The Writer’s Bookshelf

I’ve been told a thousand times over that for a writer to truly be a great they must be well-read. And so I started thinking about this – what do writers read? Well, for this I decided to take to Reddit and asked the r/writing community. I wasn’t surprised by the answers I got, either.

ItWas_Justified mentioned Dune by Frank Herbert
sonderoffizierguck said A Song of Fire and Ice, which we all now know as the epic “Game of Thrones” (though I am told the books are MUCH better than the show, which I have never seen)
AnalGettysburg said the childhood classic Goodnight Moon, which I absolutely agree with

My bookshelf consists of: Bret Easton Ellis (everything except Imperial Bedrooms), Random Acts of Senseless Violence by Jack Womack, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, not to mention Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, Keith Olbermann, Anderson Cooper, Tucker Carlson, and Rachel Maddow (some of the greats in my humble opinion)

But it was rwritingaccount who brought up the best question: Book-books or books on craft?

I guess I was looking for books on the craft. Stephen King sort of put together the gold standard with his On Writing, but I’m very curious as to what kind of writing books other writers are looking through. What kind of reference books are you all keeping? Do you have books on how to create characters? How to create worlds? How to properly format a manuscript? Do you keep a thesaurus handy? What about style? Chicago? Associated Press?

The Books

From bottom to top:
The Synonym Finder, J.I. Rodale
Gotham Writers’ Workshop: Writing Fiction
The Associated Press Stylebook, 2013 Edition
The Write-Brain Workbook, Bonnie Neubauer
The Story Solution, Eric Edson
Now Write!, Sherry Ellis

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The Perfect Notebook

Write. Now.Okay, so I stopped at Target for a notebook. I know, I should’ve known better. I am that person who will stand in front of piles and piles of notebooks, staring at each and every one, picking up a select few and thumbing through them, weighing each one against the other until, forty-five minutes later, I’m finally buying a single book that’s going to be used to keep a written copy of the soundtrack to my latest novel.

This was me in Target today. I told myself that I needed a small notebook and I figured Target would have a rather nice selection. And while they did have a nice selection of notebooks — including a Moleskine-type notebook with BB-8 on the cover — I was just having a difficult time finding the right one.

And from behind me, a woman who was probably in her early 20s, holding a pack of different pens in each hand, lets out a little sigh and says, “It’s impossible, isn’t it. Finding the right notebook.”

MY MOTHERFUCKING SOULMATE RIGHT THERE IN THE DEARBORN HEIGHTS TARGET.

Someone, a random stranger in the office supplies aisle of this forgotten Target, not only understands the struggle, but is willing to talk it over with someone who she hasn’t even met. Ours eyes met and we both just smiled at one another. “I know,” I finally said to her with a casual shake of my head. “Ugh, I know. I understand the-”

“Struggle,” we said in unison.

She was gone before I had a chance to say anything else, having left one of the packages of pens behind. Another difficult choice, I’m sure.

Distraction-free is a myth, okay?

Fun Fact: Elise Eller, the town's only resident, is the mayor, granted herself a liquor license, and pays taxes to herself.
Fun Fact: Elise Eller, the town’s only resident, is the mayor, granted herself a liquor license, and pays taxes to herself.
A lot of writing blogs mention something about distraction-free writing. Now, unless you live somewhere in Nebraska (Monowi, perhaps?), or completely off of the grid in some survivalist cabin, doing anything without distraction is close to impossible. However, lessening the distractions is a little easier to do. Here’s how I try and do this.

1. Use a writing program that you’re familiar with.
Some say that using distraction-free writing programs are the way to go. But, let’s be honest, aside from a pen and pencil, how many of you know how to use any of these distraction-free software bundles? I’ve tried a couple, and spent a good chunk of time just trying to figure the damn thing out! So I say, use a program that’s comfortable, and that you’re familiar with. Of course, I do use a pen and pencil from time to time, but if I make a mistake I can’t just cross it out. I have to rip the paper from my notebook and start fresh, only without any mistakes. It can be, well, distracting. I stick to Scrivener, or sometimes a basic text editor, but it’s something that I understand the ins and outs of.

