Friday, June 29, 2012

Friday Food for Thought

Dear Sugar: On Tiny Beautiful Things A thoughtful analysis of Cheryl Strayed's advice column Dear Sugar and the new book that collects all of her advice into one place. (@ The Millions)

Curate Your Summer Reading I haven't used any of these apps, but I can see how they would come in useful for someone doing a lot of traveling this summer. (@ Unclutterer)

A Tale of Two Readers As a writer you can't please every reader, but this is a good piece about how to make the most of feedback. (@ Writer Unboxed)

Confessions of a Strategic Writer Here's some good advice to advance your writing career and get out of the starving artist mindset. (@ Pen & Pro$per)

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Answer to Almost Every Problem

(Photo Credit: Mayan Brenn on Creative Commons)

What do you usually do when you're faced with a task that you don't now how to complete?

I've found that I can figure out how to do just about anything that needs to be done by using one simple skill: reading.

I read directions for electronic devices that I'm not familiar with. I read books about topics that I need to understand. I read warning labels, street signs, websites and anything else that can tell me what I need to know.

Just this week, a friend of mine approached me about helping her design a website for her small business. I've done a bit of web design in the past, but I worried I was a bit rusty. After talking with her about what she needed, I began to read everything I could about HTML and web design. Now, in a short amount of time, I've been able to create a simple webpage with relatively little difficulty. It's no where near finished, but it's a solid foundation. 

This is pretty much what I do whenever I have a task or problem that I can't immediately solve on my own. Most of the time I'm able to find the information that I need quickly enough and it also gives me a sense of accomplishment once I've figured out a solution. 

Next time you're faced with a problem, try doing some basic reading on the topic at hand and see if you can't solve it yourself.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Friday Food For Thought

Outside the Box: From Teaching to Tea Parties I love this idea. Yes, some writers are teachers, but that doesn't mean we all have to do it. (@ The Millions)

The American Novel Since 1945 with Amy Hungerford I had the pleasure of discovering this Yale Open Course online this week and am now steadily making my way through it. (@ Youtube)

How Rejection Can Lead to Hope Just because you get rejected once doesn't mean you need to give up on your work. (@ Writer's Digest)

Monday, June 18, 2012

What I'm Reading Now

At the moment, I'm reading a lovely memoir called The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn. It's about the year she spent studying French cuisine at Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris. 

I adore this book.

I think the main reason is because I've been obsessed with France for a long time. I spent most of my teen years dreaming of the day when I'd finally get to visit the Eiffel Tower and tour the Palace of Versailles. I eventually did get to go, but as an seventeen year-old on a school trip there's only so much exploring you can do. I got to see the sites, but I know there are a lot of things I missed. Basically, I've wanted to go back ever since I came home.

(This is one of my favorite photos from the trip.)

So, reading this book, I can't help but start dreaming again. The story is well told and the places are familiar - some I've been to and some I've been reading about my entire life. As I'm reading I can't help but be bitten by the travel bug. I'm dying to go back to Paris. 

You might be thinking, "okay, but this book isn't really about traveling." No, it's about cooking, you're right. Personally, I'm not a very talented chef. I can make appetizing meals, and I have a few things I specialize in, but cooking was never a passion of mine. It's not something I like to spend a lot of time getting good at. So the recipes printed in this book and the stories from her actual cooking classes? They're not what's getting me to turn the pages. That's not to say they're not interesting. Some one who actively wants to learn about cooking would probably be fascinated by the demonstrations and the recipes.

The memoir is a nice balance between cookbook/tales from the kitchen and a travelogue. It's smart, captivating and fun.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Friday Food For Thought

How to Write a Great Thriller: 6 Pieces of Advice Personally, I think this post should be called How to Write a Great Novel. Some of the advice is genre specific, but most of it is transferable to any type of fiction. (@ Guide to Literary Agents)

 Do It Like You're Dating A Sexy Beast This is a very funny post with great advice at the heart of it. It's easy to forget that set-up for your story should be subtle. Lace the details in rather than dumping a huge amount of backstory onto the first page. (@ Musings From the Slush Pile)

More Soon: A Sampling of Electronic Correspondence with Magazine Editors Another post to get you laughing this afternoon. (@ The Millions)

Monday, June 11, 2012

Re-Reading a Favorite Book

Over the weekend, I started re-reading a favorite book of mine, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

I'm taking my time with the novel this time around. I want to be able to enjoy the story, but to also learn from the techniques Marquez uses so that I can become a better storyteller.

