This Week: What I’m Reading, What I’m Writing

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, audiobooks 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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It’s been a while since I’ve written a wrap-up post. But I’ve finished my first book(s) of the new year and I’m working on a writing project –  I’m ready to share and I hope you will too!

What I’m Reading

The Cuckoo's CallingI started the year with a pick that is a bit out of the ordinary for me as I don’t read many mystery/crime novels.  My first read for 2014 was The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith – the pseudonym for J.K. Rowling.  I selected it because I heard it was a “brilliant debut mystery in a classic vein.”

The author isn’t reinventing the crime-novel here. The Cuckoo’s Calling has many of the signature crime-novel elements: a down-on-his-luck private investigator, smarter than the cops who investigate a death they rule a suicide but that some are convinced was murder.

There is no trace of Harry Potter here, but Rowling writes a decent crime novel. I enjoyed
Rowling’s descriptive writing sets and the characters are likable.

Though it didn’t rock my literary world, I found it to be an entertaining read. Has anyone else read this one yet? What did you think?

Shanghai Girls

I also recently finished Shanghai Girls by Lisa See. The book’s description piqued my interest:  two sisters living in Shanghai who move to Los Angeles in the 1930’s to find new lives.

As Japanese bombs fall on May and Pearl’s beloved city of Shanghai and their lives begin to crumble, their journey to America is not at all what they imagined it would be. Their stories are heartbreaking as misfortune finds them at every turn; their naivete is frustrating as they refuse again and again to see the gravity of their situation.

Told over two decades, I felt the story lost its intimacy as the novel seemed to go on and on. I kept thinking, how many more bad things can happen to these girls? The story of May and Pearl’s journey to Los Angeles was powerful, but the novel continued on, telling of the hardships they face in America, the discrimination they endure, and their struggles to become Americanized while trying to honor their Chinese traditions.

After finishing Shanghai Girls, I learned there is a second book, Dreams of Joy. After browsing some reviews, I learned that some readers enjoyed Shanghai Girls more once they had read Dreams of Joy and felt the books are best when read together. Has anyone read one or both? I’d love to hear your experience. I plan to read Dreams of Joy in the future. Perhaps reading the follow-up with change my opinion.

What I’m Writing

Earlier this week I wrote about stories that I keep coming back to but always leave in some state of in-completion. My writing goal for 2014 is to (finally) finish a short story and submit it to some literary journals with the hope of publication. One such story is one I wrote this past summer that I think has potential. I’ve already written several drafts but have been feeling that it isn’t quite ready to submit.

I’ve been making revisions to this story over the past few weeks. I rewrote the opening scene and deleted a few paragraphs. I am focused on the details now, adding a sentence here, a description there.

Next month I will be sending it off to my writer friend to be read and critiqued! I will be sharing updates on the story’s progress.

My Favorite Quote of the Week:

you cant edit a blank page

Blogs and findings around the Interwebs

For Readers:

Here are some Crafty DIY Bookmark Ideas 

10 Amazing Novels That Are Super Long, But Totally Worth It
This list makes me want to pull my copy of Anna Karenina off the shelf. Well, we’ll see…

For Writers:

Five Ways Writers can Recycle Their Discarded Material
This post from blogger and fantasy writer Victoria Grefer is what got me thinking about the practice of writing and how everything we write is useful.

Days Without Writing
A great read for any writer with a day job.

Read any good books lately? Share your reading and writing adventures in the comments, and feel free to link back to your own blog!

The NaNoWriMo Experience

I did it. I wrote 50,298 words in November for National Novel Writing Month.

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I honestly didn’t think I would make it this year. I’ve only won NaNo once before and after a fairly lousy Week Two and a Week Three that wasn’t much better, the odds seemed stacked against me. As the month wore on, I slowly gave up all my good writing habits: I started sleeping in instead of getting up early to write before work, I worked through lunch instead of writing on my lunch break. By the time I finally sat down to write for the first time each day at six o’clock p.m., I was mostly too exhausted to produce much more than a few hundred words.

Once the final week rolled around, I wasn’t feeling very motivated and I was behind on my word count, but I figured I had come to far to quit.

