Thursday, March 27, 2008

13 Books For Writers

Yes, I am about to recommend books for writers about the craft. I would never recommend any book that I have not read and used. The following books are not so much ranked but placed in the upper tier or first half, and the lower tier or second half of the list. My motivation for this T13 began as an exercise in "quick! let's get this done" and ended in a thoughtful review of books on my shelves, or in my hands, or in two cases, on my iPod and in my ears again and again. As Peter Pan says, "Look out everybody. Here we go!"

1. Strunk and White. The Elements of Style. Indispensable. Definitive. I cannot see how anyone could call himself or herself a writer without having read this. Owning a copy? I own several, including the illustrated version.

2. Zinsser. On Writing Well. Classic guide to non-fiction, says the cover. No matter what genre or sub-genre or memo you plan to write, this book is direct and readable. What I most admire about #1 and #2 is the love of language clearly singing from every page.

3. Vogler. The Writer's Journey
- Mythic Structure for Writers. Eye-opening. I was planning to add Campbell's work on mythology to this list, but I believe Vogler presents mythic structure in a most delightfully accessible way.

4. Cameron. The Artist's Way. Tough program that has worked wonders for my creativity and my life.

5. Stein. Stein on Writing. Wow. Not just theory, but craft techniques and strategies that work. My copy is dog-eared and highlighted. Now I own the audio version and replay often.

6. McKee. Story. He's a god-small-g in Hollywood, so novel writers might discount these words of deep wisdom. This book is beyond marvelous. The dissection of a scene -- through postive and negative tension is worth the book's weight. Again, I've read and dog-eared and now own the audio version. I'm playing it over and over.

7. Pressfield. The War of Art. His discussion of RESISTANCE alone is worth the price of the book. The degree of resistance you have to writing, is equal to the degree to which you NEED to write. The universe wants you to succeed.

8. Gardner, John. On Becoming a Novelist (and The Art of Fiction). I met John Gardner shortly before his untimely death. Amazing raconteur, writer and teacher. He IS a master. This work resonates with truth.

9. Bernays and Painter. What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers. Go back to the well, prime the pump, and see what develops.

10. Atchity. A Writer's Time. Terrific work about the process and use of time. I own two editions.

11. Lukeman. The First Five Pages. If you desire publication, this is the book for you.

12. Pickard and Lott. Seven Steps on the Writer's Path. They've nailed the journey from Unhappiness to Fulfillment. Lots of zingers here for the serious writer.

13. Baldwin, Christina. Life's Companion - Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest. This book made me look at my life and find the courage to change. I always knew I was supposed to write and I buried that knowledge below the needs of others. My heart yearned and in the call, I found this book and stepped onto my own path.

These are by no means the only books I own on writing. I have several shelves of books that I use for teaching and for prodding my own process. These are the ones I use the most and the most important to the development of any writer.

Now, I'm going back to WRITING! Care to join me?!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Woke this morning, realized Thursday was upon me, and started reeling off ideas for Thursday Thirteen. I needed quick and dirty. I must grade mid term exams today and post grades. No time to waste. Not that this is a waste. Oh my goodness, no! I did not scratch the surface here, and did write off the top of my head. As you might note, I started to lecture with #1 and gave up the ghost for most of the list. I'd just say... "nuff said," and get on with WRITING!

1. Read -- I say read everything. Others say you will write what you read, or you should read what you want to write. I'm for reading a broad spectrum of work. Even though I prefer fiction, non-fiction provides balance and food for thought. Curiosity is the gateway to the imagination. Read the classics. (I'm not going to give you a list. You said, "Thank goodness" then, didn't you?) And you said, "Oh, poop!" or "Poppycock." You may not like these works. You may rebel against the label "classics." You may disagree that these works are even "good." But you have no room to talk if you haven't read them. Every single bit of writing that you read, good and bad, contributes to your writing. You might hate reading Moby Dick (trust me, it's not my that sucker 3 times... shudder) AND (yes, no "but" here... remember you can hold two disagreeing thoughts at the same time) AND learn a great deal about writing by reading it. Think about a character so driven by obsession that he or she is willing to take the whole world down to hell to achieve his or her aims. READ! Read for diction, love of language, turn of phrase, plotting, characterization, comedy...... learn by doing. When words come through your eyes into your heart, they can flow out of your pen.

2. Grammar - learn your language. Yeah, yeah, yeah, you hated this in school. Get over yourself (sorry, cliche?). If you hate grammar, for the life of me, I cannot understand why you've chosen to write. Knowledge of grammar is so basic that I shouldn't even have to list it. Period. You're not taking a test, you're writing a book. Embrace the rules; THEN you can break them... or not.

