play when she went to prepare a scene for an acting class — something that featured two young black women in conversation — and so she decided it was up to her to fill that gap.
Happy Friday, everyone. I hope you all had a good, productive week, despite the ugliness that’s been taking place in the wake of the attacks in Paris. Wishing you a warm, safe corner with people you love, whatever part of the world you happen to hail from.
That said, I’m going to get right to this Friday’s links. Whether you’re enjoying a leisurely weekend or plowing through your #NaNo novel or working industriously on some other project, I hope you have time to check a few of these out. It felt like a particularly good week for interesting, writerly posts, particularly when it comes to writing something different and outside the box. Enjoy, and happy writing!
David Mitchell: Advice to a Young Writer – Some really excellent thoughts from the novelist.
English Is Not Normal – A fun article on some of the stand-out facets of the English language.
Finding Alice’s “Wonderland” in Oxford – A look at the areas of Oxford University frequented by author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) and young Alice Liddell — the inspiration for his heroine.
From Murakami to Oates, Why Does Running Appeal to Writers? – Interesting look at the relationship between running and writing.
The Art of the Strange Writing Exercise – On breaking out of the norm and experimenting with your writing.
How Could You Like that Book? – Why we read what we read, even when others don’t understand.
The Paris Review blog features a series on writers’ first times, short videos in which they talk about how they started out and what project allowed them to break through into publication. Each story is unique and, I think, encouraging in some way, particularly because they illustrate so clearly that the one thing these writers all have in common is persistence.
Today’s author is Donald Antrim, author of Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World.
Happy Friday the 13th! Does anyone truly get spooked when that day and date collide? I’ve always wondered. One of these days I need to look more closely into the origins of the superstition. I do know that in some countries, 13 is considered a lucky number. Funny how differently these things develop depending on where you are.
In my book, Fridays are a good thing pretty much across the board, though this week I anticipate burning a bit of midnight oil to finish up some things I swore wouldn’t creep into the weekend. Earlier this week I had my phone and internet upgraded, and of course that meant no service plus a technician on the premises for a good chuck of a day. It never ceases to amaze me what a few lost hours of work time can do to my schedule. But on the upside, I now have speedier internet, and my computer no longer groans when I go to download email with enormous manuscripts attached.
But enough chatter; I have Friday links to share. This week I seem to have a backlog of links I’ve been meaning to post previous weeks along with some new things I discovered, so in the interest of closing tabs, I’m just going to throw them down and let you all go to town. Plenty to entertain and inspire here, especially if you’re feeling like you need a bit of a pep talk. Enjoy, and happy writing!
Colum McCann’s Letter to a Young Writer – Some lovely words of advice to keep you plugging along, no matter your age or stage of writing career.
How Do You Write for Teenagers? – Looking to write YA? Here are some words of wisdom from writers in the know.
I Hate Women’s Fiction and I’ll Tell You Why – An impassioned and intelligent look at the distinction between works of fiction about women written by women, and those written by men.
Why We Read (and Write) Short Stories – An interesting analysis by skilled short-story writer Lorrie Moore.
The Rachel Connection: Why Rachel Fershleiser Is a Wizard of New York’s Literary Community – The woman behind bookish Tumblr.
How to Build Your Own Self-Hosted Author Website in 30 Minutes – Clear step-by-step instructions from author Joanna Penn.
To Question and Be Questioned: The Millions Interviews Azar Nafisi – An interview with the author of Reading Lolita in Tehran and The Republic of Imagination: A Life in Books.
6 Things You Should Never Write About for NaNoWriMo – A list of things to avoid when diving into NaNoWriMo, or, in the case of most of them, any writing project at all.
Practice makes perfect. While the relative perfection of any finished project is up for debate, the reality of writing, as with many creative endeavors, is that you need to work at your craft in order to improve.
When you were a small child, first learning the building blocks of what would eventually become your ability to write – the alphabet, how to fashion individual letters, how to spell short words: cat, hat, bat – no one expected you to get these things right the first time you tried. The adults teaching you understood that it would take time for you to remember all the letters, to comprehend their meaning, to adjust to holding a pencil and forcing it to make recognizable shapes, to memorize what letters represented the words you already knew. They coaxed you through repetitions, assured you of your progress when you grew frustrated, and encouraged you to keep adding new skills to your arsenal.
Writing a novel is no different, and I feel it’s particularly important to stress this now, in the midst of NaNoWriMo, when so many aspiring authors dive into the task of writing a novel in a month. Publishing professionals, and agents in particular, are quick to remind NaNo participants that their completed NaNo novel is in no way ready for submission on November 30th. What you create during this month is a draft, a very early version of what your book might one day be. But more importantly, this month of writing every day, of shaking off your internal editor and sitting down to add more words to your project instead of editing or deleting yesterday’s efforts — this month serves as a fabulous writing exercise.