So I kept writing. Every word, every sentence was agonizing at times but I kept going. As the end of November neared with a long holiday weekend ahead, I still had hope to come from behind to win. I didn’t give in to my exhaustion and self-doubt. Those last thousand words were slow to come together, but they did.

I think the NaNoWriMo experience was pretty well summed up in these words from author, Ralph Peters in his NaNoWriMo Pep Talk:

“Writing is wretched, discouraging, physically unhealthy, infinitely frustrating work. And when it all comes together it’s utterly glorious.”

I spent a large part of NaNoWriMo feeling frustrated, and discouraged. But I learned that I can sit down at the laptop and write every day even when I’m too tired or not feeling inspired. And because I kept going, I was able to write more than 50,000 words in a month and win NaNoWriMo, even when I didn’t think I could.

So to all those who won NaNo and to all those who participated, congratulations. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.

What did you learn this November?

One Word After Another…

In Week One, I was in love with my NaNo Novel. I woke up early each and every morning to fire up my laptop, eager to write and to add up each pretty little word and record them on my spreadsheet. I fell in love with my characters and with the art of writing and became completely immersed in the story. My NaNo Novel and I were in the honeymoon phase.

Then Week Two hit.

My writing sessions produced pathetic word counts.  Suddenly my writing, my plot and my characters which were shiny and new just days ago seemed dull. My ideas had never seemed more unoriginal. My “novel” was nothing but a collection of short scenes with talking heads. I fell out of love with my NaNo Novel.

Dang,” I kept thinking, this NaNoWriMo thing is HARD. Adding insult to injury, smack in the middle of Week Two, I got a cold. Not just a case of the sniffles, but the kind of cold that makes you feel like you could sleep for days. Great, I thought. Just what I needed. Perfect timing! I chugged orange juice, took a nap and kept sitting at the keyboard. I had several days that I didn’t write the 1,667 word minimum. For the first time this November, I fell behind. I thought about quitting, but I didn’t. Each writing session, I kept putting down one word after another. And slowly, they added up.

This is How you Do It Quote

Today, I am feeling as though I may have broken through the slump of the infamous Week Two. I’ve written 2,028 words so far today and feel like I could write more (and maybe I will!) I’m feeling excited about my novel again.

I have recently fallen in love with Neil Gaiman who tweeted his Pep Talk earlier this week. In his Pep Talk, he describes exactly how I have been feeling these past few days. He says,

You write on the good days and you write on the lousy days…

That’s how novels get written.

After a string of lousy days, I’m now past the halfway point. I’ve now officially made it past the point where I gave up last November. I’m going to celebrate those accomplishments. Then, I’m going to keep writing.

One word after another…

Words Written Today:  2,028
Total Words Written:  27,756
Words Left to Go:  22,244
Percent Complete:  56%

I’ll be sharing my progress throughout November! Subscribe to my blog for NaNo updates and follow me on Twitter @iamJenniferK for helpful hints and inspiring quotes in 140 characters or less!

Don’t get it Right, just get it Written

This has been the quote going through my mind all weekend long. Don’t get it right just get it written James Thurber Quote

Already on Day Two of NaNoWriMo, I found myself struggling. The words were coming slow, I was writing in fits and starts. I realized I was too hung up on the sequence of events in the story. I was stuck trying to write the story in order. I started kicking myself for not putting an outline to paper like I had planned. Sure, I had the first several scenes laid out in my mind, but my planning never got much further than that. If only I had done that outline, I thought, I’d be in much better shape.

Then I remembered: “Don’t get it right, get it written.”

This is only a first draft – a shitty first draft. I don’t have to get it right the first time through, I can always go back later and move scenes around or add scenes. It’s okay to write the story out of order. Once I gave myself permission to write whatever scene I wanted rather than trying to stick to a timeline, the words came easier. I finally got into a writing flow mid-afternoon and ended up with 2,436 at the end of the day.

I kept telling myself, “Just get it written,” and surpassed 6,000 words on Day Three. I was able to write over 5,000 words this weekend and am a full day ahead of schedule (I’m thrilled to have even just a little cushion going into the work week!)

