How I Write
Most writers will tell you they are either a “plotter” or a “pantser.” That is, some writers will develop extensive outlines before they begin writing. They know exactly where the story is going and how the characters will move through the plot—from beginning to end. I’ve even read of some who, given this approach, will be able to identify specific areas that need to be researched and complete that as well before writing the first draft.
I admire and envy such writers because I’m a complete pantser—someone writes by the seat of her pants. I have no idea where I’m going until I get there, letting the characters lead me through the journey. I do know the end in a vague way. A mystery will have a solution. A romance, its happy ending. The world is saved in a thriller. I tend to write linearly—I start at the beginning and keep going. When I get stuck, I consider what possible plot complications—the more perilous, the better. This requires me to stop at times to research something I never knew I needed to know about until then. At this point, I have to be disciplined because it’s easy to go down a rabbit hole chasing after fun and interesting facts that might or might not be related to what I’m writing.
In the end, I have a hot mess (plot holes, too much/too little description, a plot thread that goes nowhere) that I have to organize into a coherent story—that’s where outlining and other techniques come in handy. But for me, the unexpected directions are just part of the joy of writing.
To see the results of some of Dr. Sherwood-Fabre’s research, check out her series of essays on “The Life and Times of Sherlock Holmes.” Volume Three has just been released, and the first two are now available in eBook as a box set.
I haven’t written an What’s In My Mailbox post in ages, so here goes:
Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis is the sequel to Hollis’ smash hit Girl, Wash Your Face. I pre-ordered it for Kindle when it was announced. I’m only 18% into it so far because I listen to Hollis’ podcast fairly regularly and a lot of the material is the same as she talks about on Rise.
Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton is one I just got from the library today. It’s one of those that is usually recommended in non-fiction along with books such as Holli’s, so I thought I’d give it a try. I also see this book on Instagram a lot, so I’m assuming it’s a good read for book bloggers.
In Pieces by Sally Field is one I have on audiobook through the library and I listen to it during my commute. I bought the hardcover book in the US but listening to Field read her story is way more engaging. She goes into detail a lot about her family history at the beginning which isn’t usually interesting for me, but to hear Field describe her grandparents, it makes it worth the time.
You by Caroline Kepnes is my book before bedtime. Again, this one is available from the library (the only one not available was the Hollis book and that was due to it not being popular in the U.K. and there being a lot of reservations on it via my American library Libby app). It’s pretty much like the Netflix series, but it’s still engaging because the main character, Joe, is just too crazy to ignore. Plus, he’s a bibliophile and a literary snob and what English major doesn’t admire that in their characters?
- Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
- Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire
- Wild by Cheryl Strayed
- Just One Day by Gayle Forman
- Half Wild by Sally Green
- Girl Online by Zoe Sugg
My hope for 2015 is to read popular books. Best-sellers. Things I wouldn’t usually pick up. I think I’m off to an okay start with some of these titles since I’d usually not consider them for not being strictly New Adult or Young Adult novels.
Lately I’ve been book hopping and I’ve built up an even bigger “Reading / To-Read” list:
- The Selection by Kiera Cass
- Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
- Nail Your Novel – Why Writers Abandon Books… by Roz Morris
- 2K to 10K: Writing Faster, Writing Better… by Rachel Aaron
- Heist Society by Ally Carter
- I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have To Kill You by Ally Carter
- Delirium by Lauren Oliver
- Splendor: A Luxe Novel by Anna Godbersen
- Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Ernest Hemingway wrote of his time in Paris in the 1920s. This was a time of painters, writers and the Lost Generation between World War I and World War II. While Hemingway and his wife Hadley are poor at the time (as he claims in the memoir) they enjoy good food and the kindness of others to get good books. Many of these creative minds are wonderful people personally, as Hemingway tells us of Ezra Pound, tiresome and unnerving as well. We get a look inside what these friends of his were really like in the way only Hemingway can do.
I wanted to re-read this after going through passages here and there over the years. The best part of Hemingway, to me, is his life. His style of writing is so interesting when he’s talking about himself and people he comes into contact with. His descriptions of physical features, conversations and the way he feels about these people is extraordinary. You don’t even have to know all of their works to get the idea of them as people who are intermingling in a play, of sorts, during this time in Paris.
For anyone who wants to read Hemingway in a quick and dirty way, I highly recommend this. I know some have been scarred by their high school assignment to read Old Man and the Sea but getting to know Hemingway is really rewarding. It’s all in his style that makes the reading so good. He doesn’t mess around with his readers – he tells you the story as straight as he can and it’s totally worth taking the time to read his short memoirs of Paris.
