Category — On Reading
Just in time for a new year of writing, I’ve received a copy of the latest wonder from author Judy Reeves: her Daily Appointment Calendar for Writers.
In addition to being absolutely gorgeous, this book is filled with daily writing prompts, quotes, and inspiration — and its workbook shape and style make it easy to personalize, make notes, and (especially) to carry around everywhere.
You may already know Judy from her many books on writing, among them A Writer’s Book of Days — and she generously agreed to chat with me about this latest project. And, as you’ll see below, chatting with Judy is always inspiring…
Q: I love that this is a perpetual calendar—writers can begin any day, any year—and I especially love that it has a spot for us to note what hours we intend to spend writing, or, if we don’t have a specific schedule, what our goals are, such as “finish chapter three.” Over the years, what are some of the things you’ve learned about your own writing practice, and how has it evolved?
A. Probably the most important thing I’ve learned is that if I don’t make the time to do the writing, the writing won’t get done. It is so easy to say, “I’ll do my writing as soon as I _____________.” You can fill in the blank. I joke now that “as soon as” is going to be the epitaph carved on my gravestone. Thank goodness I’ve learned to do the writing first, and let “as soon as” refer to what I do after the day’s writing is done.
Another thing I learned the hard way: perfectionism is my Achilles’ heel. Many years ago when I was in a read and critique group with Janet Fitch, I used to stay up until o’dark hundred the night before group laboring over sentences and auditioning words for the perfect fit. Then I’d take these fraught pages to the group only to have that sweat-drenched sentence I’d struggled with until 2 a.m. x-ed out as “overworked” or “unnecessary.” Get the words on the page, I say; read them aloud and give them an edit or two to make sure the whole thing works, then do the fine tuning and wordsmithing. There’s always the next draft to change magenta to fuschia and use a semi-colon rather than a period. (I still haven’t perfected this practice, by the way.)
Do it alone? Not a chance. My writing community is critical to my well-being; to my self-esteem and conversely, to my humility; and to the writing itself.
Q: Throughout the calendar, you incorporate tips and inspiration from myriad writers, from Janet Fitch to John Steinbeck to Ann Patchett. What has been among the most helpful advice on writing you’ve ever received?
A: I’ve been a student of writing for so many years, and I am grateful to all the writers who have shared their experience so I am able to get better at this thing I want to do most in the world. Every piece of advice I’ve included in the Appointment Calendar, and in all my books, is something I have taken to heart.
Maybe the most liberating tip is Natalie Goldberg’s “You’re free to write the worst junk in America.” In our regular writing practice groups, we use that quote in the guidelines we read at the beginning of each session. Then add to it, “and some days you will. Other days you’ll write something really beautiful, and some days, you’ll just write.” Meaning, don’t let your writing be so precious. Just get out of your own way and fling the words down on the page.
The most affirming advice is Brenda Ueland’s “Everyone is talented, original, and has something important to say.” To me this means every human being is given some gift of expression: painting, singing, dancing, making pottery or poetry, cooking, crafting, and so on, ad infinitum. For those of us who are called to write, this is our gift, and we have a responsibility to use it. No one else is going to write like you do and no one else can tell the story you can tell.
Janet Fitch told me to “stay in the room,” and Cynthia Ozick said, “If we had to say what writing is, we would define it essentially as an act of courage.” Colette wrote, “Look long at what pleases you, longer still at what disturbs you.” Facing a blank page and writing from our most vulnerable place, being willing to expose ourselves, telling the truth even when it scares us—writing is fraught with danger. Before I understood this, I veered away from the scary parts by trying to be clever and glib. Those hours looking for the perfect word were really a way to avoid going deeper, which is what I needed to do to write the truth. I’ll admit my need to munch on almonds or raw carrots or apples when I hit the parts in my writing that need a longer look; there’s something about all that crunching relieves some of the anxiety.
I’ll stop now, though I could fill a book with advice that has helped, and continues to help me.
Q: The “Dear Lively Muse” feature appearing in the calendar is wonderful. In your experience as an instructor and workshop leader, what is the most common question writers have about the writing process, and what’s your answer?
A: Probably the most common question about process is, “Do I have to write every day?” I tell them it’s a good idea to write every day, at least five days a week if possible. I say they need to create what Flannery O’Connor called “a writing habit” and that the writing will come easier if they do it daily and writing every day keeps the story alive. I also tell them that I understand daily writing isn’t the be all and end all to being a good writer, and then I recommend your book, Everyday Writing, to show them how they can be about their writing when they’re not actually sitting at their desk and writing.