The lesson is, sometimes we have to get out of our own way in order to get the words on the page.

I still want to sit down and put together a more detailed outline, but I have given myself permission to write it any order necessary!

What is your NaNoWriMo mantra that’s getting you through? Let’s hear them!

Words Written Today:  2,583
Total Words Written:  6,764
Words Left to Go:  43,236
Percent Complete:  14%

I’ll be sharing my progress throughout November! Subscribe to my blog for NaNo updates and follow me on Twitter @iamJenniferK for helpful hints and inspiring quotes in 140 characters or less!

This Week: What I’m Reading, What I’m Writing

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, audiobooks 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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What I’m Reading

Falling to EarthI picked up Falling to Earth, a debut novel by Kate Southwood. The story is set in 1925 and centers around the Graves family. Paul Graves and his young family are the only ones who still have everything after a devastating tornado flattens their fictional town of Marah, Illinois.

When I read the description of this book, I just knew I had to read it. I can hardy put it down.

 


What I’m Writing

With NaNoWriMo approaching, I’ve started preparing for my NaNo novel. I’m mostly freewriting to get to know my characters. Last year, my struggle was that I didn’t feel I knew my characters well enough to tell their story. I fizzled out about halfway to the 50,000 word goal. This year, I’m preparing and on November 1st, I’m going to start over. This time, I’ll tell the story from a different perspective. I’ll be blogging about my progress!

 

My Favorite Quote of the Week

“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”
–  Louis L’Amour

 

Blogs and findings around the Interwebs

Your Writer’s Mind
I loved this relatable post from blogger Jamie Lee Wallace about the mind of a writer.

5 Ways to Write Like Your Hair is on Fire
On the Today’s Author blog, I love Jacqui Murray’s suggestion to “Write everything as though I have a deadline that must be met.”

Writers, you’ll appreciate these 10 Thing Writers are Tired of Hearing

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Read any good books lately? Are you preparing for NaNoWriMo? Share your reading and writing adventures in the comments, and feel free to link back to your own blog!

This Week: What I’m Reading, What I’m Writing/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, audiobooks 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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What I’m Reading

TORCH_Front_Cover-330I’m reading Cheryl Strayed’s novel, Torch. I read her memoir Wild last year, about her solo 1,100 mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail with no training or hiking experience, and I loved it. I was inspired to read more of her work after  listening to her speak at a ceremony for the Art of Fact Award from my alma mater, The College at Brockport, State University of New York this Spring.

Torch is about Teresa Rae Wood who is dying of cancer at the age of 38. Her family is left reeling and must deal with the loss and their grief.

So far, it is heartbreaking.


What I’m Writing

The short story I have been working on was recently read and critiqued by a writer friend of mine, so I am in the process of editing and revising that. Once it is ready, I will be researching literary magazine and possibly some short story contests to submit it to. More on that to come!

I’ve also been doing Morning Pages. Although I have to admit I haven’t been writing consistently every day, I am enjoying getting into the habit of writing (almost) every morning as soon as I wake up.

 

My Favorite Quote of the Week

“A writer, like an athlete, must ‘train’ every day. What did I do today to keep in ‘form’?”
Susan Sontag

 

Blogs and findings around the Interwebs

What Editors Want: A Must-Read for Writers Submitting to Literary Magazines
This is an article that came at the perfect time – I will be referring to it in the very near future! It is thorough and very helpful.

Two Pages a Day
From the Writer Unboxed blog, this post has some great insights on how to take small steps to reach big writing goals.

21 Little Lifestyle Changes That Will Help you be Healthier
I enjoyed this article and its useful tips – thought I would share!

Just for fun, here are 28 Signs you were an English Major
I know the majority of these apply to me!

 

What about you? Did you read anything interesting this week? What are you working on in your writing? I hope you’ll share in the comments, and please feel free to link back to your own blog!

Writing in the Morning

I have found that mornings are the best time for me to write. I discovered that, while I’m not exactly a morning person, I am capable of getting out of bed an hour early every day to write. When I began participating in National Novel Writing Month, I had some of my most productive writing sessions before the sun came up. Evenings, for me, are full of distractions and temptations I can’t resist (read: prime time television) I learned that, if I want to make writing part of my day, mornings may be my answer. And coffee of course.

