On Being a Writer

writerOn Being a Writer: 12 Simple Habits for a Writing Life that Lasts explores the concept of writing in a refreshingly inclusive fashion, and offers ideas and tips for building and strengthening helpful writing habits.

As someone who writes daily, but who spends more time on corporate writing than on fiction, I appreciated that the authors of this book took a wide view of what it means to be a writer.  Often I get the feeling from writing books that only novelists need apply, although my experience has been that the writing I do in different genres only serves to improve my writing in other formats. On Being a Writer invites the reader to explore what a writing identity means to him or her, and the ideas found throughout the book could be usefully applied to fiction, nonfiction, blogging, or any other sort of writing you do.

On Being a Writer is not a book on writing craft, but rather a manual for building the sort of habits that foster a strong writing life.  The habits covered in the book will serve you well if you’re just beginning to build a writing life or if you’ve been a writer for a long time.  No matter what sort of writing you do, if you identify yourself as a writer, I’d recommend this book.

 

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What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

running(US)What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is author Haruki Murakami’s memoir covering the intersection of running and writing in his life and how each discipline has informed the other in his experience.  It’s not so much a how-to book–you won’t find tips on training or on how to put together novels–but I found his musings helpful in a broader sense, and thought the concept worked well as a memoir.

As you read the book, you develop a good sense of Murakami’s overall philosophy of work.  He writes about discipline and endurance, the importance of building good habits in line with your goals, and emphasizes the role of innate talent and aptitude.  I think Murakami’s take on this balance of talent and hard work is well developed, and linking writing to extreme running is a great metaphor.  Murakami’s memoir credits his body type, temperament, and talent, but leaves little doubt that daily hard work and endurance training formed a large part of his success in both areas.

One idea I found particularly interesting throughout the memoir was Murakami’s linking of physical habits to mental creativity.  For example, he mentions excellent writers who wind up burning out or even committing suicide when their creativity ebbs, and traces his own ability to maintain steady creativity to the balance that physical hard work brings him.  Without that balance, he says, you can only offset the toll of creative work for so long.  Over the weekend a friend remarked on the fact that creative work is more exhausting in some sense than physical labor, because the physical work is itself an outlet for stress and strain.  Murakami certainly chalks up his habit of daily running to his ability to avoid creative exhaustion.  It’s an interesting link to consider.

If you are into running or writing, or if you’re just a fan of good memoirs, I’d recommend What I Talk About When I Talk About Running as a quick but thoughtful read.

What do you think about the connection between physical and creative energy?  Do you see anything like that in your own life?

 

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The Family-First Creative

Here is just one of many reasons why I’m a marketer’s dream: I bought a book just to get the free e-book reward for pre-ordering. And you know what? The free e-book was worth the cost of the hardcover volume that will be delivered to me some time next week. Here’s the scoop:

Jennifer Fulwiler, who writes the very funny and thoughtful blog Conversion Diary, is releasing her new book Something Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found It
on Monday, April 28.  If you pre-order it (from Amazon, for example) and then fill out the form on her website, you’ll receive her 98-page e-book The Family-First Creative.

Jennifer wrote her book while having six kids in eight years and homeschooling and doing freelance writing gigs and fighting scorpions (They live in Texas.  Her scorpion stories figure prominently in my conviction that I don’t want to live in Texas.)  The Family-First Creative, which you can’t buy separately, is Jennifer’s detailed treatise on how she makes this happen.

I love hearing how people make their lives work.  Normally I get my fix of that sort of thing from day-in-the-life type blog posts, but after reading those I always think, “OK, but how do you afford that?  How is that sustainable?  How did you make that happen?”  Because Family-First Creative is a longer and better organized account, you get those details.  Since I’m a writer who also homeschools (although I only have four kids), I knew I’d get a lot out of the book, and I did–two typed pages of ideas and action items I can actually implement and make my life smoother.  However, even if you aren’t a writer, or aren’t homeschooling, if you have a family and some other outside interest or activity, The Family-First Creative would be helpful.