Whether you are writing for NaNoWriMo or just for yourself on an average day of the year, each time you sit in front of your keyboard or pick up a pen and notebook, you work a sort of alchemy. You are creating a story out of thin air, plucking the idea from your imagination and personal experiences and influences, then fashioning it into something some other person might read. Any given day you might write a string of sentences or pages that never make it past the confines of your writing desk. They might get rewritten later on or you might give up on that particular concept and move on to something else. But never consider those abandoned pages wasted effort, because the act of writing requires practice, and part of any practice is understanding what not to do as much as what you should do.
Producing 50,000 words in a month can be a difficult haul, especially for a new writer, but ignore the naysayers who tell you that you’re crazy to do it. Because at the end of thirty days, you will have a great deal of writing practice under your belt and a good chunk of first draft to play with. Likely you’ll need to add to it, since most novels are a longer than 50,000 words. And you will undoubtedly need to revise it. Parts might get discarded, and others changed until they barely resemble their origins. There are plenty of stories of professional writers who cherry picked through their NaNo drafts, taking only the interesting bits to make a better book. But that’s no different from any first draft of a project. First drafts are meant to be jumping off points, not finished works. And with every first draft you create, your writing skills get more polished, more adept. Each book teaches you something new.
So to those of you participating in NaNoWriMo this month, whether for the first time for the fifteenth, I say good for you and happy writing. The same goes to anyone simply plugging along with their writing practice, because of course you don’t need an organized event to write daily. After all, there are eleven other months in the year, and practice makes perfect.
These days Friday feels like just one more herald of the coming of year’s end. Work weeks are busy and weekends are filled with attempts to catch up not just with additional work but with every single thing I intend to accomplish before 2016 rolls around. Anyone else feeling that same sense of speeding up to fit everything in before the holidays hit?
For those of you participating in NaNoWriMo, this weekend marks the one-week point. Don’t think about being ahead or behind, just get those words down. Write, write, write, and the editing and polishing will come later. Remember that everyone’s first draft is pretty crappy, no matter whether you’re writing to a deadline or just working your way through the story at a leisurely pace. First drafts are just a jumping-off point.
Whether or not you’re swamped with NaNo and a long to-do list, I hope you’ll take a few moments to check out some of this week’s links. They range from entertaining to practical, and there should be something to appeal to everyone. Enjoy, and happy writing!
21 Invaluable Writing Tips from Renowned British Writers – Some excellent advice here.
Scrivener for NaNoWriMo – Some great tips on using the writing program to organize and work through your NaNo novel.
Scrivener NaNoWriMo Offers – Discounts on the writing software in honor of NaNoWriMo; either 20% off now, or 50% later if you complete NaNo.
My 2.5 Star Trip to Amazon’s Bizarre New Bookstore – Amazon opened their first brick-and-mortar shop this week in Seattle. One visitor’s thoughts.
Want a Jane Austen Quote Delivered to You Everyday? – A new app for Jane Austen fans.
The Book Seer – A fun new online tool that recommends books based on the last one you read (and presumably liked).
Walter Dean Myers, Writing White, and Affirmation – One writer learns to put herself into her work.
What Do Writers Owe Readers? – A thoughtful look at the reader/writer dynamic, and the level of expectation that sometimes seems to come from having read an author’s work.
No matter how much you love something — your job, a favorite book, playing sports, chocolate chip cookies — there comes a time when you need to take a break from it. Nothing remains lovable 24/7 for weeks or months on end. It might be tempting to indulge, especially if you haven’t had access to something for a while, but the risk of binging is always going to be burnout.
Writing is no different. Whether it’s something you work on full-time as a career, or you squeeze it between your day job and family obligations, writing draws upon your creative reserves and demands you give it your full attention when you sit down in front of that blank page. It can be exciting and rewarding, but also emotionally draining to the point of exhaustion. That burnout can lead to some common issues, including writer’s block or sudden disinterest in a project that previously had you all fired up.
As with a day job that gives you weekends off and a couple of weeks of vacation each year, you need to schedule small vacations from your writing in order to keep the creative energy flowing. Julia Cameron refers to this as “refilling the well” in her series of books on writing. She recommends a weekly “artist’s date,” where you take yourself off for some non-writing personal time for a couple of hours — a trip to a museum, a movie, a long walk. But it doesn’t need to be a hard-and-fast weekly thing. Consider how much time you spend writing and then plan your breaks in proportion. But do take them seriously. Mark them on your calendar and don’t blow them off for anything other than a true emergency.
