Reading, Thinking, and Writing Effects

Over the summer, I read Stein on Writing, which was helpful from a professional development perspective since I write for my paying job, but, as with so many books, I found it spurred my thinking along several different lines, and caused me to ponder how I read, think, and communicate.

What counts is not what is said, but the effect of what is meant.

stein-on-writingI’m often frustrated by how relentlessly visual our culture is. People are so used to consuming primarily visual media that even print materials often read like a description of a TV drama. In the quote above, Stein contends that good dialogue is not about the exact words used, but the effect the words have on the story. I think the same holds true for action. This is why bedroom scenes invariably fail in novels (although, unfortunately, authors more often take this fact as a thrown gauntlet rather than a cautionary tale)–the play-by-play is not important, rather it’s the effect on the story of what the action means.

In addition to informing our writing, the idea also carries weight with spoken communication. Rather than oversharing details, we might do better to focus on communicating the effect an action or instance had on us–making it more universal and easier to understand.

There is a time and place for details. But, in our current milieu–speaking for myself, at least–a dose of restraint might be a more necessary corrective.

A writer cannot be a Pollyanna. He is in the business of writing what other people think but don’t say…the single characteristic that most makes a difference in the success of an article or nonfiction book is the author’s courage in revealing normally unspoken things about himself or his society…tell the truth in an interesting way.

I often have moments, when I read really good books, of noting that an author has perfectly articulated something I’ve experienced but never mentioned. But telling the truth in an interesting way is more difficult that you’d think. Wendy pointed me to this fascinating article about how difficult it is for Christians to write redemption, because it seems to defy description. I wonder if the answer might be–as in the observation above–to leave off with attempts at play-by-play descriptions and focusing on “the effect of what is meant.”

In the end, you write what you read.

If this is not a clarion call to being judicious with my reading shelf (and my kids’), I’m not sure what is.

I read books about writing both as a writer and as a reader. I usually find tidbits to help me in my work, but invariably find food for thought that makes me more thoughtful and discerning in my literary life as well.

What do you think?

 

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Starting “in media res”

Start in media res – in the middle of things.

I’ve been thinking about the concept of in media res lately. Specifically, about the way being in the middle of things raises the temptation to plow through rather than savor life. So often, I find myself realizing after many weeks that I have a problem. The problem was there all along, but I was so busy dealing with it in the moment that I never stepped back to call it out as an issue.

I always think I need a fresh beginning to make a change. You know, I’ll start the diet on Monday, I’ll make the resolution on January 1, I’ll really get my habits in line on the first day of school…but I like the idea of starting in media res.

When I turned 32, someone told me (only half-joking) that hopefully I had already accomplished everything I hoped to do in my life, because no one ever does anything big after the age of 32. Aside from the fact that the idea is patently false, it’s also a pretty sad conviction, don’t you think? Why not see any day or any year or any life stage as a place to start?

In Writing Life Stories, Bill Roorbach talks about how to get past the surface with your life stories, to “look for where you can crack things open” and expand and dig deeper. Apart from the obvious application to writing memoir Roorbach intended, I like the picture of cracking things open, of starting in media res. It’s not about blowing up your life, but about seeing brittle places as opportunities for growth.

What do you think?

 

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Hodge-podge: Books for Kids and Adults

This weekend, I surveyed the double layer of books on my To Read shelf and elected to thin the herd. It felt great to lift some of that pressure, self-inflicted though it is! Although I’m preferring the topical round-up style reviews lately, I thought I’d throw out a hodge-podge in case it helps anyone clear out an overfull shelf, or gives some ideas for kids books to add to your audio queue for upcoming over-the-river-and-through-the-woods jaunts.

First, a few kids books of note:

Alice In WonderlandAlice in WonderlandThis classic is probably worth owning in print if you don’t already, and it’s also quite inexpensive on Audible. We listened to the audio version through our library’s Overdrive app and enjoyed it. It’s a great mix of silly and bizarre and rhymy so it works for all ages. It’s also a lot shorter than I remember.

