Monday, January 30, 2012

Review: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling

Two weeks ago I moved to a new state where I didn't know many people yet and I didn't have a job. I split my time in my first week here between looking for a job and reading. On the first day where I was home by myself for the entire day I planted myself at the kitchen table just before I expected my boyfriend to come home, reading Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? in an attempt to show him that I was having fun even though I was home alone. 

It totally backfired.

Turns out he had no idea who Mindy Kaling was and thought I was trying to guilt him into coming home earlier. To quote the book, "I made the classic mistake of trying to explain why it was so funny, as though a great explanation would be the key to eliciting a huge laugh from [him]." Eventually he said, "I guess that's kind of funny."

Despite my boyfriend's dull reaction, I had a great time reading this book. It was hilarious. In the introduction, Kaling writes "This book will take you two days to read" which is completely accurate. I would have finished it sooner but I had to take breaks for things like eating and sleeping. 

I'll admit that before I started reading, I was concerned about how Kaling's humor would translate to the memoir form. After all, she mostly writes for TV shows and theater, which are meant to be spoken aloud and acted out, memoir is completely different. (When I read Tina Fey's memoir last year I had the same fear, and though I laughed several times, I occasionally felt like I was reading her opening monologue from Saturday Night Live.) 

Reading this book made me laugh out loud countless times. A few times I even had to put the book down for a minute because I was laughing so hard. One example: The one page chapter titled "Why Do Men Put Their Shoes On So Slowly?" My boyfriend is a prime example of this phenomenon and even he chuckled a bit when I read it out loud to him. (Also proof that you don't have to watch The Office or know who Mindy Kaling is to find this book funny.)

If you're looking for a good laugh, I'd highly recommend this book. In fact, I'd even probably suggest that you put down Tina's book and pick up this one. Seriously. Read this now.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Friday Food For Thought

Constructing Character This is a great example of how to write a character outline that will help you create realistic characters that stay in the reader's mind long after he's stopped reading. (@ You Are What You Write)

How To Write Like a Funny Woman Here's a great place to start if you're interested in writing humor. (@ The Rumpus)

Classic Literature: Boring or Relevant? I love to read the classics. (@ Teleread)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

When You Need Motivation

Some days, I just don't feel like writing. As much as I love it, I just have other things on my mind or I'm just not motivated on those days. I know a lot of writers who have the same problem. 

I think the first time I really encountered this head on was in high school, in my first creative writing workshop. It was an hour and a half long class and my teacher insisted that we spend the first forty-five minutes writing silently in our notebooks. She would write a prompt on the board and we were free to respond to it or write what we wanted. 

Most days this exercise was fun for me. I got to do my favorite activity uninterrupted in the middle of the school day. More often than not though, at least one person in the class would say, "I just don't feel like doing this today." Our teacher then would gently remind us why we had to do it:

If you're going to write, the first step is putting pen to paper. Just get started and see what happens.

I doubt that every person taking that class wanted (or still wants) to be a writer in their adult life, but for me, that advice has been incredibly valuable. Even on days when I don't feel like writing, I still try to put pen to paper. I try to write at least a few words, because after those few words (most days) I don't stop. If I can just get a sentence or two down, usually that's enough to get my thoughts flowing. 

This same creative writing teacher would also answer complaints of "I can't think of anything to start with" by saying, "Write any words that come to mind. They don't have to make sense. They can be nonsense words. Just write anything until you get past the creative block in your head."

And it works. Write any words that come to mind. Anything. See what happens. Just get started.

Good luck, writers.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Writing Partners...Sort of

Without getting too personal: one thing that I love about my boyfriend is that even though he's not a big reader, he is 100% supportive of my career as a novelist. 

Often, I'll mention a piece I'm working on and he'll add his thoughts on how I can run with it. A lot of the time these suggestions aren't exactly what I had in mind, but usually there's some element in there that will get me thinking. 

His ideas usually fall into the realm of sci-fi or fantasy, which is definitely not my area of expertise, but precisely for that reason, it's fun to bounce ideas off of one another and make up silly stories to go along with his ideas. 

Maybe none of these stories will turn into anything, maybe they will someday make me rich (doubtful) but either way I feel that the process heightens my creativity. I'll take a break from my own work for a few minutes to talk about these story lines with him and then when I sit back down at my desk I can look at my work with fresh eyes.

Do you have someone you can bounce ideas off of? What kinds of ideas do you come up with together?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Friday Food For Thought

"The Joy of Books" Goes Viral This is a great video, just watch and enjoy. (@ January Magazine)

Emotion and How to Make It Happen If you're struggling to make the emotions in your story real and tangible, this is a great post to read. Body language plays a huge role in how we perceive emotions and writing it convincingly can be challenging. (@ Mad Genius Club)

Book Clubbing: Living & Learning in Bookstores Regardless of how you feel about eBooks, this is the kind of experience that only physical books can produce. (@ Tin House)

Sunshiny Day Why it's a great time to be an author. (@ Writer Unboxed)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Do You Fear Your Own Writing?