So what does it mean to refill the well? The idea is to simultaneously give your creative mind a break where you stop demanding it deliver story content, and to garner a bit of inspiration to supplement your existing arsenal. Creativity is a funny thing; the more you imagine, the more you can dream up, but the variety and strength of the ideas does require fresh input from time to time. It can be as casual as giving yourself permission to daydream without the pressures of an agenda, or as formal as planning a full day of culture or other activities. Take into account your level of fatigue; if your burnout is purely mental then some physical activity might make for a great break, but if you’re exhausted on every level, plan something low key and relaxing. Try mixing it up, as well, so you’re not always focusing on the same senses. Listen to music with your eyes closed, or wander through a botanical garden and smell the different flowers.
You can refill the well with purpose, too, checking out things that might help you flesh out the background of your current writing project, but try to make the focus on taking a break rather than looking at your outing as research. Let yourself absorb the sites and sounds and information, but draw the line at taking notes. You want to come away inspired and refreshed, not feeling like you were actually working.
What sorts of activities are good for filling the well? Anything that lets your thoughts wander and sparks new ideas. Long walks through new neighborhoods make for great opportunities to daydream, people watch, and check out different architecture. Or hike a local walking trail or through a nearby state park. If you live somewhere that offers walking tours, take one and get a new perspective on your city. Take in a sporting event or participate in one yourself: pick-up basketball, a local running club, etc. Seasonal outdoor activities can also make for wonderful breaks: apple picking, ice skating on a pond, horseback riding, gardening, sailing, wandering on a beach.
If you’re more of an indoor person, check out local museums, concert venues, or theatrical productions. Fix a mug of tea and stretch out on your couch with your favorite music playing. Indulge in a bit of pampering: a massage, a good manicure and pedicure, a facial. Take yourself out for a nice lunch in a restaurant, someplace where you can sit in the window and watch the world go by. Take a cooking class or learn to throw pottery. Head for the local arts theater and see a foreign film or documentary. Hit up some yard sales or wander through thrift stores and see what sorts of strange items you find for sale. Live near an historical site? Go take a tour. Indulge a neglected hobby.
Ideally, you will schedule these breaks occasionally and keep yourself from reaching the burnout stage. Think of them as mind maintenance. But if you do run yourself ragged — whether from pushing to make a deadline or because your non-writing life has conspired to keep you hopping — make a point of refilling the well as soon as possible. The worse the burnout, the more time off you’ll require — and you might need to devote time to a nice nap as well as to your well-refilling activities. Treat your creative mind as the important writing tool it is, and you’ll keep your best ideas flowing when you need them.
TGIF! End of the week, on the cusp of Halloween, and nearly ready to turn the clocks back an hour here in most of the U.S. and a few other spots that are in sync with us. (Yes, that’s this weekend.) I wish I could say I was looking forward to an extra hour of reading, but like many people I suspect, I’m actually looking forward to an extra hour of sleep.
I’ve been in post-conference mode this week, trying to catch up on email and work reading, and feeling like my office is just a bit too quiet after spending a few days talking books and writing with so many wonderful people. Most of the time I enjoy working from home because I don’t have the temptation of lots of coworkers to talk to or to take breaks with, but it’s still lovely to have a chance to chat business and bookish obsessions with likeminded folk. It reminds me of all the things I enjoy about this industry and leaves me charged up to find great new manuscripts to help shepherd into the world.
But I’m happy to say I have a great collection of links this week, including the last of the Halloween-ish ones that keep grabbing my attention. I hope you find them fun and interesting, and maybe even inspirational, because a couple of these seem like excellent research material for a very cool project. Happy Halloween, everyone, and happy writing!
The Conspiracy Against a Good Night’s Sleep – Tobias Carroll on the things that scare us.
The Key of Hell: An 18th-Century Manual of Black Magic – A bit disturbing, but interesting nonetheless. The page includes further links to articles on magic etc.
Why Are Old Women often the Face of Evil in Fairy Tales and Folklore? – An intriguing (and slightly depressing) story from the folks at NPR.
American Writers Museum Slated to Open in Chicago in 2017 – This will be the first U.S. museum to celebrate American writers, including authors of books and poetry, journalists, and prominent contributors to social media.
In the Sandbox of Words: On Puzzles and Novels – A look at the connection between wordplay and writing.
Really, Really Big Books: A Reading List – Some excellent fat books to check out if you’re looking for a doorstop for a chilly fall/winter night.
The Writer’s Guide to Essential Gear – Writer and artist Danny Gregory provides a helpful list of all the tools he uses for his writing.