The most common question about the craft, probably because I mention it so much, is how to “show, don’t tell.” So we talk about lively verbs and specific, concrete details and writing from the senses. We unpack abstract words and play around with descriptions that move on the page and characters that have unique qualities and interior lives, and settings that make the reader feel as if they’re actually in the place. We examine writing in scene as the events in the story actually happen so the reader experiences them right along with the characters, and moving from the head into the body, and from the brain into the heart.
Q: I enjoyed the section on rituals and habits—for Francine Prose, it’s a view; for Toni Morrison, it’s coffee and morning light. What is it for Judy Reeves?
A: Candle, coffee, journal. More coffee.
Q: The calendar makes note of literary events—National Poetry Month in April, for example, and International Short Story Day in June. What are some of your favorite literary events, from local to international, and how do you celebrate them?
A: I love Banned Books Week, which is the last week in September. Over the years, I’ve been part of number of Banned Books readings. I think it’s important to call attention to our freedom to read and write whatever we choose. This isn’t the case the world over. During Poem in a Pocket Day I print out little poems from the poets.org website and leave them around places, and I chalk poems on the sidewalk. Last year I participated in World Book Night, and gave away 20 copies of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. I hope I’ll be chosen as a participant again this year. I make sure to kiss a librarian during National Library Week, which is also in April, and I wouldn’t miss San Diego Writers, Ink‘s Blazing Laptops Write-a-thon. Oh, and the LA Times Festival of Books. What an abundance!
Q: Tell me a little bit about the process of creating this book, from the fabulous prompts to the wonderful illustrations and design.
A: I first thought of creating a daily calendar for writers with a prompt for every day more than a dozen years ago. When I sent my proposal to New World Library, they said they didn’t publish calendars, but would I consider writing a book. (Would I?) This is how A Writer’s Book of Days came about. But the idea of a calendar for writers didn’t go away, and somehow the project found its way to the top of my list last winter.
The daily prompts were critical to my concept. From nearly twenty years of leading writing practice groups, and from the response I get from my books, I know that no matter what else is going on in their writing, writers can use a prompt to get started or get unloosed from a stuck place. Where they go from the initial prompt doesn’t matter; all that matters is getting the hand moving and the words on the page.
My initial idea was a single-year calendar, spiral-bound and hardcover. You see that the published book is actually a perpetual calendar, rather than a single year, that it has a soft cover and is perfect-bound. Concepts change as you talk to friends and get practical advice from people who’ll actually use the product. Designs sometimes have to change, too, as you research what’s available in POD format. Oh, what I have learned!
About those wonderful illustrations and the design: Steve Montgomery, my close and dear friend and co-leader of our Thursday Writers group, has so many talents and gifts, I can’t begin to list them here. Among the many things he does really well is design. He and I have co-created many a project and work easily and well together, so I asked him if he would be interested in doing the layout and design for the calendar. He answered with an enthusiastic “yes!” and am I ever grateful.
I knew I wanted to use the Lively Muse as inspiration—a muse for us if you will, and Steve found all those delightful sprites that frolic throughout the pages. (The Lively Muse comes from the subtitle of A Writer’s Book of Days, A Spirited Companion and Lively Muse for the Writing Life. I blog as the Lively Muse, and started The Lively Muse Press to publish the book.) Steve created an elegant design with so many subtle and not-so-subtle echoes of the text in the illustrations; I think he did a brilliant job. The book is a collaboration, start to finish.
Click here to get your own copy of this lovely book (which, by the way, makes an amazing gift for the writers in your life!)
Judy Reeves is a writer, teacher, and writing practice provocateur who has published four books on the craft including A Writer’s Book of Days, which was named Best Nonfiction in the 2010 San Diego Book Awards. She lives in San Diego and is co-founder of San Diego Writers, Ink. Her website is judyreeveswriter.com, where you can sign up for her monthly newsletter. She blogs at livelymuse.com.
November 23, 2012 Comments Off
A million thanks to Joanna Penn for hosting me this week on the brilliant The Creative Penn blog, where you’ll find my post “Think Like A Writer Every Day, Even If You Can’t Write Every Day.”
Best of all, Joanna’s wonderful readers have chimed in with fantastic tips and ideas for how to stay inspired and creative, even when you’re unable to sit in the chair and write — I so enjoyed hearing about so many different processes and learning a few new tips.
