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

Another Friday. I’m honestly not sure where the week went. But I do have a good collection of links to distract you today and through the weekend. A few in particular I’m hoping will inspire you to get some writing time in between your chores and barbecues and other weekend-ish activities. Enjoy, and happy writing!

Will Social Media Kill Writers’ Diaries? – An interesting question regarding the way tech has changed the writer’s habit of journaling and sending letters.

Mass-Market Marathon – This series at Slate follows one reader as he attempts to plow through a stack (23) of mass-market paperbacks during his week-long beach vacation. I’ll admit to envying him time for his experiment.

30 Indispensable Tips from Famous Authors – A fun collection with some excellent advice, as well as proof that sometimes it’s necessary to do what works for you.

Stephen King’s Family Business – A look at how many writers you can squeeze into one family.

Disneyland’s Steampunk Land that Almost Was – For you steampunk fans, a look back at plans for a Steampunk portion of Disneyland that never got off the ground. Includes great pictures of the original plans, etc.

A Month of Letters

LetterMo2013postcard-227x300Last February, author Mary Robinette Kowal launched A Month of Letters, the idea being that you write one real letter or put one item in the mail every day the post runs during the month of February. Between the short month and the holiday, there are only twenty-three days of U.S. mail in February (fewer if you live in a country where there is no Saturday mail service). The challenge invites people to take a bit more time to craft a letter than they would if they were shooting off an email, to get back to the thought process involved when you know the recipient won’t see your note for at least a few days. It gives people a chance to reconnect on a different level. Besides, who doesn’t love getting real mail? Something that’s neither a bill nor a flyer trying to sell something, but instead an actual bit of communication from a friend or loved one.

A Month of Letters was a huge success, and many of the correspondence that began that February has continued on over the year. With another February looming, it’s the perfect opportunity to dust off your pens and stationery and think about writing to someone. The challenge website offers all sorts of suggestions on how to get started, and how to find people to write to if you’re looking for some new pen pals. For those of you interested in participating but scratching your heads about what to write, I offer up a few ideas:

  • Valentine’s Day cards
  • Book recommendations to your fellow bookworms
  • Snippets of poems you’ve read or written
  • Epistolary stories or novels, with a new installment sent each week (especially wonderful to send to children, who might never have gotten a real letter in the mail)
  • Descriptions of strange dreams
  • Old photographs
  • Sketches
  • Homemade bookmarks
  • Humorous stories about your pets
  • Discussion of travel plans, either practical or the ultimate dream vacation

Your letters can be long and rambling or short notes that simply tell someone they are in your thoughts. Be creative with your subjects and with the medium you use. Write by hand or rely on your typewriter. There are no rules, beyond mailing something each day and replying to the letters you receive.

Creative Writing 101: The Letter-Writers’ Edition

It’s February 1st, the first day of the Month of Letters Challenge. Anyone hanging around with me here or on Twitter has probably figured out that I think this is a great idea on many levels. But I’m not here to chat up the wonders of getting personal mail. Instead, I’m here to offer ways in which you can participate in the challenge AND turn it into a writing exercise that flexes your creative muscles.

For as many writers who have embraced this idea, excited about the prospect of writing lovely missives to friends and family, and hearing their reactions to receiving something fun in their mailbox, I suspect there are just as many who have moaned at the idea of trying to write a letter each day in addition to squeezing in time for their work in progress. Yes, you could take the easy way out by sending pre-written cards, sticking to postcards, or simply printing out copies of favorite family recipes and mailing them off to your younger relatives (and hoping they’ll volunteer to cook something for the next holiday gathering). But how about looking at the challenge as something that will help stretch your mind and imagination, either through writing or by restocking your creative well?

A few ideas for writers:

~ Make your end-of-the-week letter a WIP mailing. Send off your week’s worth of writing to one of your readers in hard copy each Friday.

~ Do you write short stories? Are you interested in trying flash fiction? Attempt to write a few stories over the course of the month that are 1,000 words or less, and send them to friends with whom you typically share your work.

~ Any little kids in your life? How many have ever received mail other than a birthday card? Make one or two your pen pal, even if you live in the same household. Send cartoons, drawings, stickers, as well as little notes, and encourage them to respond. Take them shopping for cute note cards and teach them how to address an envelope properly.

