What I’m Reading, What I’m Writing: Reading challenge update and preparing to submit

Inspired by the New Hampshire Writer’s Network Live to Write – Write to Live blog, I’ve decided to start my own regular posts about what I’m currently reading in books, audio books and blogs, and what I’m working on in my writing. I hope to make this a regular (weekly or biweekly) feature on the blog.

I hope you’ll share what interesting things you’re reading and writing in the comments, and please feel free to link back to your own blog!

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As Spring timidly begins to show her reluctant face, things are picking up. I have a busy few weeks ahead and it seems the first half of summer is already spoken for. In preparation of events to come, I’ve been quiet on the social media front. While I have certainly fallen behind on my blogging, I haven’t fallen behind on my reading. In fact, with 13 out of 44 books read so far this year, I’m one book ahead of schedule on my 2014 Reading Challenge!

Here’s a look at what I’ve been up to.

What I’m ReadingApe House Sara Gruen

In the last few weeks, my selection of reads have been across a variety of genres. I took a nostalgic trip to my younger days, listening to the audio book of The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. I first read this as a teen, and I was surprised to find how much of it stayed with me over the years that have passed.

I read my first Neil Gaiman book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, a magical and transformative read. I listened to the audio book read by Neil Gaiman himself which itself was a treat!

I read Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, a fun and quirky read. I flew through a lighthearted read, The Men I Didn’t Marry, and slogged through Proof of Heaven, a book I thought I would enjoy but didn’t.

Now I’ve just picked up Sara Gruen’s Ape House. Have you ever loved a book so much, you were afraid to read another book by the same author out of fear of not loving it as much as the first? Water for Elephants ranks among my favorite books of all time, and since reading it years ago, I’ve avoided reading any of Gruen’s other novels.

I have finally put my reservations aside to read this book that I’ve wanted to read for so long.

 

What I’m Writing

After going through two rounds of critiquing with a trusted writer friend, and another set of revisions, I’m preparing to submit a short story for publication. This will be my first attempt at submitting a piece I have written, and I am equal parts excited and anxious.

I’ve begun researching literary magazines to possibly submit to (more on my lit mag adventures later) and am bracing myself for the rejections that are sure to come. I will be sure to share my progress along the way!

 

My Favorite Quote of the Week:

“Energy and persistence conquer all things.”

– Benjamin Franklin

Blogs and findings around the Interwebs

Five amazing tips to help you write your novel
I love these tips from Alice Hoffman.

Advice every young writer needs to hear
A collection of short videos from published authors sharing their advice.

Oh, the Places you’ll Go!
From the Write Unboxed blog, how to create an authentic sense of place in fiction.

The 9 Ingredients for Character Development
Some tips from Writer’s Digest

23 Essential Quotes from Ernest Hemingway
What can I say, I just LOVE quotes about writing. This is a great collection of some great ones from Hemingway.

10 Life Lessons to Excel in your 30s
I enjoyed this article and hope to get a head start on a few of these things before I enter the next decade of life!

 

Enjoy the weekend!

What are you reading? What writing projects are you currently working on? Share your reading and writing adventures in the comments, and feel free to link back to your own blog!

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Floor Plans and Visuals in World Building

There are lots of ways I plan and generate ideas when I’m building the world of a story. When I’m working on a novel, I get a notebook where I can jot down everything from outlines and timelines to characters sketches and scene ideas.

I’ve heard of many writers who doodle and draw in their creative process. While I like visual inspiration,  I am no artist, so my brainstorming usually takes written form – journal entries, letters and scribbled questions.

One thing I do like to see a visual of is a layout of my character’s home.

floor plan

When I am building the world of my characters, it often starts with the place where they live. Do they live in a studio apartment, a townhouse, a mansion? How many rooms does it have? Is it spacious or cramped?  How is it decorated?

In the days when Internet was dial-up, I used to look through home and garden magazines and department store catalogs to find images that seemed to reflect my characters’ tastes in bedding, curtains, furniture and gardens. I would clip them and save them in folders that I could revisit when I needed help describing something or setting the scene.

Pinterest has since replaced my magazine clipping and is a fun way to collect ideas and inspiration. (see my post on Pinterest for Writers, Readers and Bloggers)

I found websites that let you design floor plans for free which can be a ton of fun but mostly, I don’t have the patience for all that. All I need is a rough sketch to help me visualize things.

Sketching a floor plan usually comes somewhere in the middle of the creative process for me. I’ll have a vague image of the space in my mind as I’m writing, but eventually I get to a point where I like to see how everything is connected. Once I draw out the floor plan, it helps me to understand where my characters (physically) are as they move through the rooms.

After I have a solid grasp around the layout of the rooms, I can focus on the details like the  arrangement of the furniture and the location of windows and doors.

