5 Great Books For Writers

I’ve written all my life, but I only seriously started writing a handful of years ago, and I didn’t know nearly as much about writing or what it takes to get published as I thought I did.

In part, that might be a good thing. Sometimes being naive when starting a journey can be helpful. After all, when you don’t know how difficult something is, it can be easier to begin.

While there’s no substitute for putting your butt in the chair and actually writing, there are a lot of books out there that can help point you in the right direction. These are some of the ones I’ve found most helpful.

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On Writing, by Stephen King

Part how-to, part encouragement, there’s so much great advice in this book. Whether or not you actually like Stephen King, this book should be on every writer’s shelf.

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Story Engineering: Mastering the Core Competencies of Successful Writing, by Larry Brooks

This book is my writing bible. No, seriously, it really is. It’s highlighted with tons of post-its stuck to the pages. It lays the structure of a story out in a concrete, simple way that works for my literal brain.

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Write Great Fiction: Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint, by Nancy Kress

My writing critique group told me that my characters needed more agency until I was ready to explode. They also told me that my main characters were “wishy-washy” and “gray.” It’s not that I didn’t agree with them; it’s just that I had no idea how to fix the issue. This is the first book that actually made sense to me as to how to build good characters and sustain them through an entire book.

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Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, by Elizabeth Gilbert

As much as I love writing, sometimes I just get burned out from doing it. I do it because I love it, but sometimes keeping all the balls in the air of juggling plot, character, conflict, etc drives me a little crazy. I read this book at exactly the time in my life that I needed to, and it helped me remember why I fell in love with stories.

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Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done, by Laura Vanderkam

This isn’t technically a book on writing, but if there’s one thing I hear from most people who write, it’s “I wish I had more time to write!” This book has an excellent practical and philosophical take on how to get more done and make the most use of the time we have.

If you write, are there any books you’ve found especially helpful?

10 Ways to Waste Time Instead of Writing

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Want to be a writer, but don’t actually want to write words? Here are some great ways to waste time while complaining that you don’t actually have time to write.

Here are 10 ways to waste time instead of writing:

1. Social media

Any of them! There are so many rabbit holes to disappear into. Want to be enraged about politics? There’s something for that! Cute cat videos more your style? They’re everywhere! Want to voyeuristically spy on everyone you know and read vague statuses about people who are upset about things but don’t actually want to tell anyone what they’re talking about? Oh boy, does social media have those!

2. Play games

My personal favorites are Words With Friends, Soda Crush, and Cribbage. But don’t worry, if those aren’t your style, there are plenty more where those came from.

3. Read

This one hurts me to call “wasting time,” but when it cuts into designated writing time, I think it counts. Bonus points if you pretend it’s research because you’re reading in your genre, or outside your genre, or something with a vague relation to something you’re writing about.

4. Watch TV

After all, you thought about typing four words. Your brain needs to rest now. And maybe that rerun of Jersey Shore will spark creativity.

5. Talk about all the stories you want to write instead of actually writing them

Loudly inform everyone you see that you’re a writer, and tell them every detail of the plot you haven’t actually written yet. Bonus points if their eyes glaze over. Double bonus points for drool.

6. Do all the chores that desperately need to be done RIGHT NOW

Dishes that have been in the sink for 12 hours really can’t wait any longer while you write for an hour. That laundry that’s been there since the weekend isn’t going to fold itself. Do all those leftover chores immediately, then look at the time mournfully and realize that you were once again, too busy to write.

7. Stop writing and do something else if it seems difficult.

All successful writers write in a cloud of rainbow sparkles as the words effortlessly flow from their fingertips. If it feels like work, that means today isn’t the magical writing day. Maybe tomorrow.

8. Look for lots of encouraging quotes and memes on writing

Find the perfect bit of encouragement before you can start. This will mean reading approximately 8,362 web pages, and oops! Writing time is gone today. Too bad you’ll need a different encouragement tomorrow.

9. If it’s not perfect, don’t even write put it on paper

Writing crap isn’t a learning experience that counts toward your 10,000 hours until you’re an expert. Only writing perfect words counts. So what if you only write 6 words a week? You’ll get to that expert level in 30 or 40 years.