3. Stop using "there." Remove when notice; learn to write without using "there" in the first place. . Just do it. Never use "there" again. Okay... maybe in dialogue. I'm not going to explain this rule. Trust me.

4. Question every use of "it." Remember the word "antecedent?" No? Go back to #2.

5. Remove redundancy. That would be saying the same thing twice. Not just words but ideas or plot points. When you've strung two or three adjectives together, cut until you have the exact word you want. One word will suffice in most situations.

6. Question every use of "had." Use "find/replace." Read every sentence. Verb tense shifts? Don't know what that means? #2

7. About adverbs. Adverbs are getting a bad rap. You do NOT have to eschew adverbs or deny their existence. Remove or question these: really, very, just, even, well. These can be insidious and add nothing to your writing. Do not run amok slashing every LY word. Be conscious during the revision and editing phase. Be conscious all the time. Especially when you drive. (thought I'd see if you were still reading)

8. Remove cliches. I mean all. Do not use phrases, descriptions, metaphors, similes, or plot points that stink of cliche.

9. Word order. Remember that the point you want to emphasize should be placed at the end of the phrase, sentence, paragraph, chapter, or essay. Train your eye to see this during revisions. By now you're thinking, "Writing is hard work." Um. Duh.

10. Triage Revisions. Do not start at page one and keep re-reading your work. When you think you are finished, wait a period of time. Then, visualize the scenes of your writing. If you can't visualize anything about your story after a time out, you're in big trouble. If you can visualize, consider the strongest scene. Consider the weakest scene. Go to these scenes first and begin to craft revisions. This idea is from Sol Stein's, STEIN ON WRITING. If you want to read an excellent book, read his.

11. Read your work aloud.

12. Use a dictionary and a thesaurus. ALL. THE. TIME. Spelling does count. Word choice and use does count.

13. Write every day. If you truly want to write well, you must WRITE. Every time you write, even if it is a note to your husband, or a card to your mother -- consider every word. Pay attention to your writing. Use every occasion to write as an opportunity to learn your craft. Don't fool yourself that writing is a gift and only certain people have been given this creative present. Don't fool yourself that creativity cannot be taught. Be present for yourself. Practice makes perfect.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Today we've rolled a double 13.
It's Thursday 13 x March

I've been rattling around the house, considering my options.
Okay... how about a list of the Thursday 13 ideas that I considered and scratched?

1. Thirteen Ways to Avoid St. Patrick's Day Parties
2. Thirteen Ways to Improve Your Rotten Attitude
3. Thirteen Ways to Track Down Dirt on the Internet
4. Thirteen Ways to React to Bad News
5. Thirteen Recipes for Meatloaf
6. Thirteen HOT Vacation Destinations for Snowbound Vermonters
7. Thirteen Excuses for Missing Speech Class
8. Thirteen Favorite Text Message Abbreviations
9. Thirteen Books I Am Willing to Trade
10. Thirteen Reasons to Elect a Democratic President in 2008
11. Thirteen Ways to Save Money During the Recession
12. Thirteen Pets I've Never Owned
13. Thirteen Ancestors I Want on My Family Tree

Was gonna explain each, but don't have time. Some are crazy. Some would just make me crazy.
What T13 categories have you considered and rejected?

Wanna swap?

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Okay, I'm playing along with the Vixster. She started or continued this meme. What's a meme? Someday we delve into that. Not now. Here are the "rules"... Go to your music program (iPod or whatever) and click on "shuffle." Use the following basic list of 13 "Times of Your Life," but substitute, in order, the songs on your random shuffle list for the songs I found on mine. You can copy and paste. Easy? Sure! Add any comments you want. I usually do. Duh.

1. Opening Credits: Born Free from Henry Mancini in Hollywood -- hmmm nice sweeping opening

2. Waking Up: I Know a Place by Petula Clark (oh, soooo 60's and upbeat -- reminds me of my youth)

3. Falling in Love: Goodnight My Love by Harry Connick, Jr. (very romantic! sleep tight my love)

4. Breaking Up: The Searchers -- title number on soundtrack from the movie with John Wayne. You know... the movie where he's looking for his niece who has been captured by the Apaches. Talk about a break up... years of searching... slogging through the desert, wind, rain, snow, heat. Oy yoi yoi.

5. Life's Okay: Moon River by Henry Mancini (yeah, I have a lot of soundtracks on here.... like to write to these) Who wouldn't love life if Moon River accompanied you everywhere? Hmmm... black dresses and pearls.

6. Mental Breakdown: What I Did for Love -- from the original Broadway soundtrack of A Chorus Line. Yeah, that fits, all too well. Isn't love the catalyst for every breakdown in life. Surely.

