Books for Writers Who Read Books on Writing

NaNoWriMo: Word count for today: 31,578.

Today, I should be at 33,333, though I still have two hours. I have already typed some forty-five hundred words; I’ve discovered my writing music is Irish Pub Rock, as Pandora calls it. When listening, I believe I type faster, and of course the tempo encourages me to keep up the pacing, which I don’t think is my strength at the best of times. But on a roll I can get up to two thousand words an hour, which

Now, the Sims is still on my other computer, because I didn’t actually end my playing session before coming out to watch NCIS and spin-off, but I doubt I’ll want much more time. My current pixel family has four horses with one on the way, and they’re time consuming, even more than the game alone.

Anyway, in honor of NaNo, I thought I’d mention a few writing books I have and have read recently.

  • The Writer’s Book of Matches Just a book of prompts, 1001, plus suggestions to modify them further. Most writer’s writers probably don’t need ideas, or so I hear. Ideas have never been my problem, at any rate. I get plenty. But my trouble is following through to the end. At best I get out slips of paper to jot down inspirations, collect them in any of a number of collector’s boxes. Sometimes I go so far as to write out a couple paragraphs, or even a scene. But finishing a story? The only time I’ve completed any fiction is through the two creative writing classes—and even then I often didn’t finish. But I’ve completed NaNo once, and I have crossed fingers for this year.

    Also, I have ideas for several genre-style fan fictions that I desperately want to complete. Mostly because my original writing tends to be about crazy people with mostly character development. Fan fiction on the other hand, demands more, because the readers already know the characters (except best case scenario, where someone discovers a new show after the fan story). Should be good for me. Goes hand-in-hand with the whole ‘complete’ problem too.

    Back to Matches. Personally, I found many of the suggestions to be rather tired, to be honest. Mostly genre—which, again, I don’t tend to write. But the appendix is helpful and just looking at someone else’s ideas can inspire your own. The Writer’s Book of Matches is put out by the Boiled Peanuts literary journal staff.

  • Next, I’d like to recommend The Storyteller’s Art by Francis Porretto. It’s available free as an e-book, check on Goodreads. For the sake of full disclosure, I will say it’s taken from a collection of blog posts from a blog devoted to apparently conservative and Christian values. It’s not a blog I read, so if that’s what you do like, go ahead and look it up, though I can’t personally recommend it; but if it is something you don’t like, pick up the book alone, because this is a book strictly about the craft of telling a story: not the workmanship of grammar and spelling, not the selling of the final product. This book gives the reader a different way to think about their own writing, their work-in-progress.

    I admit, however horrified my creative writing teachers would be to hear it, I enjoyed the author’s emphasis that you should not be writing ‘literary fiction.’ It does sound as though he writes genre himself, but his advice—to think about your theme and resonance  to be concerned about character, to complete the story—applies to any kind of fiction, short of deliberately changing every rule in some post-modern goal. But like Picasso, you should know the rules before trying to break them. Some people might be put off by the constant reference to himself as the ‘curmudgeon’, so they might want to read the original blog posts, if they’re still available. Otherwise, I found this readable and motivating.

  • I’ve read a few other free e-books on writing recently, but the only other one I’ll mention is Write Good or Die by Scott Nicholson. It’s also a collection of blog posts, but less well-formatted than The Storyteller’s Art. It’s also an anthology by several different authors on all parts of authorship, from the initial idea to publishing. Some are great, some had me looking at them sideways, but you may have the exact opposite reaction. With so many different perspectives, you’ll probably get something out of it. Even if you don’t, it’s free and you won’t even be out anything.

So if you like writing, I hope you’ll check them out. If you’re also in the middle of NaNo, well, you may want to look them up next year…or if you’re not waiting that long, at least until you’re finished whatever story you’re working on. Personally, I keep finding I’m much happier writing than I am when I’m not, but then I stop writing. Maybe this time will be different. I’ll keep writing best I can; maybe it’ll stick this time.

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Great American Balderdash

Aside

Long day today: not just work, but the writer’s group and book discussion group meetings. Not to mention the approximately four thousand words I’m still behind for NaNo. But I have tomorrow and next week off, so I’d better use that time to catch up. It’s just so…stuck…at the moment. In the meantime, I’ve stumbled across a Huffington Post article all about the death of the novel. Well, when I say “I” stumbled across it, that’s something of a lie. I followed the link from Goodreads, because it’s safer for me for other people to do the online stumbling of things, because they seem to have better sources than I do, and I get little enough work done now as it is.

Anyway, back to the article. The author complains two major releases for the holiday season are both not that great and therefore our culture is no longer producing good novels. In fact, we should all just give up and go watch television, because what with technology and all, words aren’t important. Because “novel means new.”