I recently moved to a new state, and have spent the last few days getting myself situated in my new setting. One thing I've wanted to do is find a group to start doing critiques with, so I was very excited when one of my acquaintances in the area asked me if I'd like to join the one he was trying to get off the ground. 

Yes, I was thrilled for about 30 seconds until he said this: "I'll give you all the info when I get everything going, but we really can't get a group started until I get over my fear of my own writing."

Fear is one thing that I think holds a lot of would-be-writers back. After all, choosing writing as your career is basically saying that you're okay with getting rejected 100 times before you get even one maybe. I don't think you can become a writer until you accept that fact. I might be wrong, but I don't think my acquaintance is really afraid of his own writing. I think he's afraid of what the rest of us will say about his writing. 

For a long time that's the fear that I had. I never wanted anyone to read what I wrote, even though I dreamed of becoming a novelist. Then I had a realization: I was never going to get any better if I didn't let others read my work.

I've written before about the value of joining a workshop. As much as writing fiction is a solitary endeavor, you really need a community of supportive writers to push you past that first draft. Why fear what a writer friend may have to say about a piece you're working on? Of course it's going to be uncomfortable to have someone else read your story for the first time, but that goes both ways -- in a critique group, you're going to be reading the other person's writing as well. That should keep everyone honest without being cruel.

What else is there to be afraid of? A lot of writers fear inadequacy. What if my writing isn't as good as Stephen King's? Or that guy in my critique group? Guess what? No one is perfect. 

Your writing should be an expression of who you are and how you see the world. Your first draft may not be exactly up to the caliber you want it to be, but taking it to a critique group and asking for feedback is one of the best ways to get better. 

Another great way to get better at writing is to keep doing it. Maybe what you're working on now will never see the light of day, but maybe the next piece you write will be gold. You'll never find out if you let fear keep you from getting started. 

How do you overcome your fear as a writer? Tell us in the comments section, below!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Martin Luther King Jr. on Faith

"Faith is taking the first step, even when you can't see the whole staircase." 

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Friday Food For Thought

Print vs. Electronic: Enter the Golden Age An interesting piece about the different purposes of print books and ebooks. The debate is far from over but I would agree that each now has its own audience. (@ January Magazine)

Putting Everything Into Writing I think this is the best way to find success as a writer. Put everything you have into producing the best work possible. (@ The Guardian) 

Writing in the City New York City is probably one of the most written about cities in the world. Great piece about the history of writing in the city (@ The Millions)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Little More About Focus

I've been working in retail for about 3 months now. I was hired just in time for the holiday shopping season to begin. Let me tell you something: people are messy. Think about how you would feel if hoards of people came into your office and began tearing apart the filing cabinets looking for one piece of paper that you may or may not have -- every day for 3 months. Even the least organized person in the audience probably understands how unceasingly inconvenient this is.

The store that I've been working in is now moving into their inventory days, which means every item in the store needs to be counted and put back where it belongs. In the two weeks of relative peace we had between Christmas and Inventory the only job I've really had to do was recovery, i.e. putting things back where they belong and making sure that the store goes back to looking like a store rather than a freshman boy's dorm room.

I have a tendency as I'm working to go through my pile of items to be put away and bring like items back to their area. Then once I'm in that area, if I find things that are in the wrong place, I bring those things immediately to the right area even if it's in a completely different part of the store. This basically means that I end up running all over the place rather than staying within one particular area.

The other day, my manager asked me to focus on a specific section that was right near my register. She wanted me to make sure that everything was clean, put away, and organized. She asked me to ignore everything else in my department except for this one tiny area near my register. What ended up happening? At the end of my shift, that one area was spotless. There was nothing in there that shouldn't have been, there were no items on the floor, it was easy to shop through and it looked wonderful.

Why did it look so good? Because I was focused on one tiny section of the store, rather than trying to clean the entire department.

You may be thinking, what does this have to do with writing?

It's often been said that you will get more satisfaction from finishing one thing well than by half finishing several things. So rather than trying to finish 100 stories at once, why not just focus on one thing at a time? You can't cram an entire writing career into one day. You can't logically think about six different stories at once if they have nothing to tie them together. Focus on one story or one project at a time and give it everything you have. You will be so proud of what you can accomplish with just a bit of focus.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Review: Room by Emma Donoghue

My sister first recommended this book to me back in March. I hadn't heard much about it, but she really sung its praises so I went ahead and bought a copy to put in my to-be-read pile. Around mid-December I finally managed to find time to read it and immediately regretted waiting that long.