Writing is a solitary activity. Even writers who work with co-authors, or who break story ideas in a group as part of a television writing staff, must eventually sit down to face that blank page on their own. Beyond the act of getting down the words, however, dwells a wealth of opportunities for writers to interact, exchange ideas and experiences, and enjoy a community of people who understand precisely what it means to wrestle an idea into shape or struggle to ramp up the tension in a scene. Fellow writers read your work and offer constructive criticism, provide insight into where you might research an obscure facet of your story, and share knowledge about the submissions and/or publishing process. Other writers provide your network of both practical information and emotional support; in short, they are your tribe.
Whenever I attend a writing conference, it strikes me anew just how important it is for writers to escape the trap of working entirely in a void. Writers who know other writers also know more about the business, have a better grasp of the publishing process, and tend to have fewer typos and plot holes in their manuscripts. That’s not to say having a writing community means automatic publication and a swift path to bestsellerdom, but it does help writers avoid the more obvious pitfalls along the way, and provides some understanding shoulders on those days when frustration overwhelms determination.
But where do you find other writers? Writing isn’t the sort of career where you necessarily meet colleagues in your office, sitting one desk over. Most writers have other jobs to pay their bills, and not everyone who goes home to a second shift writing stories discusses their ambitions around their day-job’s water cooler. So where to start?
Writing conferences and conventions that revolve around genre writing make for obvious choices, and they come in a variety of sizes and for different budgets. Go prepared to both learn things and socialize. Many events offer an introductory session for first-time attendees, but even if they don’t, you can meet people simply by speaking with the person next to you in a workshop or at a meal. Ask what they write or what they’re currently reading. In a gathering of writers, you have built-in ice breakers. You can even arrange to meet people ahead of time through Twitter using the event hashtag.
If conferences are out of your budget or if travel poses difficulties, check out opportunities in your own town or nearby. Writers’ organizations, such as Romance Writers of America (RWA), have local chapters that meet monthly to discuss their members’ achievements, hear from guest speakers, and encourage each other to reach for their goals, and can offer a ready-made tribe of writers who work in your genre. Writing classes come in all sizes and shapes — from continuing education at the local university or high school to courses offered at the community center or YMCA — and give you the chance to meet other writers in the process. If you want to find a writing group, ask your librarian or at area bookstores to see if they have information about existing meetings, or go to MeetUp.com and see if they have a group near you.
The internet, of course, makes a wonderful resource for connecting with other writers. You don’t have to meet face-to-face in order to chat about writing with other likeminded individuals, and many writers work with critique partners or beta readers who live thousands of miles away by emailing back and forth, chatting online, making use of Skype, etc. Online classes can be less costly than those in real life, and many offer the opportunity to read and critique the work of your classmates. Some writers’ sites offer forums, such as this one at Writer’s Digest, where you can post questions, introduce yourself, and chat with other posters. Participate in the comments section of writers’ blogs — not solely to find critique partners, but to become part of the community at large by engaging and offering your own thoughts. Follow writers you admire on Twitter, as well as editors, publishing houses, and other industry accounts to learn more about the business as well as what’s happening in the wider writing community. Even if you don’t want to write a novel in a month, consider participating in NaNoWriMo and getting to know people through their local writing meet ups and extensive forums. Although not everyone will have professional aspirations, there will be plenty of published and hoping-to-publish writers in the mix. As with any social interaction, please use some caution when meeting online acquaintances for the first time in person and start off in a public place.
Building a writing community won’t happen overnight, but it’s worth making the investment of time and effort it takes to develop your personal tribe.
A few additional resources to check out:
- Mystery Writers of America
- Absolute Write
- SFF Online Writing Workshops
- Gotham Writers Workshop
- Guide to Writers Conferences & Writing Workshops
Greetings from Surrey, B.C., Canada, where I’m attending the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. For those of you looking to attend an excellent, all-genre conference in the next year or two, I highly recommend this one. Great organizers, programming to meet a wide variety of interests and skill levels, and an excellent faculty-to-writer ratio.
Just because I’ve escaped to cooler climes (it’s actually autumn here!), doesn’t mean I have forgotten about Friday links. I’ve got a nice array this week, and I hope they leave you inspired and excited to read and/or write this weekend. Enjoy!
Get Booked Episode 4: Haunted by Horror – This is a relatively new podcast from the folks at Book Riot, where they recommend books in response to a few questions from readers, in this case with a great Halloween/horror theme.
How I Got Millayed – A lovely look at how the author became intrigued by the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay.
How Libraries Acquire Books – An interesting peek behind the process.
Margaret Atwood on Vampires, Gene-Splicing, and Talking Turnips – Because my going to Canada calls for an appropriately Canadian author link.