2. Take breaks… unless you’re on a roll.
This is crucial. All of the blogs say that you should schedule your writing time and take breaks and what have you, but sometimes you’re in the middle of a brilliant thought and BING! it’s break time. I don’t know anyone in their right mind who would want to stop when they were on a roll like that, including myself. I would rather tire myself out than take a break in the middle of a really good thought. So plan for breaks, but make them flexible. You never know when inspiration will strike.

3. Don’t write on an empty stomach.
Yeah, this one I agree with. In fact, I’m writing this entry on an empty stomach right now and all I can focus on is the grumbling in the pit of my stomach. Go ahead, my little pretty. Eat yourself until I get the chance to fill you with goodies.

4. Listen to music you like, but something without lyrics is preferable.
I have Chill Out Radio queued up on my Pandora pretty much constantly, and every time I’m looking for “distraction-free” writing, this is what I listen to. Sometimes you don’t want to listen to anything while you’re writing, and that’s okay. But sometimes, home is not where the muses are.

5. A comfortable space is where it’s at!
A good sturdy chair, preferably with a cushion on the butt, and a desk/table that’s large enough to spread everything out across so that I’m not constantly reaching across the computer for a notebook, or my coffee. This is what I prefer. Of course, I don’t have this at home, so I’m constantly searching for a truly comfortable place to write. There is no perfect writing nook, I’ve come to find out. On one day I can say THIS PLACE IS BRILLIANT I WILL WRITE HERE FROM NOW ON! only to be thwarted the next day when I try to go back. So the perfect writing nook varies with help from several factors, both inside and out. What you need to do is find the idea of a perfect writing nook. What you’re looking for when you’re trying to write. That way, you’ll know that you’re on the right track when you find it.

I found this at The Writer’s Circle, and wanted to give them the credit for helping me to write down a list of my own suggestions to writing as a whole. I’m going to borrow from them, but also add to it myself, so I’m going to say in the interest of full disclosure that this entry is written by both myself and the staff at The Writer’s Circle.

The Writing Bag

Everything a girl needs to write The Great American Novel.
Everything a girl needs to write The Great American Novel.

PICTURED:
Bag — L.L. Bean messenger bag, purchased at Salvation Army

Laptop — Apple MacBook Pro (Faye)

Notebook — Five Star FLEX, complete with stickers

Composition Notebook — One Direction, purchased on clearance at K-Mart; this is where I keep a running list of everything I’ve been listening to

Writing Tools — Bic pen, Fisher space pen, Sharpie highlighter, Paper*Mate felt-tipped pen, Staedtler mechanical pencil (0.9mm lead)

Earbuds — Skullcandy

Glasses, Post-Its, packets of Splenda, password for Wi-Fi at the Caroline Kennedy Library, 8GB flash drive

Places To Write: Libraries

As of late I have found myself hopping from library to library, in the hopes of finding a new place to sit down and write. I’m always looking for a place to let my muses run free, and libraries are some of the best places to do so. I can usually get up and walk around, with earbuds in or headphones on, and occasionally I will pull a book off of the shelf and thumb through its pages. But recently, on the west side of Detroit, I’ve been jumping from library to library, looking for a table to spread all of my notes on. Because this little wobbly table in my rented room just isn’t enough. Plus, you know, it wobbles.

Mardigian Library, University of Michigan – Dearborn
Dearborn, Michigan

mardigian_libraryThe library on my college campus. This is where, on days where I’m in class, I find myself spending most of my free time. On the upper floors it’s relatively quiet, but there aren’t really any tables. There are cubbies with electrical outlets, and the Internet isn’t necessary free (I’m not sure how to access it if you’re not a student but I do believe that you can). There’s a cafe’ on the first floor that has some drinks and some snacks, and they don’t really frown when you bring meals in, unlike in a lot of other places where they absolutely leer at you with a bag of food.

Caroline Kennedy Library
Dearborn Heights, Michigan

caroline-kennedy-libraryThis is a wonderful place. A truly wonderful place. The library itself is located by a park and a school, but is still quiet inside. There are plenty of electrical outlets and free Internet, but the best part about it is that it’s quiet. Plus, my friend Anna works there, so getting to see her is definitely kind of cool. Parking’s ample and this library is very easy to find, and even has a couple of tables outside if you’re seeking some fresh air.

John F. Kennedy, Jr. Library
Dearborn Heights, Michigan

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While a bit smaller than its sister Caroline, this library was truly a wonderful place to be. I mean, they had a typewriter, a working typewriter among the computers, which were actually scattered throughout the building. The only thing I wish it had more of was windows. Natural lighting is kind of a big thing for me, and this place isn’t sorely lacking it, but it’s definitely something I would want to add if they ever renovated the place.