The Island of Dr. LibrisThe Island of Dr. LibrisI expected to like this book more than I did, given the premise of kids encountering book characters coming to life. But often I just wondered, why these books? Why these characters? Some seemed normal for kids, while others seemed needlessly linked to grown-up books, so it’s not like the kids who read Dr. Libris would then go out and read the adult books. It just could have been better. It was fine as an audio book for the car, but nothing extraordinary.

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid LindgrenPippi Longstocking – Although it’s obviously a classic, do yourself a favor and get your kids the paper version rather than subjecting yourselves to the audio book. From a parent’s perspective, Pippi is just so annoying. I could not wait for the book to be over. It’s a little odd, since I remember liking the book as a kid, and my own kids have read and liked the book. I guess it’s just one of those things, like how adults read Little House in the Big Woods and can’t get over how much work Ma had to do, when kids are only thinking about wanting a pig bladder balloon. Anyway.

Stone-Fox-John-GardinerStone FoxThis short book packs in a great story of adventure and sacrifice, with some good topics for conversation. It also has a shocking ending (at least it was shocking to us) so be forewarned. It was a great audio book to listen to, but would be a good one to own as well.

 

mrs_piggle_wiggles-farmMrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Farm – You really can’t go wrong with Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. We’ve enjoyed all of the series (at least the ones we’ve found so far) both in audio and paper versions. This volume is no exception to the pattern: kids with bad habits or character issues are taken to Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, who gives them some natural consequences or otherwise helps them to figure out how to change their habit. I like the emphasis on the child having to do the work to change, but the adult being there to help.

Now, on to the books for grown-ups:

nature-anatomy-coverNature Anatomy – We used this book as a read-aloud for nature study, but I thought it could just as easily be something an adult would want to pick up to peruse. The author did a lovely job of hand-drawing bits of nature from rocks to birds, animals to plants, and then hand-lettered in interesting facts and scientific names, with some typeset information and grouping by category. This is what a nature notebook could look like if you were an artist and naturalist for real. We found it inspiring and quite informative.

strong-and-weak-andy-crouchStrong and Weak – I wanted to like this book more since I did really enjoy the author’s previous book, Culture Making, and named it as one of my favorites from 2009. But this one just didn’t really stand out for me. It was fine, but I didn’t come away from it feeling particularly challenged or inspired or with new ideas about flourishing. I think your response might depend on how much culture-shaping type literature you’ve read.

becoming-brilliantBecoming Brilliant – Having received an advance copy of this book, I was somewhat sad to find that I’m really not the target audience and I honestly didn’t enjoy the book. For one thing, I felt that the authors’ views on issues like giftedness, the point of education, and educational methods ran counter to what I have read, researched, and experienced, both as a student and as a teacher. For another, the information is presented in fairly dry book report fashion rather than as dynamic new ideas, and I’ve read most of the information in other sources before. Not all of the ideas were really all that supported by research (for example, the actual outcomes from learning via screens). The good ideas also tend to be geared toward classroom teachers, rather than towards parents or homeschoolers–involved parents and homeschoolers are almost certainly already doing the things the authors describe to ensure their kids develop well. In thinking about who should read this book, I decided that it would be good for policymakers in government who have no background in educational issues, but who find themselves needing to get up to speed fast. If that’s not you, skip this one.

games-for-writingGames for Writing – I have a child who is a reluctant writer. It’s not that said child CAN’T write, because said child enjoys attempting intricate calligraphy and keeping notebooks full of random facts about various topics. However, said child LOATHES writing assignments. I have tried Oh So Many Things. What is working for now is reminding myself to take a deep breath because this is only elementary school and there are plenty of years in which to tackle the sort of writing required in college. Meanwhile, I’ve been using many of the writing prompt ideas from Brave Writer, and also several I found in this little book.Games for Writing is geared toward early elementary, but I’ve been beefing it up a little bit so that I can use it with all of my big kids (2nd, 4th, and 5th grades) together. In general, I still think the copywork to written narration to analytical essay path is correct, but sometimes it does help to get there via a meandering path rather than a straight blaze. If you’re in the same boat, maybe this will help.

