Monday, September 11, 2017

Really, Really, Amazing Must-Have List of Books for Beginning and Established Writers




I love lists, especially book lists.  I used to browse the brick and mortar bookstores for hours, looking through displays and shelves, selecting books I wanted, and putting some back when it came time to pay for the ones that fit within my budget.
Nowadays, I rely on word of mouth, especially book club suggestions on Facebook, Goodreads, or Amazon.  I see a book list and my curiosity goes into CSI mode.  I read reviews, compare what one reader says versus another, and then make my online purchase. 
I offer you my list of Really, Really, Amazing Must-Have Books for Beginning and Established Writers. They can be read in any order, but I thought you would like a bit more description before you decide to own any of them.

I.        Starting List of Really, Really, Must-Haves:

On Writing Well by William Zinsser. Good, basic advice, so purchase any edition.  This is a good place to start planning this writing venture.

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield. The title says it all.


II.      The Really, Really, Must-Haves When Getting into the Nitty-gritty of Writing:  

The Art of War by James Scott Bell.  The man is a genius when it comes to craft.  Any book by Mr. Bell is a great investment.

Getting into Character by Brandilyn Collins.  This book helps dig deep into character building, and how the main character affects every aspect of the story.

Guerilla Marketing for Writers by Jay Conrad Levinson.  It is exactly what it promises.

The Power of Body Language by Tonya Reiman.  Here is a manual on how to read (and use) body language to show your characters’ actions.

Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder. This is a great book on pacing and plotting.

Understanding Show, Don’t Tell by Janice Hardy.  Best book I have found on how to show, not tell, and how point of view affects prose. Show, not tells is not as simplistic as made out to be, so this is a definite must have.

Wired for Story by Lisa Cron. Another must have, this book is the best book on plotting and character and prose on the market. Backed by scientific proof, the author argues that all human beings need story, not just for entertainment but for basic survival


III.    The Really, Really, Necessary Book List When the Writing Road Gets Tedious, Weary, or Dead Ends:

We all have inspirational books on our shelves, so don’t go out and buy more.  Dust them off and read those you have. You might try reading the Bible, poetry books, the newspaper, magazines, anything that invigorates your soul and keeps you on track, but here are some of my favorites:

      Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

    On Writing by Stephen King

    Walking on Alligators by Susan Shaughnessy

    Writing Down the Bones by NatalieGoldberg

      Zen and the Art of Writing by RayBradbury

           
IV.      And the Really, Really Necessary Book List When It’s Time to Revise or Edit: 

Art of Styling Sentences by Longknife and Sullivan

     The Elements of Style by Strunk and White

    The Synonym Finder by J.I.Rodale. Sure, you can find words more easily on the Internet but nothing compares to the thoroughness of this gem.

       Revision and Self-Editing by JamesScottBell

       Writing Tools by Roy PeterClark.   

Monday, September 4, 2017

Surviving the School Year


Everyone figures out a way throughout the school year that fits both working and school schedules into an easier lifestyle. When my three were little I worked full time, so I whittled out routines that became our “normal.” It ensured we made time for everyone and everything, including free time.  
Here is what worked for us and I hope you share your ideas so we can help each other make life less hectic.
1.     Stock up on extra school supplies and keep them handy at home – notebook paper, spirals, pens, pencils, crayons, markers, glue, rulers, a good pencil sharpener – whatever kids might forget at school but will need at home to complete homework assignments or projects.  Keep a couple of poster boards handy so you do not have to drive to the store in the middle of the night when they remember they have a project due the next day.
2.    Provide a space where you can supervise homework and study while you work on your own projects. My three had to sit at the kitchen table for one hour every evening (Sunday night through Thursday night) and do homework or read to me. If one was having trouble (low grade) in a certain subject, they had to study that subject in addition to other homework.  I read along with them and helped where I could as I worked on dinner.
Before they put away their things, they cleaned out their bags, checked for papers or notes I might need to sign, and replenished their school supplies.
3.    We all kept our bags by the exit door. They were handy to grab and go the next morning.  They also chose their outfits and other items they needed for the next day, like gym clothes, uniforms, or equipment.
4.    Along with their bedtime routine, they packed their lunches and decided on their breakfast.  I did this also, like prepping the coffee pot. It didn’t take long, nothing elaborate, but it saved time on sleepy and tired mornings.
5.    It sounds like a lot of rules and regulations, but rest and recreation was an important consideration as well.  My children were active in church and in after school activities, so that provided for healthy, safe outlets. The daily “study hour” lasted from Sunday night through Thursday night in preparation for school the next day, so they had the rest of the evening free to do other things.  Friday evenings were game nights or out with friends. Saturdays were free after they did their chores (which took one or two hours at the most), and on Sunday, they could go out with friends after church until about seven in the evening.

As the kids grew, they became accustomed to our routine.  They never noticed when I stopped supervising and let them govern themselves. 

They are grown now with families of their own, but I see remnants of this when I visit their homes.  Book bags pile by the front door, kids sit around kitchen tables doing homework, and everyone helps with chores so that family has time to get to the fun stuff.   

