The Getaway Car by Ann Patchett fit the primary criteria for the kind of book I was looking for: very short & filled with writing advice. I downloaded the Kindle book at the airport between flights. This mini-memoir, which is a dainty 45 pages, was the perfect book to finish out the tail end of my airport travel. I already knew I liked Patchett from reading Bel Canto, and I was delighted to find there was an easy source for her compiled writing advice.
Goodreads does this cool thing where it links to your Kindle and gives you the option to upload and share your highlights, so here are mine:
The story is in us, and all we have to do is sit there and write it down. But it’s right about there, the part where we sit, that things fall apart… If a person has never given writing a try, he or she assumes that a brilliant idea is hard to come by… Writing the ideas down, it turns out, is the real trick.
Living a life is not the same as writing a book… Maybe everyone does have a novel in them, perhaps even a great one. I don’t believe it, but for the purposes of this argument, let’s say it’s so. Only a few of us are going to be willing to break our own hearts by trading in the living beauty of imagination for the stark disappointment of words.
What begins as something like a dream will in fact stay a dream forever unless you have the tools and the discipline to bring it out.
Art stands on the shoulders of craft.
Playing the cello, we’re more likely to realize that the pleasure is the practice, the ability to create this beautiful sound—not to do it as well as Yo-Yo Ma, but still, to touch the hem of the gown that is art itself.
Writing must not be compartmentalized. You don’t step out of the stream of your life to do your work. Work was the life.
I can teach you how to write a better sentence, how to write dialogue, maybe even how to construct a plot. But I can’t teach you how to have something to say. I would not begin to know how to teach another person how to have character, which was what Grace Paley did.
What influences us in literature comes less from what we love and more from what we happen to pick up in moments when we are especially open.
An essential element of being a writer is learning whom to listen to and whom to ignore where your work is concerned.
I had thought I was a writer when I was a student, but would I still be a writer now that I was also a waitress? It was a test of love: How long would I stick around once things were no longer going my way?
I made a decision on the trip up: I was going to put writing first. I should have done this earlier, but there were always too many other things going on.
I didn’t know exactly where writing fell in this inventory. I was sure it wasn’t at the bottom of the list, but I also knew it was never safely at the top.
The part of my brain that makes art and the part that judges that art had to be separated. While I was writing, I was not allowed to judge. That was the law.
(If you want to study the master of the well-constructed chapter—and plot and flat-out gorgeous writing—read Raymond Chandler. The Long Goodbye is my favorite.)
Even if I don’t believe in writer’s block, I certainly believe in procrastination. Writing can be frustrating and demoralizing, and so it’s only natural that we try to put it off. But don’t give “putting it off” a magic label. Writer’s block is something out of our control, like a blocked kidney—we are not responsible. We are, however, entirely responsible for procrastination, and in the best of all possible worlds, we should also be responsible for being honest with ourselves about what is really going on.
The more we are willing to separate from distraction and step into the open arms of boredom, the more writing will get on the page.
Pick an amount of time to sit at your desk every day. Start with twenty minutes, say, and work up as quickly as possible to as much time as you can spare. Do you really want to write? Sit for two hours a day. During that time, you don’t have to write, but you must stay at your desk without distraction: no phone, no Internet, no books. Sit. Still. Quietly. Do this for a week, for two weeks. Do not nap or check your e-mail. Keep on sitting for as long as you remain interested in writing. Sooner or later you will write because you will no longer be able to stand not writing.
It might not have been a realistic life, but dear God, it was a beautiful one.
Dorothy Allison once told me that she was worried she had only one story to tell, and at that moment I realized that I had only one story as well (see: The Magic Mountain—a group of strangers are thrown together…) and that really just about any decent writer you can think of can be boiled down to one story. The trick, then, is to learn not to fight it, and to thrive within that thing you know deeply and care about most of all.