What’s been in your hodge-podge lately? Have you cleared anything of note (good or bad!) from your To Read shelf lately?

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A couple of resources for writers

course_badges_Starting_yesOnline courses are A Big Thing right now, which you’ve probably noticed, and I’m not sure how I feel about them. As with anything, there are great examples and also lackluster offerings. In general I don’t think they match my learning style as well as reading a book. But in some cases, for certain topics, I think courses really, really work. One case in point: Upstream Field Guide, and a new favorite, Christine Gilbert’s Starting Your Book.

I got the course as part of an incentive package Christine offered for pre-ordering her book, which made the price a great deal. I’m not sure I would have pulled the trigger at full price then, although having completed the course, I am convinced of the value.

As you might guess from the title, Starting Your Book takes you from your idea to a fully outlined book.  Although I think it’s structured more for a non-fiction book concept, it also works well for fiction projects. You learn about tools to help you collect your thoughts, organize your premise, and develop a well plotted, complete outline you can actually write from. I was skeptical of the idea, because I’ve tried to outline novels before, but this time? I actually accomplished it! It did take a lot of work, but I felt challenged, encouraged, and best of all, equipped to get the thing done.

If you need the course, Starting Your Book is an excellent choice. It worked well for me because it’s entirely online and it’s written down, which meant I could consume the content as I had time and mental space, but also at my own pace, versus the slooooow pace of a video or audio. Each day packs in a lot of material, with several assignments each day. At first I was thinking, “There is no way I am going to get this done in 30 days, there is no way.” But then, lo and behold, I actually did.

pressfield-book-coverAbout three weeks into the course, when I had a pretty well fleshed out outline of 30 chapters, I read Nobody Wants to Read Your S***. OK, I know, crass title, and people who can’t think of better titles than those involving words requiring asterisks are usually annoying, but the book turned out to be helpful. I got it as a free download so there was little risk involved. I think the book was helpful for me because I was neck deep in plotting a story, so I had very concrete ways to envision the advice. For the most part, it’s good advice. And it’s better than Pressfield’s other non-fiction books (The War of Art, Do the Work) although it covers lots of similar ground. Pressfield has a formula, and clearly it works (he’s a best-selling author) but you can take or leave what you like of that. I did think he had some interesting ideas about themes, particularly one about how American authors tend to (maybe subconsciously) write the American Dream–defined by Pressfield as the belief that if you do the right thing and play by the rules, you succeed–into their books.

I looked at my outline. OK, apparently I am not an American because I wrote the exact opposite. I guess you could say I sub-themed that the American Dream isn’t true?

Whoa.

But that’s honest, because I don’t believe it, if you go by Pressfield’s definition. I guess those four years I lived abroad while growing up had a bigger impact than I thought. Anyway, onward.

During the last week of the course, I started to have major panic. The daily content and assignments tapped into some insecurities I have about the outline and I started thinking I had wasted all of that time because the whole thing was a hopeless mess and irrevocably broken. So I almost missed out on THE MOST VALUABLE PART of the entire course.

Christine reviews your outline.

I very nearly didn’t send it in, but at the last minute I said what the heck and pressed send. And Christine reviewed the entire outline (it’s a 17 page single-spaced Word document, so this is not paltry) and sent back the most thoughtful, helpful, lovely response letter. I did not expect anything so encouraging.

I think the final review is an incredible value, because having another person–a person who doesn’t know you or your story and has no vested interest in your being a writer at all–look at your ideas and evaluate them is incredibly helpful.

So, how do you know if you need a course like Starting Your Book?

I know what you’re thinking, because I was thinking it too. I’m a fairly Type A person who gets things done. Couldn’t I just outline my book on my own without a 30-day course? Well, yes. Except I’ve been working on this idea for, oh, seven years or so, and still didn’t have a good outline. I’ve read all the books and listened to all the podcasts and written reams of scenes and partial ideas. I’ve even written an entire 80,000+ word draft! It was terrible. I wasn’t keeping at it in anything resembling a consistent fashion because I wasn’t sure if it was a good use of my time–in short, I have a serious case of Imposter Syndrome about writing, even though it’s what I do for a living. The course gave me a needed push to buckle down and really apply myself to combine ideas and sort everything out and get it done.