Then I turn to visuals like Pinterest to think about the decor and how it reflects the character’s personality and tastes.

Slowly, it all starts to come together. I no longer have characters walking around in white-washed rooms, they have a leather couch to collapse on to and a copper tea kettle on the gas stove to make a warm beverage.

Writers, do you create floor plans when you’re world-building? Do you sketch or draw as part of your creative process? What sort of visuals do you use to inspire your stories?

How to Beat the Book Blahs

Every once in a while I come down with a case of the Book Blahs.  As much as I try, I just can’t get into any book that I try to read.

I find myself avoiding books. Instead of reading I tune in to a mindless sitcom for thirty minutes or get lost in the black hole of social media. I fall behind on my reading goal. I feel guilty for not reading and disappointed that I’m not enjoying the books that sit neglected on my nightstand.

In a particularly bad bout with the Book Blahs recently, I spent nearly an hour browsing the shelves of my local library, picking up book after book and reading the blurbs only to put each one back with an underwhelmed sigh. My heart just wasn’t in it. Finally, I had to leave at closing time – empty handed This has never happened to me before or since. It’s not a time I like to talk about.

Blah Book

Little is known about this mysterious affliction or how to prevent it. It affects even the most voracious readers and can last anywhere from a few days to weeks or even months at a time.

The Book Blahs can come as a result of reader fatigue, which can occur after binge-reading a series or simply reading too many books in a row.  The Book Blahs can also emerge in the aftermath of a book hangover, coming off the high of reading a book so absorbing, the reader doesn’t want it to end.

Symptoms of the Book Blahs may include apathy toward literature, irritability, loss of interest in hobbies like reading, feelings of guilt and helplessness and inability to finish a book.

If you have been stricken with the Book Blahs, I am here to offer some possible remedies:

Try a New Genre

A healthy dose of reading in a different genre can help in the road to recovery. Read a lot of fiction? Try non-fiction. Just finish with a long novel? How about a book of short stories? I have turned to Young Adult and New Adult books which helped me to discover wonderful new authors like John Green and Rainbow Rowell. Biography, memoir or even historical fiction are genres which I don’t often read that might be enough to provide some relief.

Consult other Readers

It is important to maintain social interaction during the Book Blahs. Ask a friend, “What’s the best book you have read recently?” You may get a suggestion of something you wouldn’t have considered or hear positive reviews of a book you’ve been on the fence about.

Reread an Old Favorite

The cure may be sitting on your bookshelf. Surely there is at least one book that can transport you each and every time you read it. Perhaps it is a story from your childhood. Sometimes we simply need to remember why we fell in love with reading in the first place. Find that book with the worn spine and dog eared pages and let yourself get lost in that world so you can fall in love all over again.

Change your Routine

If traditional remedies don’t work, more drastic measures may be required. I frequent the library, but isn’t always the best place for me to find something new to read if I don’t already have a book in mind. Recently, I took a quick stroll through a book store I hadn’t been to in a while and the various displays of “Books everyone should read,” and “Staff picks” were enough to inspire me. I think I added five books to my To Read list from that one visit alone.

Seek Professional Help

If symptoms persist, ask your librarian or someone on the staff of your local bookstore for help. These are professionals who are equipped to handle these situations. They are often avid readers and can be great resources with a wealth of literary knowledge. Tell them what you like or what you’re in the mood for and chances are, they’ll be able to make some interesting suggestions.

Readers, have you ever experienced the Book Blahs? What do you do when you get into a reading rut?

What I’m Reading, What I’m Writing: Winter Reads and Editing

Inspired by the New Hampshire Writer’s Network Live to Write – Write to Live blog, I’ve decided to start my own regular posts about what I’m currently reading in books, audio books and blogs, and what I’m working on in my writing. I hope to make this a regular (weekly or biweekly) feature on the blog.

I hope you’ll share what interesting things you’re reading and writing in the comments, and please feel free to link back to your own blog!

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As we officially settle into mid-March, I wish I were writing this post in more Spring-like conditions. In my part of the world, we’re moving on after a pretty substantial snow storm that brought blustery, bitter winds and, of course, snow. Just last week we set a record for the coldest temperature ever recorded in March: -9 and that’s air temperature, I’m not talking about wind chill here, people. I live in an area that can handle the winter weather, but even us New Englanders are ready for winter to be over.

To give you an idea of how ready for Spring I am, I actually dreamed that I woke up to flowers blooming outside my window. Unfortunately, I will have to wait a few more weeks before that dream comes true.

The advantage of this cold, harsh weather is that it provides the perfect atmosphere to curl up with a good book and a warm beverage.

What I’m ReadingGone Girl

I just finished listening to the audio book of Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. This was one of those books I just kept hearing about. I heard some slightly mixed reviews although the reactions have been mostly positive.