Oh where to start with that argument. Well, first, the author made it for me with the referenced examples by Tom Wolfe and of all people John Grisham as “two of America’s greatest living novelists.” And that’s the crack in the foundation of his argument that takes it all down. All of the authors he names as ones who will be forgotten are the bestsellers: Rowling, Dan Brown. Even Wolfe, I’d say, falls more into the category of ‘good seller’ for the literary fiction side than actually fantastic fiction. Look, personally I have nothing against genre fiction, and in fact will argue passionately for its literary value. That doesn’t mean it’s a widely held critical opinion, by the people who actually get to make these decisions.

In other words, bestseller lists rarely coincide with literary value. If ever?

Just a few months ago, I read Literary Feuds, and in the chapter about Wolfe and Updike, the author made it clear  he wasn’t as impressed with Wolfe as Wolfe was with himself. There will always be differing opinions.

The article’s second thrust of the argument for turning to Twitter complained that only two books written after 1980 made it onto Modern Library’s list of 100 greatest novels of the twentieth century. This is, of course, because out of the say 50,000 novels published every year in those two decades, we know for sure what will be read by future generations.

Maybe you don’t realize this, but they’ve always published books that won’t last. Austen herself responded almost directly to the gothic fiction of her day with Northanger Abbey. Ann Radcliff could probably be called the female Stephen King of gothic novels back in the day. How many have you read her today? And she’s mostly remembered for starting the movement, there were plenty of other writers catering to the more lurid tastes of young reads. If you don’t believe me, it’s much easier to find all the newspaper articles of the time lamenting the terrible tastes of the masses. Elitist  Sure. But we still do it today. There is no reason marks on paper should be any less entertaining and more educational than any television show or movie. In fact, given the much larger budgets and intellectual contributions, screen media should require much more from its audience.

So if it’s not required for Hollywood, why ask the poor, lone author starving in her garret to do so much more work, when maybe she just wants to tell you a fun story? Because of English teachers and Harold Bloom, mostly.

I’m not ready to switch to Twitter yet. Mostly because so few people actually tell stories there—they just want to link you to real ones. Poor Levin, who clearly isn’t reading for his own sake, although I’m not sure for whose sake he is reading. If he is. While he seems to despise genre fiction (despite called Grisham a great author) as much as any other literary critic, he never references some of the great work going on in the literary arena. An acknowledgement of genre bestsellers hardly convinces when he never mentions names like Ursula K. Le Guin, who I’ll read for fifty years at least, or Margaret Atwood. Not even Updike, Wolfe’s old rival. No non-American authors either. Of course, he explicitly asks for the Great American Novel, which is not a thing I believe actually exists…

But I haven’t written that post yet.

In the meantime, if you are waiting for the Great American Novel of the last few decades of the twentieth century, find about, oh, twenty more years worth of books to read while the critics duke it out, and by then the readers will be reading what is still worth reading. And you’ll be ready, because while you were waiting, you’ll have been reading all the Great Novels for the next couple decades before the critics have recognized them!

Enjoy, and I look forward to your reviews on GR (I’ll take a hint, sure).

Taken By Surprise

 

Good thing a few people posted about National Novel Writing Month today on Goodreads. Because my brain had refused to recognize that November is just a week away!

 

Honestly, I’m just a little terrified.

 

When I checked my author page on the NaNo website, I remembered that my idea for this year is essentially the same one I had last year. This year though, I’d like to not just start on time but to finish. I’m convinced it’s a good idea. See me confident I have the best idea ever. Totally, completely confident.

 

Yes.

 

Hee. Anyway, it is a story I can have fun with, one responding to tropes I’m familiar and sometimes uncomfortable with common in current literary trends, like I did in my one successful NaNo, in 2010. You know, when I was looking at my profile, I realized I started NaNoWriMo in 2007. Five years ago. I feel old.

 

But if I win, I can at least feel accomplished.

 

Also, the NaNo site links to their corporate sponsors, through which I found Yarny, my new favorite writing site. Now I know I’ve blogged about other writing sites, like Plinky, if you want prompts, Write or Die for timed challenges, or 750words.com, which is good for getting into a writing habit, but Yarny is fantastic for fiction. You write in snippets that can be grouped and also keep track of “people, places, and things” that are important to the story. Everything connected to one story is saved on one screen, so it’s like a different folder for every story.

