It’s that time of year again — the very end, when our days become a whirlwind of gift shopping and party planning, and there’s nary a moment left to think about our own creative lives and work. We’re stuck pushing our goals back and back and back; before we know it, January is half done and we don’t have a clear vision of what we want out of the next year. That’s modern life these days.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though; if we take a little time for ourselves, in snatches here and there, we can set goals that don’t just involve getting organized or hitting the gym. We can also focus on keeping our writing alive. As always, those are the resolutions I’m committing to this year, because the world of reading and writing is one of the most important worlds I inhabit.
Read more books!
As always, I’m resolving to read more. I’m proud of my intake this year, just crossing 39 (and I’ve still got a few days and a long plane trip to finish Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon!. That list included some absolute mind-benders. It’s more than I managed the previous year, so I’ll try to bump it up still more in the coming year. Heck, that’s almost (almost) a book a week! But the more I read, the happier I feel — and the better my writing is.
Don’t let stories languish
Over the summer, I managed to write several new stories. But as often happens, I finished the first draft and then let them sit there in the drawer without giving them the attention they deserved. Every story is a new chance to further my publishing career, so I ought to make every story count. I’m resolving to give those stories a spit shine and send them out on a vigorous publication campaign in the new year.
Keep improving the novel
While the novel I wrote is currently being sent out, there’s no reason why I can’t keep improving it as well. Friends recently offered some very helpful critiques, and it’s time I finally put those in action. Just because I’m leery of touching the novel now that I’m finally done doesn’t mean it is now perfect. I have to make it the best I can.
So what are your writing resolutions? The most important part of this process, I think, is to make resolutions related to your writing; it matters less what those resolutions are. Maybe this is the year your finish your novel, or it’s the year of that story collection. Maybe you’ll take a trip to a far-off land to do much-needed research, or finally read those classic novels that have been moldering on the shelf. Whatever it is, it’s time to acknowledge the role writing plays in your life. Just as diet and exercise are a necessary part of maintaining your health, time and effort are necessary to maintain your writing health.
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We’re counting down the days left until we run out of time for our Kickstarter project, and we desperately need your support to launch. I’m also counting down my ten favorite reads this year. My 6th favorite read has people who come through television screens and men without faces. Read on to find out that my 6th favorite read this year was…
After Dark, Haruki Murakami
I’m a die-hard fan of Haruki Murakami’s work. The first time I read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle in college, I knew I had never quite experienced a story or a writer like this before. Murakami plays with the fantastic, but it’s his own particular brand of magic; it’s weird, sensual, and often unexplainable, but always affecting. The strange setups he creates end up feeling like a powerful metaphor for life, but they don’t fit easily (or boringly) into a tidy allegorical interpretation.
Since that book I’ve enjoyed many others of Murakami’s, but his new book After Dark is a particular favorite. Unlike his massive opus 1Q84 from a few years back, After Dark is a tidy, slim little novel all contained in one night in the dark bar and club district of Tokyo. We follow a small cast of lonely late-night characters as they move through the city after hours, occasionally bumping up against each other. As with other Murakami books, there’s something strange and very unsettling going on here, and there’s also a very simple human drama underneath that. That mix of the sweet and the strange is what I love about this author’s weird and wonderful books.
We’re counting down the days left until we run out of time for our Kickstarter project, and we desperately need your support to launch. I’m also counting down my ten favorite reads this year. My 7th favorite read has odd doodles and killer geese. Read on to find out that my 7th favorite read this year was…
Hyperbole and a Half, Allie Brosh
If you’re a reader of the laugh-out-loud hilarious blog Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh, then you’ve probably already grabbed up this book. Brosh’s fans are devoted, and for good reason; there’s just something hilariously apt about her crude drawings matched with her sophisticated sense of humor. Her observations about life, from procrastination to wild goose attacks to depression, are spot on. Doubtless you’ll find yourself identifying with something she writes about here; and you’ll find the drawings to create a killer sense of pacing. Hyperbole is not quite a novel, and not quite a comic book, but its delightful pairing of deadpan humor, bald honesty, and yes, very funny little drawings, is truly unique. You’ll want to pick this one up for yourself or for someone else in your life.
We’re counting down the days left until we run out of time for our Kickstarter project, and we desperately need your support to launch. I’m also counting down my ten favorite reads this year. My 8th favorite read has telepathy, vintage sexism, and strange mindmelds. Read on to find out that my 9th favorite read this year was…
More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon
We’re traveling back in time today to an oldie but a goodie; I read classic science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon’s More Than Human this year, and I’m still thinking about it. This series of odd vignettes that draw together to a startling and philosophical union is always strange, often chilling, and often downright disturbing. But it also has its redemptive side.