I was hesitant to pick this book up, partly because I have a tendency to avoid super popular books until they have fallen off most peoples’ radar, but also because of its length. I hate to admit it but when I realized the audio book was 15 discs long, I cringed a little. But I decided to give it  a listen to see for myself.

It took me a few weeks to get through it after missing a few days for work travel, I’m glad I decided to give this book a try. I found it to be suspenseful, entertaining and cleverly written.

Now I hear there will be a movie coming out this year and the rumor is that the move ending will be different than the book. I can’t say I’m surprised as I found the ending to be a little lackluster after all the buildup. I wonder if this is a case where the move might be better than the book?

snow childAnother book I’m excited about is Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child. I heard of it when it was selected for 2014’s If All of Rochester Read the same Book.  This awesome program through Writer’s and Books spotlights one book each year and sparks a plethora of related literary events.

The author will be visiting Rochester next week, and I can’t wait to attend a reading and Q&A session! I will blog about the experience so be sure to check back!

In the meantime, I am immensely enjoying this book – and it is very weather appropriate!

What I’m Writing

I am currently in editing mode. I have sent my current WIP off to a trusted reader for a second round of critiquing. My goal is to get this short-story polished in preparation for submitting it to some literary magazines in the near future.

This will be a first for me, but I’m excited by the challenge.

My Favorite Quote of the Week:

“Put everything you’ve got into everything you do.”

– John Maxwell

(See above!)

Blogs and findings around the Interwebs

Should Authors Have to “Market Themselves”
I read Kristen Lamb’s blog religiously and this post is another example of why I never miss a post!

A Mighty Girl
As a long-distance auntie, I am always on the lookout for interesting and empowering reads for my nieces. I learned about this website and fell in love. Follow A Might Girls on Facebook and Twitter for updates and inspiration.

10 Great Gifts for Grammar Geeks
For fun…

The 10 Best Beauty Uses for Baking Soda
This isn’t a literary link, but I found it rather fascinating and thought I would share! Thanks, Dr. Oz!

What are you reading? What writing projects are you currently working on? Share your reading and writing adventures in the comments, and feel free to link back to your own blog!

The Future of Reading

Last week I came across an article about Spritz – no, this isn’t a new fizzy soda drink, it’s an app designed to improve reading speed and can help you read 600 words a minute.

Sounds insane, right? Here’s a quick glance at how it works.

Spritz streams text on your screen one word at a time, which, the company claims, allows your brain to comprehend it much more quickly and easily. The idea is to reduce the amount of time moving your eyes from one word to the next and reformatting it so that our eyes don’t move at all as we see the words. This way, we can process information instantaneously rather than spend time decoding each word.

spritz

Visit http://www.spritzinc.com/about/ and Click to Spritz to try it for yourself

I shared this article and it got a lot of reactions from my friends on social media. The responses were overwhelmingly positive. As a book lover, the idea of being able to read faster without losing comprehension is wonderful. Being able to read 500 words a minute, rather than the average reading speed of 220 words per minute, would certainly help me reach my reading goals.

But this got me thinking about what would happen to the overall reading experience – will reading become nothing more than watching words flash by on a screen?

This technique, while it has obvious advantages, is initially a bit unnerving. I am a voracious reader, a writer, a lover of words. The way I see it, words are not merely data to be digested as quickly as possible and downloaded into our brains. Language is art and art is to be enjoyed and appreciated.

What about the ability to linger over words and appreciate the language and word choice of the author? One of my favorite moments as a reader is coming across a sentence that is so striking, I need to go back and read it again to appreciate it. Would this speed-reading app allow for going to back to a review a sentence? Will technology like this take all the pleasure out of reading?

And what does this mean for us writers? We spend hours honing our words, poring over every sentence, deliberating over details like whether to use “an” or “the.” In our world, every word matters, each one must contribute something to our story. If reading becomes a way to simply process words and information as quickly as possible, will our craft become obsolete?

Between emails, web pages and other texts, we each read thousands of words every day. In this aspect, technology like this has a very practical application. I spend a lot of time in my work day reading and responding to emails. It would be a huge improvement to my productivity if I could decrease the time I spend reading emails in order to focus on everything else I must accomplish. And how about textbooks – imagine finishing your assigned reading in half the time?

Textbooks, emails and online articles – I would love to read these more quickly. I just don’t think I want this app infringing in my novel reading.

I need to time to imagine a scene as it is being set, to hear the character’s voices in the lines of dialogue. There’s no app for that.

Take a look at the article and try this technology for yourself:
Spritz speed-reading technology

What did you think of it? Do you think this app will change the future of reading as we know it?

Weekend Writing and Why I Hate Mondays

As a writer with a day job, I have to make the time to write when I can.

