Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tuesday Books for Writers!

When I was in college, a lot of my writing classes had a similar format. Eccentric writing Professor passes out a photo-copied handout of an excerpt of a published novel or short story. Students pass copies around the room. 15-20 minutes of silence ensues for your reading pleasure. Afterwards, it's discussed. A writing exercise is posed to the class pertaining to the piece. The class proceeds, in silence, to write for 15-20 minutes. Afterwards, the experience is discussed.

We read to become better writers. In the hopes that the more you read...well...you get the picture. So as logic might have it, the more we write, the better we must read. (Here's hoping!) We pick up on things. We read, not only because we love stories, but because we're interested in craft. How did they do what they did? Why is it effective? We become active readers.

It is my goal to become a more active reader. I read many books and I'm in awe of them. But I often can't articulate why. So, what better way to do it then to post it on this darn here blog?

Every Tuesday I hope to tell you what I'm reading and what I'm learning from it. Some Tuesdays I might forget. Some Tuesdays I might be pulling my hair out at work and will not feel like telling you a darn thing. ;-) But most Tuesdays, I'll try my hardest to articulate what's good about what I'm reading and try and figure out why on earth it's good. No matter what it is. Whether it's Chick Lit or Tolstoy I'm going to try.

Maybe you'll find it to be a good resource. Maybe you'll say: Melissa, seriously, enough with trying to figure out why Twilight is a resource for writers, let me get back to my 3rd reading of Grapes of Wrath.

So here's to the new series: Tuesday Books for Writers! I figure an exclamation mark really kicks things up a notch! (Ask me offline about my day job some time!)

Because it took me long enough to explain myself, I have nothing more to say today. So I'll link to a previous blog about Trusting a Narrator which is something I learned from Elijah of Buxton.
I hope you'll engage in a dialogue about the things you're learning from your reading too :-)

Friday, August 21, 2009

That'll Do

Ever since I began workshopping my writing last October, I've gotten into a situation where everything I read is up for critique. I also have a job where most of my day is spent with people reviewing my work and me reviewing others'. This means that, not only do I critique my peers' works in progress, but that every time I read a published novel, I am looking for things that are wrong with it. I am looking for reasons to sulk and ask, Why are they published and I'm not?

Well, excuse me for a moment while I have an inner dialogue with myself:
Melissa, you're not published because you don't have a finished novel yet. You can't publish an unfinished novel unless you're famous, dead and have some kind of 'estate'. Which would you prefer? Unfinished, unpublished, and alive? Or unfinished, published, and dead? Don't answer that.

Sorry about that.

It got me to thinking about why I'm the first person to jump up in a workshop and say (more or less): "I liked your novel because of all of the positive things everyone else just said, but here's my list of grievances" and proceed to run around the room screaming 'no taxation without representation!' and a list of 30 or so other problems. This is a bit of an exaggeration but, the point is, I don't always like telling folks what they done good.

But the thing is, I don't like folks telling me what I done good. I want other writers to be better and I want to be a better writer. I don't need someone petting and massaging my ego when I'm trying to do something as difficult as writing a novel.

I asked myself, what is the value of telling people that they did well? And, uh, when I put it that way, I had to slap myself.

I am fortunate to have grown up around a supportive community of people, who rewarded me and encouraged me when I did something well. I surround myself around people who appreciate and love me to this day. And I know not everyone is as fortunate I am.

So, now that I am in a community of writers, whether they be struggling newbies like me or veterans like the writers of the novels I read, I really should give back a little of the love.

Of course it's important to know what you did well. If no one ever told you, you wouldn't be doing it in the first place!

So I hope that the next time I'm in a workshop, or I finish a novel, or I enter a meeting or a review at work, I'll remember to look for and understand what's good about what we're discussing. Because there's plenty of time to dissect the bad.

It reminds me of Farmer Hoggett in that lovely movie Babe, who always remembered to praise his little friend with the simple words: "That'll do, Pig."

Monday, August 17, 2009

It's Monday What are you reading?

Thanks to J. Kaye's Book Blog I've been continuing with my summer reading project, but haven't been so good about posting. So here it is!

Recently Read
That Went Well by Terrell Harris Dougan
The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
Dreams of Sleep by Josephine Humphries

Currently Reading
Hopefully something from the list below!

My Short List Out of A Long List of Things To Read (this is copied straight out of a small notebook I carry around so that if I end up in a bookstore, I can focus)
A Prayer for Owen Meaney by John Irving
My Life in France by Julia Child
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safram Foer
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Tea and other Ayama Na Tales by Eleanor Bluestein
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
Olive Kitterdige by Elizabeth Strout

Any yays or nays you see in there?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Be your best self

"We must be ourselves, but we must be our best selves."
-Sarah Orne Jewett, in a letter to Willa Cather, ca. 1909

Thanks Dear Literary Ladies for the inspiration.

And thanks Willa Cather and Sarah Orne Jewett for writing books about strong women and nature. My favorite themes as a reader and writer :-)

What are some of your favorite themes to read or write about?

Friday, August 7, 2009

Julie, Julia, Melissa, Sally Tutu...the list goes on

Worst Blogger Ever!

Yes. I get the award. At least for (in)frequency of posts.

Well, today, lookee here, I'm blogging. So maybe the award is being ripped from my fingers by another infrequent blogger. Take it! Take it I say!

Today, I saw the movie Julie and Julia which I, of course, loved. Because it's about food. And cooking. And butter. And bread. And cheeeese. Among other things. And because it was about Julia Child who I love dearly.

It got me thinking about a lot of things. About a love of life and of food. And about finding out what you love to do and what makes you happy.

I was very unhappy at a previous job and I did not deal well with it. I became unbearable to be around, I cried AT work on more than 1 occassion, and I complained incessantly to my friends. I had convinced myself that what I did defined me. And I remember my dear friend Lynneth telling me, it's just a job, it's not who you are.

I am still unable to comprehend this. If I'm not doing something, I feel useless. If I'm not bettering myself in some way with how I spend my time, then I feel I'm not spending my time wisely. I once sat and watched a 4 hour marathon of Bridezilla on the WE channel and I hated myself for the next 4 hours.

Why is what I'm doing so tied to who I think I am and how I feel? I can not answer this. All I know is that Julia Child found a way to do what she loved and bring so much of herself into it. And Julie Powell had been inspired so much by this idea that she wrapped herself up in an insane project in order to figure out who she was and what she should be doing with her life.

So, I ask myself, is this what my novel is? An insane attempt at discovering who I am and what I should be doing with my time? I think perhaps it is. If so, well...then, bon appetit...