For those of you not yet familiar with The Creative Penn, do check it out — you’ll find a wealth of information on writing, publishing, and marketing. In addition to Joanna’s own expertise as a writer, her website features guest posts and interviews with other authors on everything from finding time to write to editing and revising to how best to publish your work.
October 23, 2012 Comments Off
If a picture’s worth a thousand words, a book cover’s got to be worth at least forty to a hundred times that, if it’s going to sell what’s inside.
According to Para Publishing, “everyone judges a book by its cover,” and their statistics cite a Wall St. Journal study that reveals that bookstore browsers spend eight seconds looking at the front cover and fifteen seconds looking at the back. Yet the trick is usually getting readers interested enough to pick up the book in the first place.
As many of you know, Forgetting English was reissued last year with a gorgeous new cover.
What most of you don’t know is that I was madly in love with another cover image before falling in love with this one. That first cover was exotic and mysterious and beautiful, in a way completely different from the one above. But we ran into a permissions issue and had to let it go.
Naturally, I thought I’d never fall in love again. My kind and patient publisher, Kevin Morgan Watson of Press 53, assured me that I would.
And I did. Now, I can’t imagine my book having a cover other than the one above.
Below is the first edition of Forgetting English, the cover of which went through several dramatic makeovers (different type styles, different colors, different layouts, with the Gauguin painting the only thing that didn’t change) before turning out like this.
While I’m partial to my new book cover, I’ll always have a fondness for this one — my ex-book, if you will. Going through this process not once but twice was interesting; I think authors (not to mention readers) react to a cover much the way they do to people they meet: There’s an instant connection, or there’s not. A good publisher and book designer understands that and looks for an image conveys what’s beneath the cover as best it possibly can.
Check out this book design case study, featuring Erika Dreifus’s wonderful book, Quiet Americans, which takes us through the steps a book designer goes through in preparing not only a cover but the interior design.
Most authors, unless they publish with a small press, don’t have a say in what their book covers look like (or, they attempt to have a say and are ignored or overruled). For my first book, while the Gauguin painting featured on the cover is one of my favorites, its South Pacific feel evokes only one story in the collection, and I didn’t feel it was a good fit. While I’d already sent along a few cover ideas and even several images, someone had already secured permission to use the art, and there was no room for debate.
When my book was reissued, I was thrilled to work closely with Kevin at Press 53 to find a cover that we both thought was perfect for the book. He understands, as good editors, agents, and publishers to, that while the publisher knows how to best market its books (and is footing the bill for book design, no less), the author also has a valuable contribution to make — and an author who loves his or her book cover will be all the happier to promote it.
For more insights on authors and their book covers, check out this piece in The Awl featuring six writers on book covers and marketing; it’s fascinating to hear from authors who either love or hate their covers, who were consulted or not, and how they approach the strange process of getting blurbs.
When all is said and done, when it comes to our book covers, we authors have to be flexible. If our books are our “children,” as the comparison often goes, we have to let go just as parents do: Parents, after all, never know exactly how their kids are going to turn out. And they love them all the same.
October 3, 2012 Comments Off
I’m giving away a copy of Everyday Writing on Goodreads — sign up to win anytime from now until October 10!
September 28, 2012 Comments Off
It’s autumn — and in New England, that means celebrating the foliage. If you’re out leaf peeping, don’t forget to pop into the local bookstores in all those fabulous New England towns. Woodstock, Vermont, has one of the sweetest: the lovely Shiretown Books, right on the main street as you stroll through town.
The store is small but has plenty to offer, including books by local authors and staff picks, and it’s a terrific place to browse. And it’s a bookstore with a big heart: Last year, in response to Hurricane Irene, which devastated parts of Vermont, including areas of Woodstock, Shiretown gave back by donating a portion of book sales to relief efforts.
Bookstores like Shiretown are among the many reasons it’s wonderful to shop locally — to support not only the indies but the communities that support them best as well.
September 26, 2012 4 Comments
Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center, Vermont, is a place for which you’ll want to set aside an entire day.
The bookstore is in a beautiful old Victorian, with several levels, including a full-service cafe on the top level and a large reading area for its many visiting authors.
It’s an fabulous place to wander through — even better, to get lost in — and among its treasures are not only books but clothing, jewelry, accessories, and a huge children’s section that includes toys and games.
Another interesting aspect of Northshire is that it’s one of the growing number of bookstores with an Espresso Book Machine, which means that you can order up any book available through the print-on-demand service (such as self-published books, small press titles, or large publishers’ backlist titles) and have it printed while you wait. And for all you indie authors out there, Northshire also has its own imprint, Shires Press, which offers a variety of packages for authors who want to self-publish their books — a very smart idea and likely one of the many reasons this bookstore is celebrating its 35th birthday and going strong.
