Tag Archives: bookshelves

Reading as a Writer

I stopped enjoying reading in grad school. Why? I used to read as a reader, getting sucked into the world of the book and enjoying every minute. Total relaxation. Then, I spent two years studying my craft. I quit reading the authors I used to read. I no longer enjoyed their books. I couldn’t have put my finger on it; I just didn’t. I read differently now. Every book is a lesson in craft.

I still have authors I enjoy, and I will read all their books. But now they teach me. One of my favorites has a new book out, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. Have you ever picked up the wrong drink? You have an iced tea and you pick up hubby’s Coke by mistake? That OMG reaction your mouth has to that unexpected taste is what I am getting from this book. This is a good writer, but this book is driving me nuts. I want to tell my inner writer to shut up and let the reader just enjoy but…

We’ve all been told there are rules for a reason, BUT breaking them is also done for a reason. I’ve seen accomplished writers break rules and paid close attention in the hope that I could replicate that success. (still waiting) I’m a child of the sixties so I’m all about rule breaking but trying to break as many as possible in one book is too much for even a talented writer.

Some lessons a writer learns in reading are more painful than others. Such as, even our favorite writers, even those gifted in craft, make missteps. Has a favorite author ever let your inner reader down? (No names, please)

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Congratulations!

Congrats to my critique partner, Natasha Hanova, on the publication of one of her short stories in the anthology, Undead Tales 2. Here’s to many more publishing credits to come!

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My Writer’s Bookshelf (Part II)

The second half of my bookshelf list is below. These books offer wide-ranging craft lessons and insights.

6. Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose: I read this while in the MFA program and it helped me to understand why I had begun to struggle with my reading. I couldn’t read the same kind of books I’d read before, and when I read I no longer read for story. Suddenly, I was reading books with a writer’s eye and it was making my reading miserable. Until I read this book and realized that it was a good thing and began to understand why and what I could gain from the new way I approached reading.

7. Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury: I’m a longtime fan of Bradbury’s so I picked this gem up for that reason alone but the book wound up being a delightful read.

8. The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler: Vogler’s book is a study in the psychology behind character types and why we are drawn to them as humans who have encountered them time and again. While it is a fine line to make sure that we aren’t writing stereotyped characters and plots, knowing these common types allows us to develop characters that the reader will relate to. This book is important to ensure writers are familiar with the common archetypes.

9. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott: What is there to say about this book that hasn’t been said before? It’s a book every beginning writer should read and every writer should reread throughout their career.

10. A CURRENT MARKET BOOK APPROPRIATE FOR WHAT YOU WRITE: If you want to submit your writing, it’s imperative that you have a current market book. Stay on top of the latest information on markets before you submit.

Do you have writer friends? Set up a system where you can exchange books. Share with each other what you’re learning from a particular book. Recommend books to each other. What’s in your top ten list?

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My Writer’s Bookshelf

Writers have extensive libraries. It’s a part of who we are. We have books in the genres in which we write, books outside of the genre in which we write, research books, and we have how to books. We LOVE our how to books. Even when we should put them down and just write, we can’t pull ourselves from learning our craft from experts.

Every writer has a list. Books that touched them and sent them down a path of no return in terms of their growth as a writer. I’m no different. Les Edgerton quotes some of my favorites in his book, Hooked, so it made me think about my list, my top ten, as it were. Here are the first five:

On Writing by Stephen King: Brevity is probably the surprising aspect of this part autobiography/part book on writing King penned after a horrific crash nearly took his life. When you look at the average length  of  his works, this book’s length is a picture book next to an unabridged dictionary. Still, he is classic King throughout offering tongue in cheek humor and dead serious professionalism about the craft. He offers up his own work in draft form as examples of the editing process. If you’re not afraid of climbing into the dark mind of genius, this is a must read.

Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway: This is perhaps the most comprehensive how to book I’ve ever read. I read it my first semester of grad school, and she blew me away with her insights. It’s like a mini writing class. I especially love the organization of the book. She takes an aspect of the craft; for instance, characterization, and she talks about it. Then at the end of that section, she has several pieces which best exemplify what she’s tried to teach you. I never put this one away because I am always referring back to it. It’s doggy eared, highlighted, scribbled in and my most used book.

Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maas: This guy is the guru of agents. Not only is he a well-respected agent, a hot ticket on the conference scene, and a great writer, he appears to have unending energy. This book offers signposts for those seeking to find a way to make their novel break free of the pack and find success.  

The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose, and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great by Donald Maas: This is another great book to use for revision. I’ve used the exercises in it for my writer’s group as we do rewrites of our WIP. Some of my best writing has come from these pieces. If you want to find your way down to the core of your writing, this book is a great way to start.

Hooked by Les Edgerton: If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I’m reading this book. I’m moving slowly – school year and I’m teaching six days a week – but I’m experiencing high levels of excitement from what I’m learning. Honestly, given the ADD nature of people today, you need to have everything on your side when it comes to your book. Getting the reader hooked isn’t just a good idea, it’s imperative. Read this book!

Next time I’ll provide the bottom half of my top ten. Tell me, what books are on your writer’s bookshelf?

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Observations of our Past

My husband and I took a tour of a historic mansion owned by a former Secretary of Transportation in Nebraska City.  The Arbor Lodge is a wonderful trip back in time to the presidency of Grover Cleveland. As fascinating as the history of that time and place and the Morton family was, it wasn’t what held me in awe as we toured it. These large opulent rooms were definitely indicative of another time. A dining room table that would seat a baseball team, multiple sideboards and still plenty of room to walk around. A billiard room and a parlor and rooms large enough to accommodate large swells of political gatherings. And nearly all those rooms contained one thing in common, bookshelves. Lining multiple walls, some open, some glassed in, but all gloriously full of wonderful old books. Even the billiard room had bookshelves along two walls.  

  The thing that struck me about this is the dearth of bookshelves in homes today. Rarely will you find bookshelves in more than one room, and on multiple walls in multiple rooms? Unheard of. What this tour reminded me rather painfully is that we are no longer living in a world that appreciates the lure of a story well told. We no longer take the time to bury ourselves in books when we can get instant gratification from movies, TV, the Internet. Walking the halls of  that beautiful mansion, I looked at all those wonderful books long abandoned to the obscurity of a historical landmark. Abandoned in the only place left where they are appreciated, a place in history.

It still makes me sad weeks later.

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