The book will help you:

  • Identify what your ideal family week would look like and help you get there, 
  • Discover your schedule or work management pain points and get around them,
  • Keep working on your dream/goal/vocation even when you’re tempted to quit,
  • Keep perspective so you can accomplish your goal without sacrificing your family.

If you want to see the table of contents and get a taste for the writing, you can read a 10 page sample of the e-book here.

So essentially I’m recommending that you pre-order Something Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found It before April 28 in order to get the e-book.  I figure, if the book is not something I want to hang on to (although I expect to enjoy it because I love funny, thoughtful memoirs and other writers I like endorsed it) I can always sell it back on Amazon or at the used book store.  But even if I don’t, I really feel like I got my money’s worth just from reading The Family-First Creative.  

Disclosure: This post contains an affiliate link to Amazon.  If you pre-order Jennifer’s full-length book before April 28 you can get the e-book free.  I didn’t receive a review copy of either book, but if you purchase the full-length book through my Amazon link I will get a little kick-back.  I appreciate every purchase y’all make through my Amazon links–they help to pay the hosting fees and allow me to buy more books to review!

Two Short Reviews of Two Short Books

Do the Work is more useful than Steven Pressfield’s similar book The War of Art.  Both books are sort of motivational/kickstart collections designed to help you break out of your inertia and actually get your Big Tasks done.  Do the Work is geared towards writing, and would be more helpful if your Big Task is to write a book or something, but the ideas could be helpful for other sorts of work.  I found the book itself mildly helpful, but the discussion with my book club was, as always, extremely helpful.  I feel like sometimes even so-so books can be great if you discuss them with the right people.

If you have already read The Fred Factor, I can’t for the life of me think of a reason you’d need to read Fred 2.0: New Ideas on How to Keep Delivering Extraordinary Results.  Subtitle notwithstanding, I didn’t really glean any new ideas.  In fact, although I liked the first book, this one didn’t sit as well with me.  The tone seemed a little self-congratulatory and the points and ideas seemed stale–you’ve read this stuff before in other books.  If you haven’t read the first book, I’d still recommend skipping this one.

 

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Balanced

In her helpful book Balanced: Finding Center as a Work-at-Home Mom, author and homeschool mom Tricia Goyer offers encouraging and practical tips for creating a life that leaves space for all of your callings.

Goyer is a prolific writer of both fiction and non-fiction, a homeschooler, and mother to six children, so you can probably imagine that her insights carry weight!  While the book is practical, you won’t find a bunch of schedules and rules.  Rather, Goyer’s tips focus on how to figure out what God has for you to do, how to tie your life’s themes to goals for your family and work, and how to keep first things first and avoid busyness even while living a full and productive life.

I appreciated Goyer’s decision to keep this book open and applicable by focusing on principles rather than too many techniques.  Each family situation is different, and if you’re a working mom (or a working, homeschooling mom) your schedule and priorities are probably even more unique.  I loved how Goyer returned again and again to the need to offer our lives, our gifts, and our schedules to God.  The ideas of cutting out things we only do for other people’s approval, prioritizing gifts and opportunities, and relying on God’s strength rather than our own make this book applicable to all moms, no matter what your work looks like–whether you self-identify as working or WAHM or SAHM or PTHSJOATMON M(What?  You haven’t heard of Part-Time, Home Schooling, Jack Of All Trades Master Of None Mom? I’m pretty sure it’s a thing.).

As someone who also balances writing for a living with mothering and homeschooling, I found Balanced inspiring and encouraging.  However, even if you do something entirely different for your job, don’t homeschool, or consider yourself a full-time mom who pursues dreams on the side, I think this book would be helpful.  Surely all mothers can relate to feeling pulled in many directions, and surely we can all use help in prioritizing.  I’d recommend Goyer’s book to mothers in all sorts of different situations.