Manage Your Day-to-Day was a book I had heard about, forgotten about, and heard about again. I downloaded the Kindle book and highlighted as I went along. It was a great short book for travel, comprised of short essays by some great minds—including my man Leo Babauta of mnmlist and Zen Habits—and interspersed throughout with quotable quotes. Basically this book is page after page of terrific advice for creative minds from creative minds. I challenge you to give it a try.
Goodreads does this really cool thing where it links to your Kindle and gives you the option to upload and share your highlights, so here are mine:
If you want to create something worthwhile with your life, you need to draw a line between the world’s demands and your own ambitions.
It’s better to disappoint a few people over small things, than to surrender your dreams for an empty inbox.
Usually I write for many hours during a day, though sometimes it might be a stint as short as fifteen minutes—and I never skip a day.
Frequency makes starting easier.
By working every day, you keep your momentum going.
She hadn’t done much work, so what she did accomplish had to be extraordinarily good. Because I write every day, no one day’s work seems particularly important.
I have good days and I have bad days. Some days, I don’t get much done at all. But that’s okay, because I know I’m working steadily.
Creativity arises from a constant churn of ideas, and one of the easiest ways to encourage that fertile froth is to keep your mind engaged with your project. When you work regularly, inspiration strikes regularly.
Nothing is more satisfying than seeing yourself move steadily toward a big goal.
You see yourself do the work, which shows you that you can do the work.
You make yourself make time, every day.
“It’s the task that’s never started that’s more tiresome.”
“What I do every day matters more than what I do once in a while.”
Tactics are idiosyncratic. But strategies are universal.
There are many ways you can signify to yourself that you are doing your practice. For example, some people wear a white lab coat or a particular pair of glasses, or always work in a specific place—in doing these things, they are professionalizing their art.
The notion that I do my work here, now, like this, even when I do not feel like it, and especially when I do not feel like it, is very important. Because lots and lots of people are creative when they feel like it, but you are only going to become a professional if you do it when you don’t feel like it.
We’re designed to move rhythmically between spending and renewing our energy.
Sleep is more important than food.
How do you meditate? Find a quiet space and sit. Stay upright, keep your eyes open but not focused on anything in particular, and breathe through your nose. Start by noticing your posture, your body. Then focus your attention on your breath, as it comes in and out of your body. Notice your thoughts coming up, acknowledge them, but don’t engage with them. Always return your attention to your breath. Keep doing this for at least a few minutes, and you’re done.
At first meditation will be uncomfortable, but you’ll get better at it. You’ll learn a lot about yourself, and you’ll get better at being mindful, and being comfortable in solitude. You’ll also learn to watch your thoughts and not be controlled by them. As you do, you’ll have learned a key skill for focus: how to notice the urge to switch tasks and not act on that urge, but just return your attention to the task at hand. This is what you learn in solitude, and it is everything.
In a world filled with distraction, attention is our competitive advantage. Look at each day as a challenge—and an opportunity—to keep your eye on the prize.
The amount of value lost to unchecked use of convenient but distracting work habits is staggering.
I can’t think of many things more exciting than the privilege of reading the final product of a hard-working writer friend. Y’all remember how loud I was when it came to promoting books written by my friend Ellie Di Julio, and the cheerleading I did for Chase Night‘s debut novel Chicken. These days I’m writing book reviews (what!?) and I’m honored to get the chance to review this novel: Kindling by Angel Blackwood. I am also thrilled to be in the line up for beta reading the second installment. Pretty Hot and Awesome Gang featured posts about Kindling. Here’s what I said for my Goodreads and Amazon review:
Epic fantasy meets splatter punk for high gore adventures
The scope of this novel is wide, clearly intended for a series. Rather than a single main character, readers are treated to a cast of significant characters who end up traveling in various combinations. Good and evil are clear forces at work but there’s plenty of room for gray as the main characters struggle with themselves, each other, and in many cases the dark of their pasts. Bloodthirsty readers with be sated as legions meet excruciating ends. And an interesting paradigm shift at work here is the power of magic which places women in the strong, dominant roles and men as the weaker sex. Not to be missed, Kindling is clearly the start to a series which is not to be missed.
