Archive for the ‘reading’ Tag

Readers make Writers   Leave a comment

Paul Bunyan and his cradle.

Paul Bunyan and his cradle. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

 

 

The first piece of advice I give any aspiring writer is to read. A lot. Every day. Read a variety of things, fiction, nonfiction, books, magazines, blogs, whatever you can get a hand on, for at least an hour a day.

 

Why? Because even if the writing isn’t very good, you can learn something from it and become inspired in your own writing. If the sentence structure is poor, if there are misspelt words, if the plot is lacking, you’ll probably sit there and say, “I can do better than that!” Hold on to that thought, and once the hour is done, go for it! Write on the same topic, make it better, make it yours.

 

When the writing is good, take notes. Ask questions of the piece. What makes you enjoy the writing? Try to mimic these techniques. Don’t plagiarize the content. Ever.  Play around with the style and themes, try to build on them and make them your own.

 

And, finally, it’s good to research and read on topics you’d love to write about. This is just as important in fiction and poetry as it is in nonfiction. For example, I never know when I’ll stumble across a new unique word that I can use as a poetry title. I’m currently reading Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter’s new novel, The Long Earth. In it, one of the characters uses the word tracklements, which are the accompanying foodstuffs used on or around the main course. It’s a fantastic word, and I wrote it down immediately on my vocabulary list.

 

I’m also reading up on the folklore of Michigan and the surrounding areas, especially the tall tales relating to Paul Bunyan. I have an idea of a story deconstructing Paul Bunyan’s myth in light of modern issues such as deforestation and global warming. I’m always looking for folktales I’ve never heard of before, or to learn something new about the ones I thought I knew, both for my own enjoyment and to use as springboards for new short stories.

 

What about you? What are you reading, and how does what you read affect what you write? I’d love to hear from you!

 

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A Sheepish, Triumphant Return to NaNoWriMo   Leave a comment

An old timer

Image by * hiro008 via Flickr

So, I’ve been bad the past week. No writing got done. Zip. Zero. Recovering from the GREs last weekend took longer than I thought, a brain dump of mass proportions. Reading good books helps, but then all my free time is caught up reading, no time left for doing my own writing. One night I was up until 2 am reading Emma Donoghue‘s newest novel, Room, (which, btw, was fantastic!). Read Sara Gruen‘s Ape House, then Water for Elephants. A little sheepish I hadn’t read Elephants back in ’06, when everyone was reading it.Mucking my way through Franzen’s Freedom.

Anyway, what I eventually had to do today to get writing is put myself in time out. I set the timer for 30 minutes, and then told myself I couldn’t do anything but write during those 30 minutes. Of course, about 15 minutes into it, my daughter woke up from her nap with a poop. So I had to get her cleaned up and back to sleep, then added another 15 minutes. I didn’t get a lot of writing done, but I did get another decent page or so for the zombie divorce story. I’m really liking these characters a lot, thinking they may stick around longer than a short story, which is exciting. I didn’t get a poem written, and I didn’t even open up the Cain files, but I’m also writing in a way that doesn’t feel forced, it’s almost a freewrite exercise, but with purpose behind it. It’s a good feeling.

It’s funny, I do NaPoWriMo every year in April, and every year, I don’t have any problem sitting down and writing a poem a day. Perhaps it’s the time of year, more face time with the sun. I think it may also be, with NaPo, there’s a focus and a freedom that’s missing in NaNo. You’re starting fresh each day, you aren’t going back and working on something you stalled on the day before. You’re also not trying to maybe divide yourself between projects.

Whatever the cause for success or failure, I’m going to put myself in timeout again tomorrow. At least thirty minutes, nothing but writing. If you’re having trouble starting, keeping to a schedule, try the timer. It worked for me, and I live with five kids.

 

Snow Monkey   1 comment

Photograph of Edna St. Vincent Millay

Image via Wikipedia

http://snowmonkeyjournal.blogspot.com/2010/05/helen-peterson.html

This May, Snow Monkey published my poem, “Funny, You Don’t Look Like a Grandmother“. Giving credit where credit is due, the title came from a book I once bought my mother-in-law for her birthday. This was a running joke with us, since she was in her mid thirties when I had my oldest son. Her husband, my ex-husband’s step-dad, was twenty seven, but it’s funny, I never did find a Funny, You Don’t Look Like a Grandfather book. Freud would have something to say about that, I’m sure.

Anyway, the title may have come from a funny little book, but the body of the poem came from the life of Edna St. Vincent Millay, one of my favorite poets. According to Nancy Millford’s excellent biography, Savage Beauty, when Millay’s mother thought her daughter might be pregnant, she forced her to take multiple scalding hot baths, and ride her horse bareback up and down the valleys and meadows near their home. It was such a crazy contrast to how my own parents and in-laws reacted, it stuck with me, more than anything else in the book, and it was a very good book, worth the read if you have the time and wish to do so.

You may notice, though, that I don’t use Millay’s name in the poem. In earlier drafts I did, added more details specific to her own life. In workshopping, others found the specificity distracting, and so I applied a name I had used before, in Baby Girl poems, the fragile and distracted Sweet Baby. It added another slant to the idea of a mother manipulating her daughter’s body, even after the girl is grown into her own sexuality.

This is just one example of how I sometimes get inspired by the lives of real people, and by what I read in books. Take something you’ve read, that has stuck with you, and use it as a writing prompt this evening. When you’re done, pick up a book you’ve been dying to read.  Begin to read it with an eye for inspiration, as well as for leisure. Taste the words and stories within, mull it around your tongue with the spices from your own life. Begin to read like a writer.