If you’re in a similar position–you write but drafts don’t shape up well, or you can’t seem to get over the mental hurdles to be diligent on the project, or you have an idea but aren’t sure where to go with it–I’d recommend Starting Your Book. It’s a bit of an investment, but might be just what you need.

 
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Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are to my previous book reviews, but one is an Amazon affiliate link and I am also an affiliate for the We Create courses. Thanks for clicking through from A Spirited Mind!

The Bookmarked Life #15

2The Bookmarked Life is my take on catch-all posts–a record to help me remember this season of life.

Right now I’m:

…Considering

I’m thinking about seasons and rhythms and the original purpose of the liturgical calendar. How might we do Advent and Easter and our school terms differently to renew focus and reduce the way holidays tend to breed frenzy? I like the idea of longer seasons and a contemplative approach to the year. We have to be careful not to get caught up in meaningless rituals, but in our milieu I think maybe there is more danger in meaningless seasons if you hew to the culture than if you follow some version of a church calendar. This is tied up in more thinking and reading about liturgy and habits and may wind up shifting how I schedule the next school year.

…Furnishing My Mind

IMG_5642Margaret was baptized in early May and we celebrated by having a picture that actually included all of us. It turns out that it’s really, really difficult to squeeze a family of seven onto a loveseat.

Related to the loveseat: people often ask why on earth I have white couches when I have so many kids. The truth is, these couches were super cheap at Ikea and the slipcovers are fully removable and washable. They hold up really well–I did not stain treat them and I only wash them 2-3 times a year, sometimes tossing the seat cushions in more frequently. We use the couches all day long and they do sometimes get a little grubby, but nothing a soak in Oxiclean can’t fix. IMG_5558Overall, I feel like they make me happy and are much easier to maintain than a couch you can’t wash.

My parents came to visit for the week of Eliza’s third birthday and Margaret’s baptism, and we had a nice visit as well as a mini-break from school.

IMG_5791Jack turned nine at the end of May and had a “Lego Inventor” party. It was a madhouse but he seemed to enjoy it. He made the cake topper himself, and it was nice to just go with it and not try to do some fantastical thing with fondant. Chocolate cake with lots of chocolate frosting (the Hershey’s recipe is easy and way, way better than any store-bought version) is good regardless.

Jack is very creative, loves to read, and is super intense about everything he does. Parenting him can be a wild ride, but he’s interesting and fun and very affectionate.

 

…Living the Good Life

IMG_5671We joined the Children’s Museum and Zoo this spring and have enjoyed frequent trips to both as I attempt to justify the cost with lower cost-per-visit averages.  🙂 So far we’ve done the museum nine times and the zoo five times. As you can see in the picture, the zoo has a cool exhibit going right now of giant animal sculptures made of Legos.

For some reason it often feels easier to take the five kids out than to stay home. It sort of diffuses the noise and energy! We’ve also been going to more parks and finding interesting new parts of the city to explore (that is a nice way of saying, “Mama often gets lost but then enjoys the scenery.”)

…Teaching

We finished our required 180 days of instruction last week, but don’t tell the kids since we will still be doing school through the rest of June (after a break this week for VBS). It works better for us to take July off and then have more flexibilty throughout the year for term breaks rather than having one long summer break. To the surprise of no one, I have changed some things up this semester, so I’ll do an end-of-year wrap-up later in June.

…Boosting Creativity

IMG_5833

I think it’s so great to be creative in different ways.  Somehow being creative in a totally different medium can help with creativity in my usual tracks.  A couple of times lately a friend of mine has hosted a painting party–a local artist comes to her house and we all learn some techniques and paint a small picture. This one is a sprig of balsam fir.  I really like the way the colors in the background turned out.