If you’re interested in these topics, you might want to check out Tricia Goyer’s Balance Challenge based on the book.  

 

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.  I received a complimentary review copy of this book in exchange for my review, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Million Little Ways

A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live, Emily P. Freeman writes about finding a way to fit your art into your life.  If you’re in a phase of life where you aren’t already pursuing your art full-time for whatever reason, this book will really resonate with you.

The book tackles subjects like uncovering your art, overcoming your internal arguments against it (like “it’s a waste of time” or fear of criticism), and finding time for it.  I loved how Freeman countered the idea that art is selfish with the perspective that if our goal is to glorify God there are a million ways to do that in our day to day lives.

I found A Million Little Ways encouraging and would recommend it to anyone who is familiar with the push and pull of balancing a dream with daily tasks, finding time to pursue an artistic goal, or who needs inspiration for finding the glory in the everyday.  While it may ring most clearly to the writer mama set, I think the ideas Freeman writes about are far more broadly applicable.

 

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Would you read books in serial form?

My husband follows music closely, including trends in how people buy and listen to music and find new artists.  Recently, he told me that one of the websites where he finds music, NoiseTrade, launched a similar platform for books.  Around the same time, he sent me an interesting Mashable article about the growing trend of publishing books in sections online.

Serialization is not a new concept, of course.  Tons of literary giants published their novels in serial form in the 1800s, and I’m really interested to see if this will become a legitimate publishing route again.  At the moment it seems like something that non-fiction authors and certain types of fiction writers (YA, romance, paranormal etc) do, but I would love to see really big name literary people try it.

There is something appealing to me about reading a book as it’s written.  I think it would take an entirely different skill set for authors though.  Today’s authors are used to endless rounds of revisions and replotting and tightening things up.  Wouldn’t it be interesting to see modern novels written in the older, serial form, with a bit more rambling, more seat-of-the-pants changes, and more colorful characters?

I could actually really see that working, even for more literary fiction.  As the Mashable article points out, people like to buy things in snippets, and people consume media in smaller doses at a time.  I like how serializing would make the writing process more social, with real-time feedback informing the writing process.

What do you think?  Would you read fiction in serial form?  Does this trend seem like a good idea to you?  Why or why not?

Wired for Story

I’ve heard writers say that they never read writing books because all writing books are the same, and maybe they are right.  However, I keep picking up books on writing because every time I read one I seem to find interesting tidbits that really help me with whatever issue I’m having with my work.

I write for my job (mostly marketing copy and technical writing) and I also write for fun (this blog and fiction) and I find that when I work on my writing in one area I see improvement in others as well.  When I began reading Wired for Story I was feeling frustrated that my fiction writing wasn’t really going anywhere.  I don’t have much free time in my schedule, so I don’t like to just meander.  This book really helped me to get a handle on some technical problems I was having with the big picture of my fiction efforts, which helped cut down on that feeling of futility.

But I also found specific tips that helped in my professional writing–mostly things I know but hadn’t refreshed my memory on lately.  This is why I think it’s worthwhile to keep reading this sort of book, and why I try to read a writing book once a quarter or so.  If nothing else, I get good reminders.

Wired for Story is premised on the idea that brain science can help you craft a better story.  That’s probably true, but this isn’t really a book about brain science.  There are some brain science tidbits thrown in here and there, but mostly it’s a book about writing.  It’s probably similar to other books about writing (although I feel like this one is more concrete and specific than most, which is helpful for where I am–if you’re looking for more of a vision-y book, look elsewhere) but I found it to be just what I needed right now.

If you’re a writer, what books on writing have you read lately?

 

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Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works

“What we do is driven by who we are, by the kind of person we have become. And that shaping of our character is, to a great extent, the effect of stories that have captivated us, that have sunk into our bones—stories that picture what we think life is about, what constitutes “the good life.” We live into the stories we’ve absorbed; we become characters in the drama that has captivated us. Thus, much of our action is acting out a kind of script that has unconsciously captured our imaginations.”

Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works is a fascinating exploration of how our character and actions are formed by the stories, manners, and surroundings we unconsciously absorb, and the impact this has on how we worship, educate, and live in families and communities.  Smith, a professor of philosophy at Calvin College, ties the topic together with the concept of liturgy.  We are formed, Smith describes, by the cultural liturgies–both secular and religious–that we habitually follow, even when we don’t recognize them as such.  This has serious and compelling implications for how we structure our thinking on all sorts of fronts, from how we educate to how we worship, from how we write to how we structure our days.

The book effectively bridges the ground between scholarship and practical application, and I think Smith did an excellent job making his ideas accessible.  I won’t lie to you, it’s a deep book and requires careful reading.  However, it’s well written and balanced between examples from philosophy and from popular culture.  I got so much out of this book and found the ideas so compelling that I’m certain it will be in my top ten for this year.

It turns out that I’ve read the series a bit backwards, because Smith began his argument in a previous book,Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation, which I plan to read as soon as possible.  Smith references his earlier points in the second book, but I thought I’d mention the first one in case you’re a stickler for reading things in order.

If you read, write, watch television, or attend church, and/or if you are a parent, are involved in education, or have an interest in philosophy or cultural anthropology, I can’t recommend Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works highly enough.

 

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Catching up

Instead of saying “Life is so busy” I think I’m going to try saying “Life is so full” instead.  Right now my life is full of good things (mostly–I’m not going to lie and say I love waking up three times a night with the baby!) and I’m pouring my time into homeschooling and a new exercise routine and doing fun things with family and friends, so all of my extra writing time is going to the writing I do for work.  Since I’ve let the blog languish a bit, I thought I would use Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Twitterature link to catch up on book reviews.  More on other topics soon!

I loved Michael Card’s Scribbling in the Sand: Christ and Creativity.  An excellent and inspiring set of essays on how to be a Christian artist, this book gave me a lot to think about as a writer.  While Card doesn’t think that Christians should use their art (music, writing, painting, what-have-you) as a bludgeon for evangelism, he does have unique insights into how being a Christian changes how you’re an artist.  After reading this book I added several more scenes to my novel (yes, dear reader, I’m still working on it).  If you liked Makoto Fujimura’s book (which you should read if you haven’t; it’s excellent), you’d like Card’s as well.  #recommended #writing

I adore Shauna Niequist’s writing–it’s funny and poignant and somehow encapsulates things I’ve thought and experienced in a different way that makes me say “aha!” and understand their significance better. Her book Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way is amazing.  It’s about navigating difficult circumstances and relationships and learning to let go of doing-it-all, about trying not to lose old friendships and accepting how desperately you need grace all the time.  It’s also about writing and parenting and food.  In short, it’s a rich and full and incredible book.  #readit #bestof2013

I always get a lot out of Paul David Tripp’s books (if you haven’t read his book on marriage, stop now and go read it because it’s phenomenal) so I wasn’t surprised to find Broken-Down House: Living Productively in a World Gone Bad insightful and helpful.  It took me a while to get into it because I thought the opening section on the house metaphor was a little long, but once I got to the meat of the book I gleaned a lot of great thoughts about theology and life.  Tripp’s writing is deep and wise, but accessible, and his section on dealing with waiting through difficulties was hands down the best explanation of how to handle suffering that I have ever read. #helpful #insightful

After enjoying Amy’s bookclub posts on this book and getting so much out of the author’s more recent book Desperate, I so wanted to love Seasons of a Mother’s Heart, but in the end I got way more out of Amy’s observations than I did from the actual book. I did get some encouragement as a homeschool mom so it wasn’t a waste of a purchase (our library doesn’t have the book so I bought a copy), and perhaps I’ll read it again and have a different perspective later.  #ok #homeschool

You can read more short reviews of books at Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Twitterature linkup.

What have y’all been reading lately?

 

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