“The trouble is that we have a bad habit, encouraged by pendants and sophisticates, of considering happiness as something rather stupid. Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting. This is the treason of the artist: a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin

 

It seems fairly intuitive, though I’m never quite sure I think like other people, and it’s a clean and simple layout. I only signed up for it today, and only the free version, but I think it’s by far my new favorite. I’ve already set up my novel for November, and started several stories that I keep thinking about writing without having started.

robot unicorn attack merino

I wish I had! *robot unicorn attack merino (Photo credit: lemonhalf)

Every once in a while, though I suppose it’s actually common now that I think about it, I have this … compulsion…no, call it emotion, to write. There’s a single, vivid image, visual, tactile, whatever and the only thing I want to do is get it down, shape it, say this thing that I know I want to say, have wanted to say without the words or without articulation, and suddenly it clarifies and all I want to do is write it down.

And I never do.

Oh, sometimes I’ll jot a note on a scrap of paper, or it’ll even make it into my journal (that was supposed to replace all the scraps of paper), but most of the time, the best way I can think to express myself is through fiction or poetry, and honestly, I’m frightened of both.

As with drawing, what I try to get down in paper never quite resembles what’s in my head. And I just don’t know how to get from there to here.

So Yarny gives me a chance to get all my ideas together, collect all the dots and not feel like I have to start at the beginning, but get out the image I have instead of what I think I ought to write. Because the linear nature of most word processing programs keep me from just starting. To arrange it as Yarny does would probably take me several different folders and many documents, and I know I’d lose track. Forgive me my gushing, but I’m just a bit giddy at how perfect Yarny’s setup is for my process.

Wish me luck! I really think I can do it this year.

“I really think I write about everyday life. I don’t think I’m quite as odd as others say I am. Life is intrinsically, well, boring and dangerous at the same time. At any given moment the floor may open up. Of course, it almost never does; that’s what makes it so boring.”

― Edward Gorey

 

Pardon Me, I Have Opinions

Quote

 

As lethargic as I’ve been lately, at least I’m up on my Goodreads drama.

Sticker advocating dissent: "dissent deve...

Sticker advocating dissent: “dissent develops democracy”, accompanied by a peace symbol. Photo taken in Portland, Oregon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For anyone who may not know, Goodreads is a social website that’s primarily about books. Now, aside from reading books, there’s nothing I like better than talking about them, so while I’m doing little else, I’m on this site all the time.

There’s been a great deal of upheaval and unhappiness  as GR staff try to balance their responsibilities to their users—primarily readers— and, well, call them the producers—authors, publishers, etc. Unfortunately this trend has been sliding to the conservative side and limiting the social side. For example, some readers really don’t like some books. They write reviews that make it clear how much they dislike those books. Authors and publishers and fans disagree with the idea that someone may not like this book. Review either disappears or is ‘hidden’ from the book page.

So far that extreme is fairly uncommon, but the change in attitude towards these reviewers brings me back to my point:  dissenting opinions are not welcome, and neither is discussion.

Anywhere.

Have you noticed? Putting forth an opinion, anywhere, leaves you open to attack. There are some great reviews —thoughtful, passionate, clever, well-written, negative reviews—on GR. Many are written about bestsellers. Most have comments running into the hundreds because of comments like:

Why did you read the book if you didn’t like it?

Do you think this is a college class? Your reviews are too long. You’re just showing off how many words you know.

Have you written a better book? Then why should I listen to you?

I can’t believe how much effort you’re putting into hate. It’s just a book!

Etcetera, etcetera.

Though I thought about using actually comments, the content posted in this type of content hardly varies, so it didn’t seem fair to name names.  Just be glad I can’t help but use decent grammar and spelling. Though some trolls are fairly articulate, especially on GR, most don’t bother.

Trolls, you ask? If they can write coherently, why are they trolls?

Because they aren’t interested in starting a discussion. Because the only reason for including a comments area on a review is to foster discussion, a format even most online news sources support.

What these commentators have in common is the intent to take offense at someone’s opinion merely because it’s in opposition to their own.

But when I’m writing reviews, I’m writing because, good or bad, no one else shares exactly my opinion. And I want to share what I thought with others who actually know what I’m talking about. Think of it like a discussion group, but in a slow motion IM chat. Sometimes everyone’s talking at once, and sometimes no one says anything.

At any rate, I find myself extremely bothered by someone telling me to shut up and go home, because they’re threatened by opinion.

And that’s the fundamental problem. Dissenting opinions aren’t a chance for discussion; they are threats. Threats to what I don’t know. Frankly I don’t care. I’m not going to listen if someone tells me to stop talking, I’m going to wait for someone capable of holding a conversation.

"Writing on the wood is prohibited."...

“Writing on the wood is prohibited.” DSC07600 (Photo credit: Nicolas Karim)