When I was reading The Irrational Season, I was struck by Madeleine L’Engle’s schedule–she always made time for a walk outdoors, an hour of study and reading, and an hour of practicing piano in addition to writing and caring for her family and whatever else. She felt that the outdoor exercise, study, and piano were part of her creative process, and she was unabashed at saying that was what she needed for her creative life. I was inspired to pick up some of my old piano music and have been tackling Mozart’s Fantasy in D Minor.

…Building Fitness

IMG_5771 We are boldly embarking on hikes! I don’t know what it is about having five children that has made me delve into all of the things there are to do around town. Obviously it’s TONS easier to tote five kids to attractions, right? But in any case we have now met up with a friend and her two kids to do two hikes at state parks nearby. Surprisingly, Eliza (age 3) has been able to walk pretty far. And Margaret does well in the baby carrier. The big kids got these nifty water bottle holders (the friends we hike with introduced us–they are far more outdoorsy than we are!) and are allowed to eat granola bars whilst hiking, so they are all in.

I moved my regular workouts to the evening after the kids go to bed, and am now mostly doing my own circuit of heavy (for me anyway!) weights. I got this idea from Crystal, which led me to this free e-book (salesy, but informative), and so far it’s a nice break from routine.

…Seeking Balance

Work (the paid sort anyway) has been lighter this past couple of weeks, and that has been good in its way. It’s funny how the older kids, while not requiring the same hands-on vigilance as the littles, seem to be in phases that require more time and emotional energy right now, so it has been good to slow down and be able to focus on those needs lately. I’ve been doing more personal writing too, which is restorative and fun. I still have no idea how to work the schedule to include paid work, personal writing, study time, school, and intentional parenting all together. But if I look at things from a weekly or monthly perspective, it does all fit in.

…Listening To

The kids and I are listening to The Chronicles of Narnia books on audio (unabridged, not dramatized) in the car–what a great series to listen to one after the other! This is perfect for summer car trips or just for going around town. Highly recommended!

…Keeping In Mind

“May you treasure wisely this jeweled, gilded time, and cherish each day as an extra grace.” –Andrew Greeley

What are you bookmarking this week?

 

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Toward flourishing

I find my core callings deeply contradictory. Faith, marriage, motherhood, homeschooling, writing, and my paid work are not easy for me in every respect. I am fascinated but exhausted, comforted but confused, fulfilled but frustrated. The things I value most are, by and large, difficult. I say that the past year has been hard and it has. But even in the best of times I tend to do life in a fairly intense fashion.

Some of my intense life is circumstantial, but much of it is choice. So I don’t want to waste my story in rush and resentment. I want to savor hard days and difficult phases and flourish in the midst of it all. Over the years, I’ve learned that if I want to live deeply and joyfully instead of getting mired in discouragement and burnout, I need to keep my vision refreshed.

I have a feeling sleep might also help, but I will have to get back to you on that once I don’t have a baby and chronic insomnia.

irrational seasonCertain writers are my go-to mentors when I need to reconnect with the bigger picture. Madeleine L’Engle is one. I recently read The Irrational Season and was once again inspired by L’Engle’s refreshing viewpoints on faith, creativity, love, and motherhood–this time in the context of her thinking through the seasons of the liturgical year. Weaving in thoughts on language and mystery and memory, L’Engle writes with simplicity and profound insight about the way that the rhythm of temporal time enhances our understanding of depth, truth, and the unknowable greatness of God.

I don’t always agree with L’Engle, but I never fail to find food for thought and encouragement to think, write, and live with more clarity and honesty. I’d recommend all of her non-fiction, but I’ve addedThe Irrational Season to my favorites along with Walking on Water and A Circle of Quiet.

mission motherhoodSally Clarkson more recently joined my shelf of visionaries. In the past I think I misunderstood her platform and thought she was in the motherhood-is-woman’s-only-calling camp so I didn’t really connect with her. However, what I have found after several months of reading Sally’s books and listening to her podcasts is more of a vision for wholehearted living–of being all in as a mother even if you also do other things (she started and ran a business, wrote books, and homeschooled, for example). I love Sally’s vision for flourishing even in trying circumstances, and her encouragement toward excellence without making an idol out of motherhood.  There is a way to be wholehearted in parenting while also nourishing your soul and mind and creativity and I think Sally’s books The Mission of Motherhood and The Ministry of Motherhood are excellent resources.

ministry motherhoodIn both books, I appreciated Sally’s ability to cast a thoughtful vision and give practical ideas while acknowledging that families and children and life stages are different and so methods may differ even as principles stay the same.