10. Obsess over any and all criticism (but don’t learn from it!)

Criticism means you suck. You’ll never write anything worthwhile. You should be better than this by now. Read it over and over again until your self-esteem is shot and you couldn’t write a sentence if you tried. But whatever you do, don’t try to find ways to improve. That would lead to productivity.

What ways do you waste time instead of writing?

Five Things Friday- August 2018

One- What I’m Writing

I submitted my YA thriller, Not Dead Enough, to Pitch Wars! (Keep your fingers crossed for me!) I’m editing my YA horror novel, Acheron Crossing, along with my amazing critique groups. And I’m outlining/ brainstorming/ writing/ cursing another YA novel, currently titled Hide in The Light.

Two- Random Fact About Me

I used to practice with a roller derby team. I had to quit before I could ever join (because I got a new job that conflicted).

Three- What I’m Grateful For This Month

I’m grateful for no kill shelters and rescues… they do great work and have amazing volunteers.

Four- When I Wasn’t Reading

I went on a ghost walk in Austin and went to a roller derby bout, both of which were a lot of fun. We also brought a new dog home.

Five- Favorite Picture This Month

Ripley and Midnyte never could have lay this close without grumbling and growling, but Comet and Ripley get along with no problems. It really warms my heart to see them together.

Please Stop- Tropes I Hate

As I said earlier this week, I love me some tropey goodness as much as the next person, and YA (my preferred genre) is full of them. But there are some tropes I’ve seen enough of, and here’s a few.

  1. Girls who don’t know how attractive they are. Okay, I get it. We all thought we weren’t attractive in high school, even if we were. But the reason we (I) thought that is because none of the guys were interested in me. I’m pretty sure that if I’d had a bunch of guys fighting over me telling me how pretty I was, I would have been like, “Oh, okay. I’m gorgeous. Cool.” Why is it such a terrible thing if the protagonist is attractive and knows it? It doesn’t have to be her only characteristic, (PLEASE don’t make it her only characteristic) but when everyone else comments that she’s the fairest of them all, and she’s clueless, I just roll my eyes. Make her confident and gorgeous and own it, or maybe she can just be average. Lots of people are.
  2. The love triangle. For the record, I don’t hate all love triangles. Some of them are done well. The fact is that most of us have never been involved in a love triangle; they just don’t happen that much. The love triangles I object to are the ones that seem to happen just to make the main character more interesting, or so that she has someone to fall back on when her main love interest breaks up with/ cheats on/ tries to kill her.
  3. The best friend pining for the main character. This one is my absolute least favorite, especially if it’s just a pawn of the love triangle. How to fix it: Have the relationship actually be platonic. Platonic guy-girl relationships are great.
  4. The main character has no friends. This one drives me crazy, especially in mental health fiction. Sure, there are some people out there who are isolated, but not everyone gets dumped by their friends when bad things happen. This is just a plot device so that the love interest who comes along can save them. Because there’s always a love interest who saves the day in these books.
  5. The main character is so different/ special/ not bitchy like other girls that she has no girlfriends. This one really needs to stop. I tend to get along better with guys, but I have plenty of girlfriends. If a girl gets along with no other girls, she’s probably a problem. Let’s all support one another and realize that our differences make us awesome. It doesn’t have to be Manicures vs. Getting Your Hands Dirty. We can all coexist.
  6. The love interest is really an immortal creature who’s been around for hundreds of years but still acts exactly like a teenager and falls in love with a teenager. Maturity is not a function of what you look like! Just because you look like a 16-year-old doesn’t mean you should still be acting like one forever. If you are, that’s a sign of a serious problem. There are reasons why maturity level might not happen and this relationship could become plausible. In Anna Dressed In Blood, Anna is a bloodthirsty ghost who loses her identity. When she falls for Cas, it makes sense because when you’re just tearing people apart, you don’t have much time for personal growth.
  7. Stalking = love. It doesn’t. No means no, and go away means go away. While we’re on the subject, possessiveness and jealousy don’t automatically equate to love either. I can give these somewhat of a pass in YA fiction because teenagers are immature and hormonal and do stupid things… but let’s not act as if it’s romantic.

