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?

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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!

_______________________________________________________________________________
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?

If you haven’t got an idea, start a story anyway

As a writer, sometimes ideas come easy. Inspiration can strike while I’m in the shower, on the drive home from work, or while I’m reading. Ideas can take form from something someone says in passing conversation, the lyrics in a song, the words printed on a sign. But sometimes, our creative outlets are tapped. When you’re in a writing rut, nothing seems worth writing about.

It’s times like those, I find that I must write anyway.

William Campbell Gault says, “If you haven’t got an idea, start a story anyway. You can always throw it away, and maybe by the time you get to the fourth page you will have an idea, and you’ll only have to throw away the first three pages.”

writingSometimes the best thing I can do is write just to see where it takes me. I have to write outside my comfort zone, both literally and figuratively. Sometimes all it takes is changing my physical writing spot, like moving out to the patio to take in the sights, sounds and smells. Or ditching my laptop and taking a notebook to write from a coffee shop or a park bench – these are great places to eavesdrop on conversations and take notes!  A change of scenery and a change in the regular writing routine can be a simple trick to inspire something new.

But what happens when you get to the fourth page, or the tenth, and you still don’t have any ideas? We all have days when it seems no matter how much we write, or how hard we try, the writing just isn’t there.

And that’s okay. Not everything we write is publishable, sometimes it’s just practice.

Looking back in old backup documents, I recently found dozens of short pieces I had written over the years. I couldn’t  believe how many of them there were and it was fun looking back on them. And it was then, I realized, even if I never get to quit my day job to write full time, I can still call myself a writer because, after all, a writer writes. And I will always write.

What do you do when you’re stuck for ideas?

An Ode to Shitty First Drafts

We’ve all heard the quote from Hemingway: “The first draft of anything is shit.”

What an empowering thing for any writer. How liberating to be reminded that when we sit down to write, our first draft is probably going to be awful, but that’s okay. It’s part of the process.

When I sat down a few weeks ago to write an assignment for a local newspaper, I was reminded of this quote. The blank document stared at me and every time I started to write a sentence, I deleted it or worse – stopped myself before I even put any words on the page. I was too focused on wanting it to sound good.

Finally, I said to myself (out loud) “Okay, this is going to be shitty, but I’m just going to do it.” It got a lot easier after that.

Once I gave myself permission to write badly, I was able to get out of my own way and just write. I simply had to remind myself that what I was writing didn’t have to be perfect. I had to tell myself that no one was going to see this draft but me, and that I just had to get the words down and I could figure out the order of them later.

Fortunately, writers have a lot to say about first drafts. Natalie Goldberg says, “If every time you sat down to write, you expected something great, writing would always be a great disappointment. Plus, that expectation would also keep you from writing.”

I can’t talk about first drafts without talking about Anne Lamott. She wrote a very helpful, very reassuring chapter on Shitty First Drafts in her book, Bird by Bird, my favorite book on writing which I wrote about here.

She reminds us that all writers write bad first drafts. She says, “All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts.” No one sits down to write and gets it right effortlessly on the first try. She says the only way she can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts. I find the same is true for me, too.

Lamott insists that the first draft is where you let it all pour out onto the page, no matter how childish or silly or terrible it may seem. She says to just get it all down on paper because, “There may be something in the very last line of the very last paragraph on page six that you just love, that is so beautiful or wild that you now know what you’re supposed to be writing about, more or less, or in what direction you might go – but there was no way to get to this without first getting through the first five and a half pages.”

The key is to not let that terribly written first draft stop you from going back to it and writing a second, and a third.

For me, the first draft is for figuring out what the story is really about, what story I’m really trying to tell. It’s about getting the ideas down, discovering who our characters are, their motives, and their flaws. Who are they and what do they have to say? Anne Lamott says, “Writing a first draft is very much like watching a Polaroid develop. You can’t – and, in fact, you’re not supposed to – know exactly what the picture is going to look like until it has finished developing.”

I find that sometimes the story that comes out on paper is very different than the story I imagined I was sitting down to write. It’s easy to dream up an idea, to have a plot in mind, but it doesn’t always work out the way we imagine it would.

Jack Dann says, “For me, writing is exploration; and most of the time, I’m surprised where the journey.” So while first drafts can be a struggle, they can be surprising.

Check on my For Writers page to find other great books for writers and resources I have found helpful .