IMG_0900Though I have not yet read The Artist’s Way, I recently learned about Julia Cameron’s concept of morning pages. Morning pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing done first thing upon waking. I love the idea of making writing the first thing I do in my day and have begun to do my own morning pages.

The writing that comes from these morning pages is more about getting my thoughts onto the page than about producing quality writing. I can record my dreams or my observations about what’s happening outside my window. My hope is that Morning Pages will help me continue to work toward the habit of daily writing.

To learn more about morning pages, visit Julia Cameron Live

Here are some advantages I have found to writing in the morning:

Do it First Thing and it is Done
When you make writing the first thing you do in the morning, you have not yet been bombarded with the distractions the day will bring. Write before you turn on the news, before you check your email, your Facebook page, your Twitter feed. Once you have done some writing done, you can move on with your day knowing you have made this small (or not so small) achievement.

Capitalize on your Dreams
In her book “Writer with a Day Job” Aine Greaney says that creative writing draws on the same subconscious side of our brains as our night dreams – writing in the morning is a smart way to capitalize on these just-awake, or almost-asleep versions of yourself. That bit of advice has stayed with me and is what helped me to get up early to write every morning during NaNoWriMo.

Morning Solitude
Sometimes, it is best to get the writing done before the rest of the household is awake. When I set my alarm an hour early and sit down at my laptop, even the cats are too tired to disturb me. This can be a great solution for busy families who typically have chaotic morning schedules. Early in the morning is a peaceful time when the house is quiet.

What do you like or dislike about writing in the morning? If you do Morning Pages, I would love to hear from you – please tell me about your experiences in the comments below!

This Week: What I’m Reading and What I’m NOT Writing

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, audiobooks 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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What I’m ReadingThe Mermaid Collector

I went to the library this week without anything in particular in mind, and come across “The Mermaid Collector” by Erika Marks. I was drawn in by the premise of the book about the legend of the Mermaid Mutiny in 1888, when a lighthouse keeper left his wife and waded into the ocean with three other men to reunite with their mermaid lovers. I’ve hardly been able to put it down, I’m nearly finished with it!


What I’m NOT Writing

You read that right. I sent off the short story I’ve been working on the past two months or so to my first reader, who is a longtime friend and fellow writer. So although I’m taking a break from that story while it is read and critiqued, my mind isn’t taking a break from it. I’m still thinking about my main character, her life, her story. Which brings me to my favorite quote of the week:

My Favorite Quote of the Week

“A writer never has a vacation. For a writer, life consists of either writing or thinking about writing.”
– Eugene Ionesco

I love that, as writers, our creative minds are always at work, even when we don’t realize it. I don’t need to be at my keyboard with my WIP in front of me to be “working” on it in some way.

Blogs I’m Reading

Drive, Don’t Chase
From the Writer Unboxed blog, Jael McHenry writes about the temptation to chase book trends, and why its important not to simply write something because we think it will sell.

A Life Lesson from my 10 Year Old
I enjoyed this post from Gwen Stephens, the 4a.m. Writer, on remembering why we write.

What about you, what are you reading this week? What are you writing?

This Week: What I’m Reading, What I’m Writing

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, audiobooks 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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What I’m ReadingThe Namesake

I just started reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake. I’ve heard so many positive things about Jhumpa Lahiri since her collection Interpreter of Maladies won her the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, among many other awards and honors including the New Yorker Debut of the Year award, and the PEN/Hemingway Award. It earned the highest critical praise for its grace, and compassion in detailing lives transported from India to America. I can’t wait to see what’s in store from this writer.


What I’m Writing

I finished a short story I’ve been working on the past two months or so, about a young newlywed about to have her first child, who is haunted by strange dreams throughout her pregnancy. I spent much of my Sunday working on the third draft, then rushed home from work to finish it Monday night. I’m giving it one last edit and read through before sending it off to my first reader, who is a longtime friend and fellow writer.