What tropes do you hate?

Related posts: Shut Up and Take My Money! Tropes I Love

10 Things That Help Me Unblock Creativity

I’ve been sort of in a funk lately. Not like, depressed. But just feeling like the story I want to tell wasn’t going well.

For me, I’m doing well with everything or nothing. While the writing wasn’t going well, I wasn’t having much success with other things either. I was feeling disorganized, as if any item I put on my “To Do” list went off and died there. I was struggling with eating healthy, and wasn’t taking my dog for regular walks.

It wasn’t that I felt unmotivated; far from it. I wanted to accomplish all those things, but when it came down to it, I found myself reading a book or playing a game on my phone (I love 1010!) or aimlessly surfing the internet. And then the day was gone, and I’d managed to check off one thing.

Two weeks ago, I couldn’t do what I’d planned to, and was sort of forced to steam vac my carpets. (Let’s just say I have lots of pets and leave it at that, okay?) And it felt kind of good to move around and play music really loud and sweat and have something tangible I accomplished.

None of that week went as planned, but I got lots of things done. And then the following week rolled around, and all that motivation I’d stored up but hadn’t used just kind of burst to the surface.

I decided that I needed to clean off my desk and make my workspace a bit more appealing. In the midst of doing that, I saw my kaleidoscope collection and realized that I haven’t looked through them in a while.

In the past, when I’ve been searching for inspiration, I’ve sat down and looked through a kaleidoscope. More recently, I take out my phone and play 1010! It’s not the same.

I found my fountain pen, disassembled and cleaned on my desk, and realized that I haven’t been using that either. I love my fountain pens.

With all the other life clutter going on, I decided it was a good idea to make myself a list of things I love, so that next time I’m in a funk, I can remember to reconnect.

  1. Kaleidoscopes– Looking at the swirling colors is a form of meditation for me. I can slow down for a moment and just concentrate on one thing. If you want to get metaphysical, I can also remember that like life, they’re beautiful and constantly changing.
  2. Fountain pens– I started using a cheap plastic fountain pen when I was in my teens, and I just love them. Actually, I love all pens: gel pens and sharpies and nice ballpoints. But I have a special love of the smooth writing of a good fountain pen. I love to see ink on my fingers.
  3. Journaling– I seem to get away from this just when I need it the most. I’m trying (again) to make it a daily practice. I always use the excuse that it’s hard when life gets busy. But when isn’t life busy?
  4. Doodling– I’m trying to get more into art journaling. I’ve always wanted to be able to draw, but am TERRIBLE at it. (No, seriously, visual art is something I’m bad at.) But I’m okay with loving something and being terrible at it. Lucky for me, Pinterest has about a million boards for inspiration on the topic. Right now, I’m mostly working with banners and arrows. Gotta start somewhere, right?
  5. Stickers– I can’t draw, but I can put stickers on everything.
  6. Healthy eating– I really do feel better when I eat better.
  7. Logic puzzles– While just playing random games isn’t all that helpful (and is actually a time waster, I know!), logic puzzles use the logical part of my brain. I guess that makes my whole brain work better? I don’t know; I just know that mindful game playing works for me.
  8. Coloring– For me, coloring is like meditation. I can’t draw, but I can stay inside the lines. The biggest decision I have to make is whether to use the blue or the purple crayon. It helps me turn off my conscious mind for a little while. Sometimes, that’s the space where answers find me, instead of me looking for them. Adult coloring books are a thing now. You can find them anywhere, even Wal-Mart and Amazon.
  9. Taking a Walk– We have a lovely greenbelt near our house. Getting out and listening to the birds sing and the breeze moving through the trees is relaxing, and sometimes helps my brain get moving again.
  10. Candles– There are more and more articles out there about the benefits of aromatherapy. It can help improve mood, help with wakefulness, even help with physical issues like headaches! I love burning candles and filling my office with scent. Because it’s what I do when I write, my brain knows that when it smells vanilla candles burning, it’s time to get to work.

What kinds of things help you unblock creativity?

