Friday Links: Inspiration to Keep Those Writing Goals on Track

TGIF! I’m actually conference-bound this weekend, so this is a down-and-dirty edition of Friday Links before I hit the road. This week my links are a little bit all over the place, but I have the required reading recommendations and some writing inspiration, so I hope everyone finds a couple of things that interest them or set their brain sparking.

Short as this is, I do want to remind you all that the end of March is coming up, and with it, the end of the first quarter of the year. You might want to take a peek back at the goals you set at the start of 2017 and see how things are going. I’ll be revisiting the subject later next week, but the weekend is an excellent time to get a head start.

On that note, I leave you with this week’s links and wish you a wonderful weekend. Happy writing!

On Persistence: The Lessons of a Middle-Aged Debut Novelist – Because not everyone is a prodigy, and it’s never to late to get started.

Fairy and Folk Tale Collections that Aren’t the Brothers Grimm – A nice assortment of alternate tales that give a broader look at the genre.

Study Identities and Social Issues with Iowa’s International Writing Program – Two new free writing courses offered by Iowa’s International Writing Program will start online in May.

Stump the Bookseller – A service that offers up the chance of locating the title of that long lost childhood favorite based on the scantest details.

71 Thousand Hi-Res Historical Maps Available for Free Download – A great archive for research, reference, or inspiration.

How to Write a Short Story and Improve Your Writing Skills – Reasons why trying your had at this short format might be beneficial, plus some excellent tips.

A Journey into the Merriam-Webster Word Factory – For the word-geeks in the audience, a mini tour behind the scenes of the dictionary publisher.

Friday Links: St. Paddy’s Day edition

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all who celebrate, and a very happy Friday, as well. I’ve had a busy week, filled with lots of work and technological challenges, including a weird power outage and a day of spotty internet. You forget sometimes how much we rely on modern conveniences… at least until they go wonky on you. But sometimes the reminder can also be a nudge in a different direction, showing us how much we can accomplish if we unplug a bit and focus on the heart of what we’re trying to accomplish. For those of you wedded to your devices, maybe try taking a notebook and a pen and heading out to get some writing done. And leave the tech at home.

Now to Friday Links! I’ve a nice assortment this week, including a bit of Irish-themed reading for anyone looking for a little something beyond a beer and corned beef to mark the day. Enjoy, and happy writing!

12 Irish-Americans to Read on St. Patrick’s Day – Get a feel for the old country or an Irish take on the new one.

Roxane Gay, Aimee Bender and More on Assault and Harrassment in the Literary World – 11 women writers speak out in conjunction with a recent Tin House essay.

Isaac Asimov Wrote Almost 500 Books in His Lifetime–These Are the Six Ways He Did It – Some great advice on getting the work done, even if you don’t aspire to that level of productivity.

How Working at a Bookstore Changed My Writing Career – Author Jami Attenberg on her time working at Word in Brooklyn, NY.

Why ‘The Outsiders’ Lives On: A Teenage Novel Turns 50 – A look at the perennial top seller and reader favorite.

100 Must-Read Books about the History of Medicine – A really interesting roundup, particularly for anyone doing research or looking for some inspiration.

Friday Links: On Reading (and Writing) All the Books

Whenever I get really busy, I start to have this panicky feeling in the pit of my stomach that says I’m falling behind with reading all the books I want to read. It’s irrational, of course. As a diehard bookworm, I know there isn’t any way I’ll live long enough to read all those stories. First of all, it’s a moving target, more great-sounding titles hitting the shelves every year. And second, I just don’t read that fast. But it’s still there. The anxiety over missing out. It’s the sensation that inspires me to indulge in weekend readathons, and that makes me particularly sympathetic to people with limited access to books. It probably helped steer me toward a career in publishing, because after all, getting paid to read books means you spend more time with your nose between the covers (or hovering in front of the computer screen).

This week’s Friday Links feature the usual assortment of reading-and-writing information and oddities, but I think my itch to spend some quality time reading shines through. Whether you’re planning a quick getaway, chasing after the kids, or spending the weekend in the yard doing chores, I hope you find a bit of time to devote to your own reading and/or writing. Maybe one or two of these with give you a push in the right direction. Enjoy, and have a wonderful weekend!

12 New Books We’re Excited to Read on Vacation this Summer – A great list; a few of these are already on my TBR pile.

How Young Adult Authors Can Use Tumblr to Reach Their Readers – Excellent tips for all writers, not just those working in YA.