7. Flashback: Run for the Roses by Dan Fogelberg (ah... how poignant) Tears here. Lots of tears.

8. Getting Back Together: March of the Bulls by Hugo Montenegro (very macho...very challenging bullfight scene. I see a thrilling encounter here!)

9. Wedding: Ready to Take a Chance Again by Barry Manilow (hey! how'd he get in here? jk... I love Barry.. .he has his place, and I guess, having wed three times, this is tres fitting for my life movie... oh yeah) (weird, huh?)

10. Birth of Child: All That Jazz from "Chicago" sung by Bebe Neuwirth. Good. That's a fun song. Geoff's birth is a very sunny memory. 6:30 a.m. I heard the train whistle in the distance. Sunlight through the window. A very small hospital in San Luis Obispo, CA. The same small town where I was born. And the only time I lived there was when I was born, and once again when I delivered Geoff. Never lived there any other time.

11. Final Battle: Lost in Tuscany by Rachel Portman from the soundtrack of "Only You" -- a great place to face a final battle... I adore Italy. I must have been a Roman in a past life.

12. Death Scene: Hedwig's Theme by John Williams from Harry Potter soundtrack. Oh, that's very magical. I like that.

13. Ending Credits: Cast Your Fate to the Wind by George Winston from Linus & Lucy. Perfect. I've always envisioned that piece as sailing music... sailing away. Nice soft fade to black..

Spring Has NOT Sprung
Dream on,
ye of the frozen north
(Nanuck, is that you?)

1. Yuck. The snow turns gray and melts to show ...the two inch layer of ice below.

2. Cabin Fever. I get the overwhelming urge to open the windows and breathe fresh air.

3. Birds. They return. Two by two. And wake me up before dawn. How do they know?

4. Flowers. The grocery store is selling daffodils. We will not see a real daffodil for at least two months, but we can dream.

5. Corned Beef and Cabbage. -- speaking of market displays. St. Patrick's Day becomes the front-and-center holiday. Must be the lure of alcohol sales.

6. Easter. -- okay I lied about the holiday displays. Chocolate bunnies. Decorated ggs. Fluffy yellow chicks (and I'm not talking about Lindsay Lohan and Britney) . What does this have to do with crucifixion and resurrection? Renewal? New life? Oh... that's such a stretch. Can you say.....

7. Pagan displays. I cheated and added this one because I'm not sure I can get 13. But come on... the whole bunny and chick and egg celebration, with grass and baskets is completely and unmercifully pagan. It's a Fertility Rite. I wish those rabid Christians would take a step back and SEE this.... no, they'll go blithely through the forest searching for eggs. Duh.

8. Booking. The summer vacation spot. More and more dreams of sun and warmth, further and further away from the snow. We aren't even interested in Spring Break. We want the LONG vacation. Sigh. I have booked a week at the beach. In June. So near and yet so far.

9. Grouchiness. Everyone here grumbles about the weather and itches for temperatures above 40. My WW group was hysterical. Snack attacks! And nowhere to run. Really, nowhere to go outside and run. Bummer.

10. Animal tracks. Crisscrossing the snow. More and more tracks. We need to post road signs on the trail behind the house. The rabbits have come out of their warren under the big tree stump. Lots of little paw prints all over that spot. Deer tracks. Fox. Baby squirrels and chipmunks have started running up and down tree trunks. Leaping (yes! they amazingly fly) between the highest branches. Don't they know they can just run down and over and up?

11. Salad. I'm beginning to crave large, leafy, crisp green salads. And veggies. Tricking myself into summer. Plus lemonade.

12. Exercise. Even more than flipping the calendar to January 1, with the approach of spring I get serious about my weight and shape. And bathing suits appeared at TJMaxx last week. Oh no. I am so not ready.

13. Pack the black. I am reaching for colors again. I don't want to wear any more black. Last weekend, I bought a beautiful soft jade sweater. I looked longingly at the box of my sandals deep in the closet. I brought out my spring coat. And yesterday it rained (no snow!). I brought out my umbrella. A girl can dream, can't she? (as long as she doesn't listen to the weather reports of .... more snow...)

Saturday, March 01, 2008

March 1


I adore pigs. I do. Something about pigs always brings a smile to my kisser.
But really. Pig Day? Who thinks up this stuff?

I am back from California, where the sun mostly shined and all I did was EAT.
So.... I guess we are celebrating.... me being a "pig" day?

I'm late with Thursday Thirteen, since it's Saturday.
Vix has tagged me with a meme.
Who coined that word? Is it a word? What does it really mean?
I do not have six people to "tag" but I will attempt the Six Random Things About Me, right after my big Pig Day celebration lunch. How's that?
And no, we are not having pork or any pork products today.
But I will try a Turkey Bacon and Tomato Sandwich, just for my piggie friends.