I have found that mornings are great for writing, when I’m in that half-asleep daze, still connected to that subconscious dream-like state, the right side of my brain firing more than the left side. In the morning, I can get (some) writing done before my day begins. Writing in the morning is the best way for me to write every day.

But I’ve never been a morning person – especially in the winter. Especially during this particularly long, cruel winter – I have spent many mornings pulling the covers over my head to delay facing another day of snow and single-digit temperatures. Get Up

For these reasons, I haven’t been doing much morning-writing these past few months.

This is why weekends are when I get most of my writing done, particularly the Saturdays and Sundays in the dead of winter. Where summertime is filled with barbecues, bonfires and afternoons spent outdoors enjoying the sunshine and warmth, wintertime sees everyone disappear into hibernation for weeks at a time.

These quiet gray days are perfect for writing. For me, the weekend is when the world slows down. I can get lost in the world I’m creating and the characters I’m developing.

I typically have the house to myself as my husband works most weekends. So I can wake up on my own, read the newspaper and enjoy a cup or two of coffee, then fire up my laptop and start writing.

On a gray Saturday or Sunday, I lose track of time as the morning passes into afternoon. I am comfortable on the couch with the newspaper discards strewn around me, laptop in my lap, the keys clacking as I write or blog.  I am under a blanket and a cat is curled up beside me, another napping at my feet.

I will break from writing to gather and start the laundry, run the vacuum and unload the dishwasher, and get the weekend chores out of the way. But I always return to the laptop, a book or three and a notebook and pen within arm’s reach. For me, that’s a perfect way to spend a Sunday (and Saturday too, if I’m lucky!)

This is why Mondays can be so difficult. I often find myself in a Monday morning fog with that eerie feeling where you arrive at your destination but don’t remember getting there.  I go through the motions of turning on my computer and going about my tasks while my mind is still lingering over that last scene.

After spending two whole days with the freedom of going at my own pace, after two days of leisurely writing time, Monday means leaving my fictional world and returning to the Real World. It means a return to days with sleep interrupted by an alarm clock, coffee in a to-go mug, commuting and traffic and email and paperwork. It has nothing to do with the job itself and everything to do with its contrast to my writing life.

I can try to recreate my writing zone in the evening after the work day is done, squeezing in time between dinner and dishes and preparing for the next day, but I can’t get as easily lost in it as I do on the weekend. And so I must wait until the weekend comes around again.

So pardon me if I seem a little out of sorts on Mondays. You’ll have to excuse me for being a bit cranky and dazed on the first day of the work week. Though my feet are planted in this world, my head is still in another world entirely.

Do you dread or adore Mondays? Writers, how do you handle the transition from your writing world to your day job?


Subscribe to my blog for more posts like this and follow me on Twitter @IamJenniferK for more musings on the writing life.

This post was inspired by, Does Anyone Else Look Forward to Mondays? on the Live to Write, Write to Live Blog. 

Why I love Libraries and You should too

I love going to the library. You can find me wandering the shelves in one of the libraries in my area on almost a weekly basis. I browse the audio books, new fiction, non-fiction, and even the teen section.

Taking advantage of the free resources the library offers enables me to maintain my reading habit. The retail value of the audio book I just finished? $60.00! From my local library? Free. And that is priceless.

There is more to libraries than the books that line their shelves. In this information age, we can go to Google for facts. But what Google doesn’t have is a helpful librarian to offer suggestions or advice.

I cannot say it better than Neil Gaiman who spoke about libraries in his lecture on Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming:

“…But libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information.

I worry that here in the 21st century people misunderstand what libraries are and the purpose of them. If you perceive a library as a shelf of books, it may seem antiquated or outdated in a world in which most, but not all, books in print exist digitally. But that is to miss the point fundamentally.”

You can Click here for Neil Gaiman‘s lecture for the Reading Agency.

The full lecture is long but I agree wholeheartedly.

February is library lovers month! Here are ways you can get involved with your local library:

photo (1)Get a library card
Small enough to fit in your pocket, big enough to change your life! Getting a library card is the first step to enjoying your local library. As you can see, mine is well worn.

Participate
Check out what’s happening at your library.  From writing workshops and book sales to Downton Abbey tea clubs, you might be surprised at the options.

Bring the Kids
Libraries are for families! Encourage a love of learning in your kids by letting them wander the shelves and find books that speak to them. Let them imagine and create.

Donate
Whether you donate your time or your money, you are supporting a great cause. You can help organize a book sale or host a discussion group.

“We have an obligation to support libraries. To use libraries, to encourage others to use libraries, to protest the closure of libraries. If you do not value libraries then you do not value information or culture or wisdom. You are silencing the voices of the past and you are damaging the future.” – Neil Gaiman

This infographic says it all:

Support your local library
Are you a library lover? When was the last time you visited the library? Do you take advantage of all that libraries have to offer?