August 29, 2012 Comments Off
What’s not to love about a place where you can buy wine and books all at once? I recently discovered The Kiva in Eugene, Oregon — first drawn in by its sign, which reads “Grocers, Booksellers, Wine Merchants.”
What’s fun about The Kiva is just what the sign indicates: that you can get your grocery and wine shopping done as well as browse for books, gifts, and cards. The grocery prides itself on stocking local and fair-trade foods and beverages, and they have a lot of wonderful wine and beer options, from reasonably priced malbecs to a variety of local microbrews.
I’m not sure what was more fun — to see groceries in a bookstore, or to see books in a grocery store.
The Kiva website highlights everything except the books (books actually comprise a small portion of the store), but the site has a blog that pays a bit more attention to the literary aspect of the place; many of the blog posts focus on books, from summer reading to the books about food, like Forks Over Knives. The bookshelves are stocked primarily with cookbooks, children’s books, and nonfiction — and it’s a fun place to browse. I’d highly recommend stopping in the next time you’re in downtown Eugene, whether you’re there to pick up wine with your books, or books with your wine.
August 16, 2012 Comments Off
It would be impossible to sum up the amazing first week of this year’s Port Townsend Writers’ Conference, which was, as always, an inspiration. Not only is Port Townsend a gorgeous setting in which to immerse oneself in All Things Writing, the writers it brings together creates such an incredible energy.
In addition to teaching five afternoon workshops on topics from scene to character to dialogue — and the writers who join me in these classes always have something to teach me — I had the opportunity to learn from the craft lectures of such writers as poet Ashley Capps (on empathy in writing) and fiction writer Jennine Capó Crucet (on humor), as well as to enjoy their evening readings and many others, among them Judith Kitchen, Dinah Linney, Sam Ligon, Diane Roberts, Erin Belieu, and Chris Crutcher. It truly feels impossible to sum up the wealth of good writing and conversation of the week, but author Donna Miscolta does a great job over on her blog.
I also fit in a little writing time, which is so much easier to do here than in my regularly scheduled life. For one, the setting is so peaceful; looking out over the water or watching deer walk past relaxes the brain in a way that just doesn’t happen when I’m trying to fit writing in amid all my other work.
The other brilliant thing about being at Fort Worden is that Internet access is available in only a couple of spots — which means that unless you go to these specific places, you’re disconnected. I had many conversations with writers about how well our writing went when we didn’t have web access; we all experienced big breakthroughs in our projects thanks to having time and space uninterrupted by email, news, and social media.
Now that I’m back, I’ve created a few new rules for myself in order to keep my writing momentum going. I have set myself new, limited social media hours, even for work-related posts and tweets (one thing I learned from being mostly offline for a week is that taking some time off isn’t going to make you disappear as a person, an author, or a business), and I’ve created specific writing goals for myself as well. I’ve also realized that being accountable is part of the deal: If you have to answer to someone about why you haven’t met your deadline, or why you got online during your offline writing time, it makes you think twice about procrastinating. So I’ve got weekly check-ins all lined up.
All these little rules may sound over-the-top — but as most of us know, it’s all too easy to get distracted and to let the writing slip. So here’s my tip for you: As the summer continues, start defining some guidelines and goals, and find yourself a writing buddy to keep each other on track. And, if you can, find a conference or retreat that will help remind you that your writing is vital and important.
July 18, 2012 4 Comments
Most authors have busy schedules — these days, who doesn’t? — and yet it is possible to keep writing, even if you aren’t able to sit down in the chair. These 5 tips will help you see the ways in which you can think like a writer, which is the next best thing to putting words on the page.
July 3, 2012 2 Comments
I always love chatting with Sheila Bender of Writing It Real — she asks the most thought-provoking questions about all aspects of the writing life. So I was delighted to chat with her about Everyday Writing, which meandered into the realm of publishing, submitting work, and writing in different genres — all followed by writing prompts of varying lengths to fit any busy writer’s schedule.
Check out the article here — and if you’re not already a member, I highly recommend becoming one! Membership offers a wealth of articles, inspiration, classes — and community.
Thanks to Sheila for the opportunity to talk about a few of my favorite things!