How to Write a Fight Scene in 11 Steps – Nice breakdown of various fight scenes and how to approach writing your own.

Infiltrating Literature’s Secret Societies – A look inside a very particular type of novel, including some great examples to add to your reading list.

The Inspiration for Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti is a Muslim Scientist from the 10th Century – A fascinating and inspirational peek at the real history behind Okorafor’s wonderful book.

Just. One. Book. – A compelling blog post about a small, rural school in California that is trying to restock their hopelessly out-of-date library with new, diverse titles. Please consider sending along a book and/or boosting the signal. Starting Monday they plan to have an Amazon wish list up, but they’d love to get a copy of your favorite middle grade/young adult title.

The Delicate Art of Character Folding – On the writer’s dilemma of having to eliminate characters they’ve grown to love.

Books I Wish I Wrote: On Writerly Jealousy – Pretty much what the title says, with some great books mentioned.

Friday Links: Combatting Cabin Fever

Happy Friday, everyone! It’s been an insanely busy week here, so I apologize for being a bit quiet on the inter-webs. Sometimes you just have to put your head down and plow forward. And of course, with spring in full bloom here in the northern hemisphere, I’m aware that I, like everyone else, am struggling with a certain level of cabin fever. The birds are even now chirping outside my office window and it’s very tempting to just go play outside.

When I’m feeling this sort of pull, I resist it by reminding myself that the nice weather will still be there come the weekend… or whenever things quiet down to normal levels. Or I give myself lines in the sand; do everything on this list and then you can wander down the block to Starbucks for an hour of fresh air and caffeine injections. But it also helps to be engrossed in what I’m working on. The lure of a lovely day feels much less tempting if I’m reading a wonderful manuscript or helping make a project better. It’s all relative.

With this in mind, I’ve got a mishmash of links for you today that I hope help to combat your own cabin fever and allow you to put in a bit of reading and writing time. Plenty of things to think about and get you into gear. Enjoy!

Around the world in 18 science fiction and fantasy novels – A nice roundup for some serious armchair travel.

Interrogating Sentimentality with Leslie Jamison – On the line between writing that’s emotional and writing that’s overly sentimental or saccharine.

Download 67,000 Historic Maps – An open collection of high resolution maps available from Stanford University’s David Rumsey Map Collection. Great for research.

On the Heartbreaking Difficulty of Getting Rid of Books – Most of us know this problem. An interesting look at an author’s experience with trying to apply the Marie Kondo tidying method to her bookshelves, proving that not all systems work for all people — or at least not precisely as intended.

Whit Stillman Returns: “Sometimes it’s good to blow through all your deadlines.” – The director of Metropolitan tackles Jane Austen’s Love and Friendship.

Authors, Get Thee to Social Media: Explaining the Rise and Rise of YA Books – Intriguing article with some great points about social media (though this is obviously not the entire driving force behind the success of YA).

Knausgaard in Chicago: “I Don’t Want to Write about Myself Anymore.” – The author known for his mammoth multi-volume work of autobiographical fiction talks about literary ambition and success with Sheila Heti.

 

Friday Links: A Hodgepodge of Inspiration

TGIF! I’m currently in Las Vegas on the fringes of the RT Book Lovers Convention (meaning I’m not really attending, but I’m there in the background, holding a few meetings), but I cannot leave you without Friday Links! So here are this week’s goodies. Whatever your plans for the weekend, I hope you squeeze in a bit of time to write. After all, every word counts, even those that end up being part of what gets cut in a revision. The most difficult thing to fix is a blank page, so fill your pages with words and go from there. Enjoy!

Why You Should Write Something Pointless – Some helpful tips to take the pressure off.

9 Websites for Readers Who Think about Books All Day, Every Day – You probably know most of these, but just in case…

Shakespeare on a Stamp – In honor of the 400th anniversary of the death of the Bard, the Royal Mail has put the man on the stamp. Or at least his words.

We Want to Hear New Voices: Diversity in Sci-fi and Fantasy – An interview with Zen Cho and Andre Carrington on diversity in sff, with some great reading suggestions from both the speakers and the folks calling in.

Ploughshares Emerging Writer’s Contest – Deadline approaching May 15th, so check it out.