My Favorite Quote of the Week

“The faster I write, the better my output. If I’m going slow, I’m in trouble. It means I’m pushing the words instead of being pulled by them.”
– Raymond Chandler

Blogs and findings around the Interwebs

Writing and Creating Magic – When Less is MORE
From Kristen Lamb’s blog – one of the most helpful and interesting writing blogs I know.

10 Words You’ve Probably Been Misusing
For the Word Nerd in all of us.

Just for fun, here are 25 Signs You’re Addicted to Books
Book lovers, you’ll be able to relate to this.

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I’ll leave you with this inspiring post shared by Cheryl Strayed, from writer Nancy Peacock on how to get the work done :

I see a lot of books that promise to show you how to write a novel in a weekend, or a week, or a month. You can try it if you want to, but I don’t advise it. Instead, I suggest you relax, recognize that writing a novel is slow food and takes time. I wrote LIFE WITHOUT WATER, my first novel over a period of two years – first draft in a year, and second and third in another year. I recognized the reality of my life and created a schedule around it. I knew if I did not get any writing done before going to work, I wasn’t going to get any done at all. I was simply too tired after a day of house cleaning (my day job at the time) to write coherently. So I scheduled myself to write for one hour every morning before going to work. Just one hour. I also decided – quite randomly – that my novel was going to be 12 chapters long, and that I would complete one chapter a month. For a whole month I could futz with a chapter, edit, revise, and so on – but at the end of the month I had to move on, even if I didn’t feel 100% about it. I gave myself weekends off and five “sick days” a year, meaning if I really was sick, or hungover, or just didn’t feel like it, I could skip it – but only five days in a year. I kept track of it. And it worked out. I still work this way. For me it’s important to do a little editing as I go along, rather than forbid myself to change anything before the end of the first draft. But it’s also important to keep it moving, and not mire down in the swamp of perfection. Above all, be real about your schedule and your time. You will only be disappointed in yourself if you set unrealistic goals. You might think you’re not a writer because you can’t write a novel in a weekend, or a week, or a month. But maybe you just need to get real about it all. It takes time, and there is nothing wrong with doing something that takes time. Go easy on yourself. Be gentle but steady. The rewards of this life are more abundant than you know.

What about you? Did you read anything interesting this week? What are you working on in your writing?

For the Love of Reading

I’m a book worm. An avid reader. A book-a-holic.

Whatever you want to call me, I love to read.

I have loved to read since I was a kid and if it weren’t for my love of reading, I don’t think I would have discovered my passion for writing. The two go hand-in-hand, after all. As writers, we can appreciate the qualities that make reading so rewarding – we want to emulate those things in our own writing, we want to create good reading.

I’m not exactly sure when my reverence for reading began. I think it may have been in the third grade. I vividly recall our teacher reading to us, The BFG by Roald Dahl. It was even more enjoyable because he read the dialogue of the giants in funny voices – it was pure, engrossing entertainment.

It was around that time in my life I began to invent wild stories about grand adventures, keys to secret rooms and trips to unknown lands. These were the first short stories I ever wrote. I don’t think it is a coincidence that my love of reading and my passion for writing started right around the same time.

if you want to be a writerIn his book, On Writing, Stephen King writes, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

I’ve been making a point to read as much as possible this year. I listen to audio books on my way to (and from) work so that each morning, I start my day with words, plots, and characters circling in my brain. I read before bed and end my day with my creative mind at work  as I fall asleep.

I’ve written three short stories in the past three months. And I’m certain my increase in reading has contributed to  my increase in writing.

Susan Sontag says, “Reading usually precedes writing and the impulse to write is almost always fired by reading. Reading, the love of reading, is what makes you dream of becoming a writer.”

Someone – was it Anne Lamott? – also said, that when we read good books, good books will come out of us.

I read the lyrical prose of Janet Fitch in White Oleander and I wanted to write beautiful words. I read The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger and I wanted to write a modern love story so heartbreaking it leaves you breathless. I read Water for Elephants and wanted to write a story about a time and a place in the past that feels so authentic it doesn’t feel at all like fiction.

Is there a special book that made you want to be a writer? What books inspire you to write, or to be a better writer?