Woohoo! Are you excited yet?! I really loved how this book flipped the script on traditional gender roles, from a main male character of small stature—Zahir—to the impossibly strong magicks of the Matron herself. There is even a scenario where men can go mad (any woman might confirm how irritating it is to hear that all women are crazy). There are two main forces at work, one led by evil men in power and one led by evil women in power, but the primary force for good as far as deities go is the essential Mother goddess. The language in this book is evocative, and those who’ve grown up on comic book movies will have no trouble at all vividly seeing how the magic in this world works. I think my favorite male character is Zahir, while my favorite female character might be Dejanira, who is a baddie! Who are yours?
PopSugar 2017 reading challenge No. 32 a book about an interesting woman. While this novel doesn’t have one main character so much as a large and varied cast, readers will notice from the very beginning that the female characters don’t mess around, mean business, and are strong, powerful, and decisive. Definitely one for the feminist pile.
Diverse Reads challenge (here and here). Yes! While the novel does not have any clearly trans characters, the novel is written by a trans author, and I’m happy to support him in his endeavors (and to know him personally and know what a cool dude he is).
The Book Date Full House challenge I think I can shuffle some things around. Lamb could be “books about books” bc it’s definitely a book about a book (fiction novel about the Bible). That would free up my Free Space for Kindling.
Tonight Karen Hayes and I will be hosting our first co-taught poetry workshop. Since it’s for teens, I tried to compile some teen-specific references. If you’re interesting in helping a teen get interested in poetry, you can use this as your starter guide!
Pop Goes the Reader even made a terrific wallpaper with the theme (and can I just say, her blog is so beautiful!!!)
If you didn’t hear the original story, here it is in a nutshell:
The phrase was first uttered by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, as he ordered Senator Elizabeth Warren to be removed from the House for reading out a 30-year-old letter by Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King Jr’s widow.
She was reading the letter to oppose the nomination of Jeff Sessions – a man who was once deemed ‘too racist’ to be a judge – for a federal judgeship.
As he ordered Senator Warren out of the House, McConnell said: ‘She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.’
Since then those three words have taken on a completely new meaning, becoming a rallying cry for women everywhere to share the hardships through which they had also ‘persisted’. (Source Metro)
I adore looking at book covers, which is one of many reasons I prefer 50 Book Pledge to its mainstream counterpart Goodreads (but of course I have accounts with both). NPR put out a “best of” list of books from 2016, and it does not disappoint. You’ll find a multitude of represented genres here, from romance to kid lit. You’ll likely recognize many famous names. Maybe you have even had the pleasure of reading some of these gems.
Included below is my review of Colson Whitehead’s genius work The Underground Railroad: A Novel, first featured on CALS Bibliocommons (a great site, but one which you have to have a library card with Central Arkansas Library System to use):
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead uses a premise we’ve likely all imagined: that the underground railroad consists of real trains, deep in the earth, helping slaves to escape their bondage and forge ahead to better lives in the free states. While this elegant metaphor is sustained throughout the novel with a light hand and to poignant affect, there is nothing else fanciful about this book. Whitehead doesn’t turn away from the ugly evils of southern history. We see the cruelty of white slave-owners, the hatred and fear of lynch mobs, the insidious racism of whites who pity blacks for perceived deficiencies. But we are able to bear all this because of the courage and determination of our main character, Cora, who never gives up. We find in her the best of human goodness and a heroine we can be proud to believe in. Woven into and throughout our protagonist’s tale, we spy glimpses of generational narratives in family lines, grandmother to mother to daughter and father to son. In a time when people are treated like things, do we apologize to our children for bringing them into this awful world, or do we continue our lines in defiance of that wickedness, and toil toward, even give our lives, for a better tomorrow? In light of recent violence against people of color, too often resulting in fatalities, this book is extremely well-timed. Whitehead is master writer, and this book should be required reading in high schools nationwide.
J. Jobe (Central Arkansas Library System, Encyclopedia of Arkansas)