Ruth Sepetys at LA Times Festival of Books

Friday Links

Happy Friday, everyone! I hope you’ve all had a good week, especially given how turbulent it has been in certain parts of the world lately. From tornadoes to earthquakes and riots to terrorists, things feel particularly tenuous. So give the people you love a hug or a call — or maybe write them a lovely handwritten letter — and take a moment to think about the very different lives we all live. It’s good writing inspiration, yes, but it’s just good humanity, too. And if you’re in the U.S., don’t forget that Sunday is Mother’s Day.

Philosophical moments aside, I’ve got a nice collection of links for you today. I had to poke around a bit this week as things were particularly busy at work, so I hope you find these worth my digging. Enjoy, and happy writing!

Five Ways Scrivener Can Help Your Work in Progress – I’m a huge fan of the Scrivener writing program (and no, I have no connection to the company), and this is a great little mini tutorial. If you don’t have Scrivener and are interested in trying it out, ignore the link on the page and go straight to the source, where you can get a trial run before committing.

Paul Beatty on Satire, Race, and Writing for “Weirdos” – An interview with the author.

Anatomy of a Regency Letter – A lovely post on the physical details of a letter of the era, including paper sizes and folding techniques. (Thanks to Mary Robinette Kowal for the link.)

The First Day in the Life of a Brand New Bookstore – On last week’s opening day for Little City Books in Hoboken, NJ. Charming and heartening. If you’re in the Hoboken area, go buy some books.

Reach a Wider Audience: Eleven Foreign Literary Markets – Some thoughts on how to sell your short work into foreign territories, and why that might help your career on a wider scale.

 

Friday Links

Happy Friday, and welcome to October! It’s the month for fall colors, crisp apples and shiny pumpkins, Halloween costumes, and NaNoWriMo prep (for those of you who go for that sort of thing). Of course in my neck of the woods, it’s supposed to hit 100 degrees again over the weekend, but I’m studiously ignoring that fact and planning a good fall housecleaning; time to haul old electronics out for recycling and to donate books to the library.

What do you have planned for your weekend? A short getaway? A cozy couple of days at home with the family? Some quality time with your WIP? Whatever you’ve got on the schedule, I hope you enjoy. And if you’re looking for a bit of a break, I have a huge list of links this week to offer up some distraction. Happy writing!

12 Essential Essays for Writers – A great roundup with inspiration for all.

First Pages: Tips to Avoid Cliches and Weak Writing – Some good advice on how to craft a strong first page.

10 Lessons from Real-life Revolutions that Fictional Dystopias Ignore – Food for thought if you’re writing a dystopian novel (or considering it).

Fiction Podcast: George Saunders Reads Grace Paley and Barry Hannah – Sit back and enjoy.

How I Forgot to Write – An interesting look at how the business of creating a career can alter your intended trajectory.

For Sale: Gloucester Home, Possibly Haunted by T.S. Eliot – An inspirational location, regardless.

When Science Fiction Grew Up – An intriguing look at the genre from the late 1950s through the mid-1970s, including a long list of titles. Great for anyone looking to brush up on their sf history/reading.

Friday Links

Happy Friday! It’s the first weekend since fall officially arrived (in the northern hemisphere), and I’m looking forward to some cooler days ahead. Er… relatively speaking. I am still in Southern California.

But regardless, fall brings to mind reading and writing, books and shiny school supplies. It’s deeply imbedded in my psyche at this point. All I have to do is eyeball the enormous stack of books that has made its way into my apartment this month to know it’s pointless to fight my compulsion. So I plan to spend my weekend reading. First some submissions, and then some books with covers.

However, right now I’ve got links to share! I hope they inspire you to some creative endeavor this weekend, or send you scrambling for a good read. Enjoy!

An African Reading List – Great roundup of suggested titles/authors listed by country in Africa, with more suggestions in the comments. Especially handy for anyone looking to diversify their reading by adding in authors of color, women, or writers of different backgrounds.

The Longing of the Collector – A look at the book Curiosity’s Cats: Writers on Research, which collects a series of essays by different kinds of writers on their research habits and experiences.

How Stephen King Teaches Writing – Some words of wisdom from the prolific author with great information on his approach to both writing and teaching writing.

Romance Unlaced: Beyond Britain’s Shores – A look at historical romance novels and why, exactly, they tend to take place in England and Scotland, plus how some have broken the pattern.

Teju Cole’s Rules on Writing – A list of wonderful tips and things to consider, some familiar but worth repeating, and others a little different.