June 14, 2012 Comments Off
On this summer Monday, I’m delighted to be featured on Kristin Bair O’Keeffe’s amazing Writerhead blog as part of her Mojo Monday series. (Visit Kristin’s blog every Monday, where she offers “a little something-something to lift your creative spirits, buoy you up, help you get your mojo on, and nudge (or better yet, catapult) you into writerhead.”
Today on Mojo Monday, I write about how to be an everyday writer (i.e., how to find time to be a writer every day even if you’re not able to sit down to write every day) and offer three tips with matching prompts – so there’s no excuse not start this week off in a writerly mode.
Thanks to Kristin for hosting me today — and happy writing!
June 11, 2012 Comments Off
I’m happy and grateful to be featured on the StyleSubstanceSoul blog today with “5 Ways to Make Time for Creativity.”
If you’re not familiar with StyleSubstanceSoul, visit today and sign up to receive their e-news, which delivers inspiration, book and film reviews, interviews, and amazing giveaways to your in-box every week. This wonderful site was founded by three best friends (and mothers of daughters) who believe that “female energy has the power to change the world.” They are all about living a life of positive action and compassion — what’s not to love about that?
A million thanks to StyleSubstanceSoul for featuring 5 Ways to Make Time for Creativity (and be sure to click through to a couple of the links, where you’ll find books by a couple of my favorite poets). Hope this all leads you to a weekend of inspiration, good reading, and good writing!
June 8, 2012 Comments Off
There’s a lot to enjoy about Manhattan Beach, from its miles of sandy beach to its boutiques and shops to its amazing Mexican food — and, most of all, Pages: A Bookstore, a fabulous indie in the heart of the neighborhood at 904 Manhattan Avenue.
Pages and its three owners — two of them, Patty and Margot, were there for Cher’s party — are warm, generous hosts, and the bookstore itself is a wonderful, inviting space not only for a book event but for wandering and reading.
In addition to comfy chairs for browsing, the bookstore’s shelves are topped with quotes about writing, from William Faulkner to Thomas Jefferson. The layout is spacious but somehow also offers that cozy feeling of being among a great abundance of books.
Like all good bookstores, Pages is active in its community, with events (including author appearances, game nights, workshops, and book clubs), a monthly newsletter, and an expansive children’s section with beanbag reading “chairs.”
Don’t miss this wonderful bookstore the next time you’re in Manhattan Beach — it’s the perfect place to find your beach reading, and a wonderful respite when you’re ready to step out of the sun.
May 30, 2012 Comments Off
I’m very happy today to be featured on the blog of the amazing Jane Friedman, who has posted an excerpt from Everyday Writing, including 10 writing prompts that can be done in 5 minutes or fewer (a.k.a. “Quickies”). A million thanks to Jane for posting this — I hope writers find it helpful and inspiring. The idea behind Everyday Writing is to be a writer every day, even if you don’t have much writing time every day — and these short prompts are meant to offer a way to stay connected to your creativity and your writing.
And, speaking of creativity and writing, Brenda Miller‘s wonderful new book, The Pen and the Bell: Mindful Writing in a Busy World (co-authored with Holly Hughes) is for all writers who wish to create physical and mental space for writing. Its abundance of advice for writers includes tips for how to heighten awareness and take risks in your writing, as well as how to write in a community. Best of all, for today only, Brenda’s publisher is offering 20 percent off the book! And be sure to check out Brenda’s blog, The Spa of the Mind, for tips and thoughts on finding respite in a busy world.
May 29, 2012 Comments Off
One of the many things I love about Forgetting English‘s publisher, Press 53, is its yearly Memorial Day tradition: For every book you purchase from the Press 53 website from Memorial Day until Flag Day (June 14), Press 53 will send, at no additional cost to you, a book to an active-duty overseas soldier or to a recovering soldier in a military hospital. What better way to celebrate mark Memorial Day?
Buy a book for yourself or a fellow reader, and Press 53 will take care of the rest. And, in celebration of National Short Story Month, why not try a new collection?
Forgetting English isn’t the only Spokane Prize winner among Press 53 titles — Becky Hagenston’s Strange Weather is also a recipient of the Spokane Prize for Short Fiction (and it’s an amazing collection…I highly recommend it).
And here are a few recent Press 53 award-winning story collections:
Anne Leigh Parrish’s short story collection All the Roads That Lead From Home won an Independent Publishers Book Award Silver Medal for Best Short Story Collection.
Marjorie Hudson’s short story collection Accidental Birds of the Carolinas won a PEN/Hemingway Award Honorable Mention.
Michael Kardos’s short story collection One Last Good Time won the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Fiction.
May 28, 2012 Comments Off