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Changing Things Up

 

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My goal, in writing this blog, is to keep things interesting and relevant, so I’m constantly assessing what posts people like and respond to.

He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.

-Harold Wilson

With that in mind, I’m changing my weekly updates on book challenge progress and turning them into monthly updates. If anyone was really looking forward to weekly updates, email me and we’ll talk, but I’m not seeing much engagement, and they’re certainly not one of my more popular posts.

Right now, I’m not planning to replace it with a new feature. I’m also changing to a Monday & Thursday blogging schedule.

I appreciate every single person who reads my posts. I love to read comments, and I enjoy opinions and discussion. Therefore, I encourage you to leave a comment or respond to someone else’s comment. But even if you’re just stopping by to read, thank you!

See you on Thursday!

How to Keep a Travel Journal

I have a number of journals: one specifically for quotes, one for general thoughts, one for stories, and one for travel. I find that having multiple journals works for me as a way of staying organized.

It had never occurred to me to keep a travel journal until I saw the ones my sister in law keeps. She explained that she buys her “next” travel journal at her last location.

I loved the idea of keeping a record of my trips, but it’s taken me some time to refine what works for me.

The Journal

Size: You want something big enough that you’re comfortable writing in and large enough that you can stick in tickets, business cards, random bits of paper, but small enough to carry with you.

Paper type: Something thick enough to hold all that ephemera. And if you’re like me, you don’t want the ink to bleed through.

I like 5×8.5 inch Molskine, but there are many other good journals out there. I use one journal until it’s filled, while my sister-in-law uses one per trip. It’s all about what works for you.

The Supplies

My bag of supplies for travel journaling has grown over time. Here’s what I like to keep with me:

Pens: I’m fond of writing in different colored inks, and I prefer high-quality gel pens. My current favorite is the PaperMate Ink Joy Gel. Believe me when I say that I’ve tried a ton of different pens. I also like writing with a fountain pen, but those can be a pain to carry on trips.

Glue stick & washi tape: These are great for attaching things inside the journal. I used to just leave them loose and attach them when I got home, but it’s so much easier to do right away. For one thing, it reduces the chance that you’ll lose something. Just remember that a glue stick can’t go in your carry-on bag.

Scissors: Sometimes I want to cut things out of flyers. On cruise ships, they give daily bulletins, and there’s some things that are fun to cut out, like the daily weather and port. Whenever I try tearing things out, I inevitably rip them. Scissors are my friend. But they also can’t go in the carry-on.

LifePrint: Last Christmas, my husband bought me a LifePrint, and it is one of the best presents I’ve ever gotten. I can print pictures directly from my phone, and it’s tiny, so it travels easily. I always see advice to draw and sketch in travel journals, and while I admire people who can do that, I have to Google “how to draw _____” whenever I want to draw a basic shape. I swear, I’ll take a drawing class one day. For now, there’s LifePrint.

What to Record

First, decide who the travel journal is for. Do you intend to share it with others? Or is it just for you? It may make a difference on what you write down. At first I had the idea that I might share, but as time went on, I realized that it was more fun for me to write down more personal observations rather than to go back and forth between my travel journal and my personal journal.

I also like recording my hotel, airline, and travel information on the first page of that trip. I have a handy place to gather all my necessary information, but it’s also nice to be able to look back and remember if I liked that hotel, cruise ship, etc.

You can record literally anything in a travel journal. The point is to have a fun and memorable trip. I tend to record observations about people and philosophical concepts, as well as what I did and ate on a given day. My sister-in-law tends to record a lot more about the history of places. It all depends on what you personally want to remember.

I’ve also gotten less fussy about keeping it as a “pure” record. I’ll put anything in my journal, even if I just need to use it for scrap paper. Some of those jottings can be fun to see in the future.

The most important thing is to regard it as a fun and to use your imagination. My journals have more stuff interspersed with the writing as time goes on.

Preparing Ahead

In addition to gathering supplies, it can also be fun to get maps or other printed materials. Stickers are always fun, and since scrapbooking has become so popular, there are tons available everywhere.

Do you keep a travel journal? If so, do you have any tips?