All three of these books are the sort I wind up purchasing so I can re-read them–and I fill them with sticky tabs and take reams of notes (I got nine single-spaced typed pages of notes fromThe Mission of Motherhood alone!). I have intense kids, I homeschool, and I work and write in the margins. If you have naturally calm kids and send them to a brick-and-mortar school and work full-time as a chemical engineer your take-aways may be different than mine. However, no matter what your circumstances, if you’re the sort of person who leans in to your life and longs to flourish in the midst of it, I don’t think you could go too far wrong with any of these volumes.

What books have most refreshed and inspired you lately?

 

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Big Magic

Big-Magic-CoverI will warn you in advance that Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear is a good book that gets off to a weird start. So when you start reading and find a bunch of flouffy whatnot about how ideas are sentient beings floating around in the ether and getting transferred from person to person or gushing through people’s ears (I know. I know), just skim and bear with it because she IS getting to a good part.

And the good part is worth getting to.

Gilbert talks about what stands in the way of our being creative, and reading all of the excuses I give myself for not taking action on my ideas had a funny way of making them seem ridiculous that, in itself, was pretty motivating. I liked her exhortation to stop being so precious about your creativity and how important it is and how you need to wait until you have more time to put your plans into effect, and just DO SOMETHING.

We don’t need to be big and famous and awesome and save the world with our creativity.  We just need to be creative because it’s who we are and it brings us (and others) joy.

Gilbert comes at this from a different perspective than I do, but I agreed with her assessment. She points out that in modern times, when we divorced the concept of the divine from creativity, we put a lot of undue pressure on the creative person.  Instead of being a person GIVEN a creative gift, he or she now IS creative.  It makes the person responsible, rather than a receiver, and it makes the whole thing into a very fraught enormous deal.

Instead, if we can view our creativity and our ideas as gifts (I would say gifts from God, Gilbert has a vaguer viewpoint) we are released from a lot of that pressure, and we can just create.

Gilbert quotes Rebecca Solnit:

“So many of us believe in perfection, which ruins everything else, because the perfect is not only the enemy of the good; it’s also the enemy of the realistic, the possible, and the fun.”

I read an article just this afternoon in which I was exhorted to be working on my creative goal three to four hours per day if I was really serious about it.  I’m signed up for an email series on creativity (and it’s great, don’t get me wrong) that lays down a challenge to be working on my project two hours per day lest I be labeled someone who isn’t really all in.  This sort of thing can be discouraging when I track my time, don’t watch TV, only check Facebook twice a week (New Years resolution for 2016–surprisingly easy and effective so far), and have what amounts to two jobs. So I guess I shouldn’t write fiction or essays at this stage of my life, right?

Well, no, Gilbert would say. I should do my creative writing when I can and that’s ok. It’s not less serious or less enjoyable or less potentially good if I can’t sling 20 hours a week at it.

Somehow, I needed that permission. So last Sunday, on my Screen Free Sabbath (another new resolution, surprisingly restorative) I spent about an hour writing a scene for one of my novel ideas long hand into a notebook.  I loved it.  Who knows if I will finish this novel at some point, or if it will just be a good piece of avocational writing that makes me happy.  Either way, it’s worth it.

If you self-identify as a creative, like to be creative, feel like you’d like to be more creative, or have a secret creative side bubbling up in you somewhere, I think you’d get something out of Big Magic.  Maybe you won’t agree with all of Gilbert’s philosophies (I didn’t), but I think you’d find something to inspire you to create.