It gave order to our busy lifestyle, emphasized what was important (school and church and good, clean fun), and glued us together as a family. 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Grandma No No

     
The two-year-old looked up at me as I dragged him away from the DVD player. He wasn’t happy.  “Grandma No-No,” he grumbled. I giggled at his pronouncement, but I could see why I had earned that moniker.
His intelligence, curiosity, and fearlessness – all good traits – kept me on my toes.
          He wanted to learn the how and the why of everything, but had to be redirected constantly.  If it was within his reach, he inspected it to learn its purpose.  The electrical socket and the DVD cabinet called to him only because it got a huge reaction from the adults. He saw no difference between his Super Hero toys and the expensive knick knacks on the coffee table. If it made a noise, tore at the mere touch, or bounced, it was his.  
He soon learned that his height kept him from reaching things grownups didn’t want him to have, so he taught himself to climb. I watched as he pulled cushions off couches or dragged chairs into position so he could mountain climb from one to the other. I let him do it only once so that I could prevent it from happening again. Just as he reached his prize, I plucked him away.  His anger soon appeased if I distracted him with the hundreds of books and toys he owned.  
When his circle of discovery expanded into other rooms, I followed him. I emptied the bottom cabinets in the kitchen and left only the pots, pans, and plastic ware he could turn into drums, hats, and building blocks. The bathroom door remained closed at all times for obvious reasons, but to make up for limiting his exploration of the terrain, I sat for hours on the floor with him playing with his toys and reading to him.   

My list of no-nos changed as he grew.  No food outside of the kitchen since milk or juice bottles might spill on the sofa or the carpet, and it took only once for him to catapult off his bed for me to rule on “no, no more jumping on the bed.”  I wasn’t trying to be a Mrs. Trunchbull. My no-nos were because I loved this fearless, little boy, and I worried about his safety.  I wanted to encourage his curiosity and intelligence, but I was also willing to gain a no-no reputation to ensure he got to share it with the world. 

Monday, August 21, 2017

Letting Go; Emptying the Nest


          When my three were little and they got into mischief, I warned them they would one day stand in my shoes.
          Someone knocked a hole in the living room wall, another kicked a hole in the back of my brand-new recliner, all out of frustration because I held the line on discipline. They bucked curfews, skipped classes in school, and dated the very people I had warned them to avoid. Every time they gave me grief, I dealt out consequences.
          You would think I looked forward to the day they would reach legal age and they would fly out of the nest.  You would think I would relish my well-earned peace and quiet.
          But I didn’t.
          My many years as a middle school teacher made me an expert at adolescent psychology, so at the same time I was upset by their misbehavior and bad choices, I also celebrated their fight for independence. I recognized their tantrums, disobedience, and rebellion as normal phases.  They were learning to be independent.  They were testing limits. What better time than while they were still under my care and I could set them back on the right path?
          When it came time to let them go out into the world on their own, some went reluctantly.  The Mama Bird in me had to shove them out of the nest.  I would always be here if they needed me but they had to try their wings first. 
          I cried as they left, one by one, but they never saw that from me.  It would have been selfish and crippling if I had kept them to myself. When they were born, my strongest desire was to raise strong, independent, hardworking adults.  Men and women unafraid of what the world dished out to them. I am glad to see them married and raising their own children.

          And now as their own children reach adolescence, all I can do is smile at the grief their own kids are giving them. Ah, karma. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Importance of a Simple Thank You


One of my biggest peeves is not receiving a simple thank you for a gift given lovingly and willingly to another. 
Grandma asks a child what he wants for Christmas or his birthday and gets a long wish list.  After the child opens the present, he tosses it aside and grabs another without acknowledging or thanking her. The time, effort, and money spent in the process is treated inconsequential, a right and not a privilege.  
The following holiday, again the child does the same.  Grandma’s gift is lost among the many others.  No acknowledgement.  No thank you. 
If the outcome is the same whether the giver offers a present or not, then why bother?
I use the example of a grandchild, but my experience has been wide and varied. This incident has happened repeatedly to me with family and friends where a celebration requires a gift. 
What happened to the formal thank you note?   Why is it considered antiquated when the giving of gifts hasn’t gone out of style? We complain about the entitled generation, yet we teach (and accept) entitlement to our children.  How many of us write a thank you note to those who give us presents?
I do.  I send thank you’s to those who remember me at Christmas, my birthday, and other holidays.  When I forget to write a note, I make sure the giver knows personally how much I appreciated their kindness. I tell others about my gift and brag on the present and the giver. Yes, a gift should be given willingly with nothing expected in return, but shouldn’t appreciation and delight be acknowledged?

I have gotten wiser and meaner as I age. My memory is as sharp as ever. I will continue to acknowledge those who give me presents and who thank me in return for mine.  Their names will go on my “Nice” list, while the others, well, there is a reason it is called the “Naughty” list. Why bother if my gift means nothing to them?