Best line of the whole book, when describing an Wyndham Lewis, “I do not think I had ever seen a nastier-looking man…. Under the black hat, when I had first seen them, the eyes had been those of an unsuccessful rapist.” Only Hemingway can explain things like this, bless him.
Kerley, Barbara and Brian Selznick. Walt Whitman: Words for America. Scholastic Press. 2004. ISBN: 0439357918
America’s poet, Walt Whitman, began working as a printer’s apprentice. Soon after surrounding himself with words through books at the library, plays and listening to famous speakers, he was writing and printing his own newspaper. His assistant was his eight-year-old brother, George. Walt went to Brooklyn and began writing poetry about “the common people” of the United States. Walt travelled more to the South where he wondered what he could do to help his country during the time of slavery and the brink of a Civil War. Walt read letters from his brother, George, who served in the Civil War. Walt continued to write and spent his time caring for wounded soldiers – one of them being his own brother. Walt often saw President Abraham Lincoln ride by. His intense admiration for Lincoln was apparent when he wrote “O Captain, My Captain” for the fallen President. Today Walt is still remembered as being a voice of the American people.
Vardell writes that, “Enticing children to read biographies got a little bit easier with the arrival of picture book biographies. Here the presence of extensive illustrations adds visual interest along with details that enhance the authenticity of the time and place of the setting. In addition, the art helps personalize the subject” (245). This picture biography of Walt Whitman is full of beautiful illustrations that capture the facts about the poet. While this is a book for children, the in depth poetic analysis would be too much for such an audience, so this book does a great job of sticking to important facts. The big illustrations of Walt with his brother and seeing Lincoln on his horse, for example, give a connection to the information. This being a book for grades 4 and up, I would use for middle school and even older students. Poetry is something hard to grasp for many students so having a simple biography with visual queues can help them comprehend what the poetry is about when we get to that heavier material.
Booklist (November 15, 2004) reviews this book by saying, “The vicissitudes of a poet’s life are of less inherent interest to young readers than dinosaur bones, and what whisper of excitement there is in Whitman’s biography, Kerley downplays by focusing on his war-scarred twilight years rather than his reverberating “barbaric yawp” against starchy literary tradition. Like his collaborator’s narrative, though, Selznick’s contributions reflect a keen passion for research, right down to the subtle references to early editions of Leaves of Grass 0 in the book’s typeface and design. Try this sophisticated offering on readers who won’t quail at the lengthy text and who will be less likely to skip the dense, illuminating endnotes. Younger readers may profit more from the more straightforward presentation of Whitman’s words in Loren Long’s excellent When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer.” Again, since Whitman’s poetry is a big hefty for young readers I would use a book like Long’s to couple with the lesson on Whitman. I can see using this in an effort to tie a middle school class’s History lesson into their English curriculum (something public schools are really encouraged to do with the help of their school librarians.)
Jenkins, Steve. Actual Size. Houghton Mifflin Company. 2004. ISBN: 0618375945
Actual Size is a book with large pages that show pictures of various animals and how they would look in real life on that page. The images are in a cut out and torn paper art form so there is a lot of detailed color for the atlas moth, the eye of a giant quid and the Goliath birdeater tarantula, for example. Each animal is not really shown in it’s full size on the page, but the idea is given to young readers as if they were up close to the large, small, cute and creepy animals. Information given on the animals such as “The Goliath frog lives in Africa. It’s big enough to catch and eat birds and rate” along with its measurements “length: 12 inches, 36 inches with legs extended…weight: 7 pounds.” Each animal is shown in full color with interesting facts about their size.
“Concept books ‘explore the characteristics of a class of objects or of an abstract idea…typically size, color, shape, or spatial relationships…patterns in a class (for young children)…and cross-cultural concept books for older children’ (Hepler, 1998, p. 7)” (Vardell 239). This book is really interesting and something that is distinctly a children’s book but with informative captions. The colorful artwork makes a child’s eyes take in the whole page and see the animal that they are reading about. Importantly the information is limited and the picture is the primary teaching tool in this book.
School Library Journal (June 01, 2004) reviews this book by saying, “The end matter offers full pictures of the creatures and more details about their habitats and habits. Mixing deceptive simplicity with absolute clarity, this beautiful book is an enticing way to introduce children to the glorious diversity of our natural world, or to illustrate to budding scientists the importance of comparison, measurement, observation, and record keeping. A thoroughly engaging read-aloud and a must-have for any collection.” I agree that this would work well for a story-time or read aloud for young children. This book also won the Blue Ribbon Non-Fiction award and many of Jenkins other books such as Prehistoric Actual Size would work for young students to teach them basics about animals for a science class.