~ Another idea for little kids: Be a secret admirer (though fill in their parents that you’re behind the notes, if the kids aren’t your own). Send little surprises and don’t sign them until the end of the month.

~ Children of your own? Write an ongoing bedtime story and send it out in letter format, with each letter ending in a cliffhanger. The segments don’t have to be long.

~ Older kids away at college? Send letters, care packages, things they forgot to pack up after winter break. (Word of warning: Don’t send to your college kid only; you’ll drive them crazy.)

~ Try writing one poem a week and sending it off to a friend or loved one.

~ Remember that Valentine’s Day falls in the middle of February. Send out cards to your mom, siblings, nieces and nephews, instead of just to your significant other. Stagger the cards in the mail and they’ll be good for a few days of the challenge.

~ Use one “letter” per week as an excuse NOT to write. Make it a break and do something creative that does not include words, and put that in the mail instead. Send a photograph, burn a CD for someone, bake cookies and send them off.

~ Consider writing a letter from the point of view of one of your characters. People used to write entire novels in the epistolary fashion. Give it a go on a small scale and see what you learn about your protagonist or your villain. Send the letter to your critique partner and get their feedback as to whether any of the revelations should be included in your plot. (Mary Robinette Kowal has already said she’ll be corresponding with people who wish to write her heroine, Jane.)

These are just a few thoughts to get you started. How else might you participate in the challenge and really exercise your writing chops? I’m curious to hear your ideas, so please share if you’d like. Happy writing!

A Different Kind of Connection

Author Mary Robinette Kowal has issued a letter-writing challenge for the month of February. She suggests that you mail one thing through the post each day it runs over the course of the month — a total of 24 items, when you take out Sundays and the holiday (in the US). They can be letters, postcards, newspaper clippings, photos — whatever strikes your fancy. Typed or handwritten. To friends, family, acquaintances. You can read all the details of her challenge, including her reasoning for it, over at her blog.

I’m a huge fan of letter writing. I periodically bemoan the almost-universal shift to e-mail and Facebook messaging and texts. I miss getting things in my mail box that don’t demand that I send money off to someone. I subscribe to far too many magazines, just so that I’m excited to get the mail. I still have boxes of stationery in the cupboard; note cards, writing paper, pretty postcards. Yes. I’m one of those people.

But let’s face it. Who doesn’t like getting something fun in the mail? A birthday or holiday card? A postcard from someone on vacation? It takes more time and effort than shooting off an e-mail or text message. It says someone’s thinking about you long enough to write out the message, find a stamp, go off and mail it. It’s like a little bit of love coming your way.

In college, back when long-distance phone calls incurred long-distance charges, my roommate and I would write long letters back and forth over summer break. We’d complain about our summer jobs, update each other on our families, and generally discuss whatever books we were reading. I still have those letters, boxed up somewhere at my parents’ house. They’re a fun read, even now. I like trying to remember what I wrote — what my half of those conversations looked like.

But correspondence doesn’t have to be a conversation. It can be sending positive vibes out into the world. Author Carolyn See, in her wonderful book MAKING A LITERARY LIFE: ADVICE FOR WRITERS AND OTHER DREAMERS, suggests that aspiring writers drop notes in the mail to their favorite authors. Not to network or to ask for advice or with any expectation of a response, but just to let someone know that you admire their work. She believes in writing what she refers to as “charming notes,” five days a week, every week, as a component of building a literary life. You might find this an extreme practice, but I would suggest one of these a week — to a writer you admire, to an editor who’s responsible for your favorite read last year, to some industry person who gave you good advice — might appeal if you’re interested in getting back to writing letters.

I feel sorry for biographers fifty years from now. Letters and journals used to be such a wonderful resource for anyone researching a person’s life, particularly a subject who was a writer by trade. But the shift to electronic formats, and the tendency to delete much of the contents of our computers — or lose it to faulty backup habits — means that much of this type of material won’t exist for the next generation. I love the idea of bringing at least a bit of this old fashioned form of communication back into practice. At the very least, you never know what gem might show up in your own mail box as a result.