There's one line that struck me as I began to read (lesson one: engage your readers by putting compelling ideas on the first page). The line is: "'Things have a life of their own,' the gypsy proclaimed with a harsh accent. 'It's simply a matter of waking up their souls.'" This is in reference to the magnets that he is trying to sell to our MC. 

I just find that line so tellingly beautiful. It can be taken anyway you please, but think for a second in terms of storytelling. Things, (read characters) have a life of their own. We as writers can be responsible for waking up their souls (read telling their stories). 

Next time you find yourself stuck in your writing, try to think of yourself as someone who wakes up souls instead of someone who is struggling to tell a story. Allow yourself to use mental magnets to draw these characters from their hiding places and onto the page where they belong.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Friday Food For Thought

Ray Bradbury Dead at 91 I was so sad to hear this news. I remember reading The Martian Chronicles when I was young and finally understanding the draw of science fiction. (@ January Magazine)

Flip the Script: Write Some Days I like the idea of writing everyday, but as we all know, sometimes it doesn't happen. As long as we don't let too many days slip by, I think it's okay to be forgiving. (@ Writer Unboxed)

Taking the Mystery Out of Query Letters This is reasonable, straight-forward advice to keep in mind. (@ Rachelle Gardner)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

How Long Does It Take You to Read a Novel?

Today I finished reading Louise Erdrich's excellent novel Love Medicine. I'm ashamed to admit that I started reading it more than a month ago.

Let me be clear, I didn't read it slowly because I wasn't enjoying it. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Every time I picked the book up I would spend an hour or so reading and sometimes even re-reading the passages. It was a book that I knew I could learn from - Erdrich is a master storyteller (as cliche as it sounds to say that, it's true) and I often find myself trying to analyze what she does in her stories that make them so memorable to me.

Here's the problem though: some days I don't have an hour. Last month got crazy and there were two weeks were I literally felt like I lived at my day job. I didn't have a lot of time to relax with a book.

I keep a list of all the books that I read and try to make note of how long each book takes me to get through and how much I enjoyed it. Looking over the list that I've been keeping since 2005, I'm really not convinced that there's any correlation.

Supposedly if you enjoy a book it should be quicker to read than if you're not enjoying it. I don't really think that's the case, at least not for me. Why? Because life is always going on around you.

As much as I love reading and writing, none of us can live life with our nose stuck in a book. In 2005 it took me any where from 4 hours to 3 months to finish reading a book. I was in high school, but I still managed to read for fun. In 2010 I didn't finish anything in less than a week, but I was also in my last year of college. In 2011, by contrast, I finished most of the books that I read in a handful of days, as I didn't have a whole lot else to do. This year, it's been a mixed bag. Some books only took a few days to read, some took more than a month.

Maybe I'm the only one who pays this close attention to these things, but maybe I'm not. Tell me about your experience? How long does it take you to read a book? Do novels take more or less time than non-fiction books? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Try Something New

Leap of Faith
(Photo Credit: ClickFlashPhotos via Creative Commons)
It's easy to fall into routines. 

You do something the same way often enough and suddenly that feels like the most natural way to do it. The thought of changing the routine or trying a new method seems crazy. 

Why change things up when the current routine is working?

Well, if it's working, you probably don't need to change anything. However, if you feel bored or frustrated with your routine, then it's a good time to switch things up.

For example, nearly everyday I eat dinner, do the dishes, tool around on the internet or some other mindless activity for a few hours, and then watch a half hour to an hour of tv before bed. But I've started to be bored with this routine. I've started to feel tired when I shouldn't and generally sluggish. 

The solution I've come up with is to go for a walk around my neighborhood either before or after dinner. The exercise and fresh air have made me feel more energized and getting out of the apartment for a bit each day adds some interest to my evenings. It's not a huge change, but it's enough.

Having a daily routine can be great, but sometimes it's worth breaking things up and changing it a bit. I started small by adding a walk into my routine. I've also made a list of new things I'd like to do this summer. These are things I wouldn't normally do in my everyday life but have always been of interest to me. 

Trying new things can give us a sense of accomplishment because even if we turn out to not like the activity or food or whatever it is, we'll still have overcome that bit of resistance that is newness.

If you feel stuck in your routine then I invite you to try something new with me. Big or small. It could be as simple as finally eating kale or as difficult as getting a pilot's license. 

Whatever you have on your list, share it with us in the comments below.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Friday Food For Thought

The Not-So-Starving Artist This is a thoughtful piece about how writers can fund their projects, even when they're just starting out. (@ Writer Unboxed)

A Note on the Paper: An Encomium to Larry Please think before you print this page. (@ The Millions)

Amazing Advice for Aspiring Writers by Neil Gaiman Watch Gaiman's commencement speech and learn. (@ Write to Done)