 

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Exceptional Books About Writing

before we get startedAs someone who writes professionally, I find that different types of writing feed each other–for me at least, the strategic and marketing writing I do for pay both helps and is helped by the creative non-fiction writing of book reviews and essays, and the work of creating short stories and longer fiction. That’s why I was delighted and challenged by Bret Lott’s two exceptional books about writing:
Before We Get Started: A Practical Memoir of the Writer’s Life, and Letters and Life: On Being a Writer, On Being a Christian. As a successful author who also teaches in MFA programs, and as a Christian who does not write in the Christian publishing industry, Lott has a perspective on writing that shares similarities with other books on craft and vision, but also brings a refreshingly different twist on familiar topics.

Lott examines long fiction, short stories, and narrative non-fiction to get at the root of what each genre is and why and how we write it.  Further, he explores how our understanding of fundamental principles informs our writing even–and especially–when we are simply writing honest stories.

letters & lifeBoth books are also personal memoirs of Lott’s development as a writer and major events in his family relationships.  I found those sections interesting as memoirs, but also instructive as narrative non-fiction and the roles that writing, words, and thinking about creativity and art play in a writer’s life.

What made the books stand out as exceptional to me was their mix of vision and practical application, as well as Lott’s perspective as a Christian who is a writer ( and not a writer for Christians).  Lott’s insight helped me to to see how my work with words can be seen as a calling, which is sometimes hard for me to see or communicate since some people see corporate writing as a lesser way to write or selling out or something like that, and also how important it is to remove myself from the equation entirely and pursue the work whether or not I make a successful attempt at publication for my other–currently just personal–writing efforts.

If you’re a writer in any form, or if you are another type of creative or artist, and especially if you’re a Christian creative, I’d recommend both of Lott’s books on writing.  You’ll find a lot to think about, and will come away inspired and challenged.

 

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The Art of Slow Writing

the-art-of-slow-writing-bookThe Art of Slow Writing: Reflections on Time, Craft, and Creativity thoughtfully combines relevant information on life management with inspiration for creative callings.

This is not a how-to book in the sense of structuring plots and assigning writing exercises, but it is a call to work slowly, meditatively, and deeply to create work of lasting value and higher impact.  It is also not a time management book in the vein of establishing schedules in 15 minute increments and checking things off of a to do list, but it is a reminder of how to shape your life to make space for your priorities, especially if one of your priorities is in a creative field that can’t easily fit into established patterns of productivity.

I found this book encouraging on many levels, both as someone who enjoys writing books and someone who reads a lot in the productivity genre.  DeSalvo’s applications of one to the other were helpful and inspiring, clearly the result of careful thought not just recycling the same old ideas.  If you like either genre, but especially if you like both, I’d recommend you read The Art of Slow Writing for insight and inspiration.

 

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The Writing Life

writing lifeThe Writing Life is a short but inspiring book about finding the motivation and follow-through for your writing.  It’s not about craft, but I think after a certain point you’ve probably read all of the craft how-tos you need.

I love Dillard’s intensity.  She writes with fierce observation.  Apparently she finds writing wildly dreadful, and yet does it anyway because that’s what she does.  Even if you’re not the sort who writes every sentence in sweat, blood, and tears, you can probably still find her experience instructive in some way.

Although this book is about writing, it’s really about life.  In fact, I think if you enjoy reading you’d like it, even if you don’t write as one of your callings.  One of Dillard’s strong metaphors is built on the most effective way to chop wood.  You can, apparently, hack away at the piece of wood, missing and splintering all over the place, or you can aim through the wood at the center of the chopping block.  This is helpful for writing, but even more so for life.  Dillard points out that focusing on momentary happiness is not the way to build a good life:

“There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough. The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet.”

Another universally applicable concept from writing is Dillard’s admonition to give your best now rather than hoarding it.  You can pour your best effort and material into your writing, your parenting, your job, and so forth, and trust that the well will not run dry.

While not a long book, The Writing Life is full of thoughtful insights and I’d recommend it–whether to inspire your writing or your day-to-day life.

 

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