The story is told from the point of view of a 5 year old boy, Jack, who was born into captivity (his mother was kidnapped and raped repeatedly while being kept in a secured garden shed). His mother has tried to make their life in Room as normal as possible for Jack but the obvious limitations become more evident each day. Jack believes that simple things like going to the store are "only in tv" and that everything outside of the Room is outer space.

Jack doesn't quite understand why his mother would want to leave Room, but he agrees to participate in her escape plan and that's when the story really takes off. Reading the story as Jack tells it makes the reader more acutely aware of the tragedy of the situation because we can see the world through his eyes.

This book will tear at your heartstrings but it is not all sad. It has an uplifting ending. Rather than focusing on the horrible man that captured Jack's mother, it focuses on Jack as he grows up and begins to understand the world.

I would highly recommend this book. I loved reading it and I think you will too.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Friday Food For Thought

You Don't Need a Plan To Change Your Life I'm not sure I would agree with everything he says here. Why not take those new habits and the "getting up everyday and doing what I need to do" approach and put it toward a larger plan or goal for your life? Plans themselves aren't the problem, it's the lack of follow-through on those plans that leave people disappointed. (@ Jeff Goins, Writer)

The Most Important Resolution for Writers A smart post worth considering anytime of the year, not just during resolution season. (@ Intrepid Media)

Why Does Art Have to Be Mainstream to Be Significant An interview with poet and editor Jonathan Galassi. I particularly liked his point "One of the ways you can judge the enduring relevance of poetry is how often it’s quoted to make sense of a particular time." (@ The Economist)

Avoid The Block: This is How I Roll...Around It Are you a pantser or a planner? Personally I'm somewhat of a mini-planner. I like to write an outline (especially for longer pieces) and then see where that takes me. (@ Musings From the Slush Pile)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

New Year, New Focus

Over the next few weeks I will be packing up and moving from my home in central Massachusetts to a fresh start in New Jersey. It'll be a big change for a number of reasons, but I'm ready to embrace it and move forward with my life.

Moving has gotten me thinking, though, about how changes in our lives can affect changes in our writing. I've dreamed of being a novelist since I first understood what the term meant, and when I was in high school, I practiced my craft diligently, making time to write nearly every single day, even if it was just a few short sentences in my journal. 

When I went to college I had less free time and subsequently my writing became more deliberate. I had a limited amount of time to write, so when I sat down to do it, I made sure my words would count. I managed to eek out two drafts of a novel this way along with a handful of short stories. 

Since I've graduated, I've had a remarkable amount of unstructured time on my hands which allowed me to go back to my high school ways of writing every day even if what I was writing turned out to be crap. As I look back on what I've written this year, it's still better than what I wrote when I was younger, but it's obvious to me that I lacked focus. I only finished a handful of projects and the third draft of the novel that I wrote in college is still saved on my computer waiting for me to work on the ending. 

What will the new year have in store for me? 

I'm at a point in my life where it's difficult to see even six months into the future, what with the economy so shaky and my career so based in an industry that's constantly changing, but if there's one thing I can do to make my New Year's Resolution happen it's this: focus.

I'm going to focus all of my creative energy on finishing my novel and getting it into the best possible shape. It's so close to that point, I know all I need is a few more weeks of serious writing and a handful of unbiased, honest beta readers. Once it's ready, I'm going to send queries out. 

If 2012 isn't the year that I finally realize my lifelong dream, I don't want it to be for lack of trying or fear. This year I'm going to focus on one thing: getting my book into the hands of readers everywhere.

I'd like to encourage all of you to find one thing to focus on this year. If you're a writer, find one project you feel passionate about and focus on finishing it. Don't work on anything else until you have one thing done. 

What's your focus this year? Have any advice for me? Tell us in the comments section below.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy New Year

'Tis the season for New Year's Resolutions. I've read a lot of blog posts lately about why you should or should not write one and if you do how you should go about it.

For what it's worth, I think it's a personal decision, based on your own experiences and where you're at in life. The beginning of a new year is as good a time as any to take a step back from your every day life and assess how things are going. If there's something you'd like to change or improve upon, why not take the time to figure out what you need to do and make a plan to implement those changes?

I have a few personal resolutions this year, but professionally I have a two-part resolution. Here it is: finish the novel I'm working on and start querying agents. I've decided to go the traditional publishing route for reasons I'll explain in a later post. I've been working on this novel for a while and I'm finally ready to send it out into the world.

2012 is set to be an interesting year full of change for me but I'm excited to see how it goes. I hope your 2012 is looking equally bright.

What are your New Year's Resolutions? Tell us in the comments section below!