Henry Ford Centennial Library
Dearborn, Michigan

image-20130319133414
The flagship of the Dearborn Public Library system. This building is beautiful, and it’s perfect for what a library should be. Stacks upon stacks upon stacks of books that are actually worth something to the patrons. There are even quiet study rooms if you want to simply be left alone. But get there early if you want one of these rooms. This library is more of a public gathering place than a public library, and has a tendency to get loud once school gets out.

Plymouth District Library
Plymouth, Michigan

lsI’d been to this place once before, and had fallen in love with it then. When I returned, the love affair continued to blossom. Granted, the last time I was there they were doing renovations on the roof and every thirty seconds some power tool went off, but I think now that they’re all done with that, this might just be the place to go. In fact, I may just test that out today. To Plymouth we will go!

The Creative Reboot

“Lack” in Swedish means paint, or varnish in English. As I assembled my brand-new Lack table from IKEA, it occurred to me that maybe, in the end, this all means something.

A new coat of paint. Some fresh varnish. We’re not fixing things structurally, just making them look nicer on the outside.

But this table is granting me something I like to call creative freedom.

See, right now I am living in a rented room in the basement of a crowded house in Dearborn, Michigan. It’s not much, but right now it’s what I have. And here I have a level of privacy that I haven’t had in a very, very long time. I can go into my room, into my little cave, put on my headphones or NOT put on my headphones, and not be disturbed for days on end. I am free to be an adult, and free to live within the limits that I prescribe for myself.

Do I stay in my cave all day? Hell no. Girl’s gotta eat. She just usually brings her laptop and notebook and things with her. But she goes, backpack slung over shoulder, searching for a new place to sit down and practice her craft. Her craft just happens to be writing.

IMG_0443This brings me back to Lack. This little side table is currently holding the first eight pages of what I am calling my first real honest-to-god story. The characters are original works of art, each crafted before they can make their appearance in the story. Eight typed pages, typed on my Brother GX-6750 typewriter that was gifted to me by my muse, kept in a box that was also purchased at IKEA. Eight whole pages. I’ve started writing and thrown out stories that have been longer than this, yet there is something about this that keeps me going. I don’t know what it is.

This story is my creative reboot. This, not a reset of plays in iTunes, not the fact that I’m done with all of my academic writing for the school year. This is it. I’m restarting it all again. Wish me luck.

How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Block

Act II of my feature-length screen play for JASS467: Script-Writing Workshop is due on Tuesday. That’s a week from now. Six days from now I should have upwards of 60 pages of this script complete (even though I am convinced that the entire thing is going to need a fresh rewrite and is going to take me the rest March, April, and part of May to complete), yet here I am. Sitting on campus. Writing this blog entry. I have Celtx open in another window, and I’ve been staring at it. I’ve been trying to figure out just how in the hell I’m going to finish this screenplay when I can’t even string two simple sentences together.

I’m deep in a writer’s block. I’m on a deadline, and I am knee-deep in writer’s block.

Normally I would sit back and let the block consume me, knocking out all of the positive energy until it had a chance to recharge and I could move on with the story. But I’m on a deadline. This isn’t just for my own benefit, this is for a grade. My professor explained to me that I don’t have the luxury of writer’s block, and that I need to at least attempt to force it.

Huey Freeman just does NOT approve.
Huey Freeman just does NOT approve.
So, I forced it. I brought my journal to work, and during my breaks and my lunch time, I sat down with my little notebook and I forced it. And, I don’t know. It didn’t suck, but it was difficult. I should’ve had this finished on Thursday, I thought to myself. I had all day on Thursday. I went to the library and locked myself in one of those private study rooms… and watched The Boondocks on Netflix. I think I got a paragraph written.

But what did I do? I sat down and put pen to paper. I needed to get something down, since ACT II is due on Tuesday and I at least needed to attempt to submit something.

As of right now, I have all of ACT II outlined out. Now what I really need is to take the day off of work so I can go right ahead and finish this damn thing. Sucks that I’m not financially able to do that, but… I’ve still got my journal with me at work. And I’m going to finish ACT II by Tuesday come hell or high fucking water.