Writing What You Know vs. Knowing What You Write

One of the most common pieces of advice handed down to writers — particularly those just starting out — is “write what you know.” It’s not bad advice on its own, but it frequently gets a bad rap. People are quick to point out how limiting such a rule can be, particularly for anyone intent on writing science fiction or fantasy stories. How many writers, after all, truly know what it’s like to rocket across the galaxy in a space ship? Who has personal experience fighting off a dragon? Even with more mainstream fiction, you can see the problem. Must you wait for your spouse to die before you can write about a character experiencing such a loss?

For me, the difficulty comes not with the advice itself but in the literal interpretation. Of course you don’t need to limit your writing to your personal experiences, or to subjects  on which you’re already an expert. Focus on what you find interesting or compelling, or what has you curious, and then get to know about that subject. Fill in the blanks in your knowledge so you can do the subject justice when you sit down to write. Or, if it’s a topic that requires you to flex your imagination, make sure you research around the subject’s fringes so your imaginings feel authentic. Tolkien’s Middle Earth may be populated by imagined people and creatures, but it feels real because he applied familiar details to the world they inhabit; he described the nature and the geography, created maps to trace the Fellowship’s journey, and used his knowledge and interest in linguistics to invent entire languages for the different races. So, read up on some astronauts and their experiences with space travel. Learn about various lizards and birds and dinosaurs and see what facts about their anatomy might apply to your dragon.

When it comes to writing about what you know, emotions can be similar across different experiences. Just because you’ve never lost a spouse, doesn’t mean you haven’t lost someone you loved — a parent or grandparent, maybe a close friend. You can read accounts from people who have suffered the death of a significant other, but you can also empathize on a different level over the general loss of a loved one. How did it feel? What were your reactions? Can you imagine the differences and the similarities between your experience and the one you’re crafting for your character?

Writing is a creative endeavor, and by its very nature requires you to create as you go. If you limit yourself to writing only about the current contents of your brain, you will do yourself — and your readers — a disservice. The key is to use your own knowledge as a jumping off point. Tap into your experiences and emotions and mine those for your work, of course, but don’t discount the ideas that stem from what you wish to learn, from the fleeting thoughts that require you do some digging. Expanding your world is half the fun of writing, so stay open to inspiration and the opportunity to discover something new. If you don’t know about your subject when the idea first sparks, you will by the time you finish your final draft.

Reading on a Theme: Learning Your History

Years after graduation, I still miss school once in a while, and never so much as when I wish I had the time and excuse to read a number of interconnected books the way I would for an English class — titles that somehow link together, whether by author or time period or style of writing or genre. I loved being about to read several works in a row and have discussions about what made them similar, what the authors were trying to accomplish, how the works played off of each other.

Reading on a theme gets more difficult once you leave school. In my case, there’s a lot of other reading mixed in with my personal choices, so there can be huge gaps of time and many other works addressed between books I’m reading for pleasure. But of course, if you’re looking to write in a particular genre, reading on a theme should be part of your regular routine.

Working on a young adult manuscript? You should be reading young adult books, new and old, bestsellers and quiet mid-listers. Writing a romance? Get to know the history of the genre. Dig into some of the old favorites you hear mentioned by friends or on blogs. Read all the big authors. Check out some debut  titles. Creating your own fantasy world? You’d better have an idea of what’s been done before.

So this sort of academic approach to a specific reading topic isn’t just useful for your own edification, but for mapping out the playground where you’ve chosen to spend your time. Yes, you need to read the recent books to know what’s working at the moment, but you should also get an idea of what’s come before, of the sorts of stories that serve as the foundation for the titles that came later. Create your own survey course and wade into the books that readers loved ten, twenty, thirty years ago. Only then can you say with some certainty whether your ideas are fresh.

Most genres come with a huge backlist, and no one expects you to read them all. But a little bit of digging can help you come up with a list to start from, including the landmark titles that changed the genre and the authors who have contributed the biggest ideas. Check out the websites of writers you admire and see if they recommend books that influenced them along the way. Ask your local librarian for their thoughts on important books in your genre. Visit university websites and see what titles are covered in any genre-specific courses they might teach. By all means, read titles in that genre randomly, as you discover them, but also consider a more systematic approach, where you read some works chronologically to get a real idea of how the influences flowed from one generation of writers to the next.

All writers need to read broadly, to improve their general knowledge and gain inspiration, but you must also take the time to learn the ins and outs of the genre that interests you most. Only once you know the rules — what’s been done, what’s been overdone — can you turn things on end and create something different.