More than Human sets a high bar for entry. It begins following the perspective of someone who seems less than human — an individual barely able to comprehend its own existence or the existence of others. Yet in spite of this character’s obvious deficiencies, he seems to possess something special, something the human race has never seen before. As the story moves from character to character, we meet a host of misfit people who possess strange abilities. By putting them all together, they might add up to something that is altogether extraordinary. Sturgeon was interested in the process of human evolution, and what form its next revolutionary leap might take. His hypothesis strains believability, yet raises still-lasting questions about what makes us human, and what could make us become larger than ourselves.
Stay tuned for number 7 on the list, and Donate to our Kickstarter project today!
We’re counting down the days left until we run out of time for our Kickstarter project, and we desperately need your support to launch. I’m also counting down my ten favorite reads this year. My 9th favorite book has alligators, swamps, and ghosts. Read on to find out that my 9th favorite read this year was…
Swamplandia!, Karen Russell
Like many readers, I was first seduced by Karen Russell’s delightful imagination with her short stories. A few of the stories from Saint Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, including the titular story, won me over immediately with their fresh funny voice, their lovely human vision, and their stunning prose. Swamplandia, Russell’s novel debut, takes the best of her wonderful short stories and throws it into a wild Floridian brew of haunted swamps, alligator wrestlers, dodgy amusement parks, faked Native American heritage, and tender family drama.
The plot is both complex and simple; a family-run alligator ranch is threatened by bankruptcy by a slick amusement park chain that moves into town, but larger than that, the family threatens to fall apart after losing its center, the mother. Narrated by the youngest daughter, Swamplandia is often hilarious, always fresh, and also unexpectedly dark. I didn’t even think the violence that emerges was fully necessary, but nevertheless, the haunted feeling of Russell’s vividly rendered Florida swamp makes this book feel magical.
Keep reading to find out my 8th favorite book this year, and Donate to our Kickstarter project today!
We’re counting down the days left until we run out of time for our Kickstarter project, and we desperately need your support to launch. In the meantime, I’ll be counting down my ten favorite reads this year, whether the books were published in 2013 or not. Many of the books were from this year; it truly was a great year for exciting, vital, heart-rending reading. So let’s begin with the book in the number ten spot…
Snow Hunters, Paul Yoon
Snow Hunters is the novel debut of acclaimed short story writer Paul Yoon. His spare, haunting portraits of Korea around the time of World War II and the Korean war are often haunting, and there is a kind of soundless brilliance in Snow Hunters. Like other short stories of his, the novel has a feeling of trauma quietly haunting every interaction; our narrator, a withdrawn man who has finally left a POW camp in the Korean war to work as a tailor’s assistant in South America, is unable or unwilling to connect with people around him. He prefers the safety and reliability of objects and the work he does. When moments of kindness do come, they’re small and restrained, but end up feeling startling in this very gray world.
Yoon seems like a writer after Hemingway’s heart, someone who captures horror through minimalism and suggestion, and who uses restraint and silence. At time the book seemed a little too restrained, implying depth that wasn’t always there. But ultimately, the book did find its own measure of depth, and ended up being quite moving.
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I’m very excited to report that Two Cities Review’s Kickstarter project has been approved and we have officially launched! By visiting our page, you’ll be able to see a video of me and my co-editor talking about the review’s mission; you’ll be able to contribute to our review’s launch effort and get some swag in return, ranging from a mention in the review to personalized workshopping from our experienced editors.
Stay tuned, and get ready to hear more about our project. Spread the word! We hope you’ll consider supporting our exciting new literary adventure. Over the years, it’s been my pleasure to write for Writerly Life and share what advice, tips, and techniques I can about staying creative in your own life. Now that I’ve got the opportunity to actually curate and shape a publication of my own, I hope you’ll consider supporting me. I would greatly appreciate the sponsorship — and would love to know that readers of Writerly Life would be interested to read a magazine edited by me and my co-editor.
This Thanksgiving, I had a peaceful, intimate dinner with close family and friends, and got to come home bearing tupperware filled with leftovers. I’ve got enough to live off probably for the next week, and they’re good, gourmet leftovers too. I grew up with Francophiles for parents, so instead of sweet potatoes and marshmallows, or mashed potatoes, we have gratin dauphinois and red pepper gratin, with sauteed mushrooms. It’s quite a feast.
Every family can be proud of the dinner traditions that they manage to put on the table, and every family has their own special flair. Our family might have a French-style Thanksgiving, but other families are doing just fine with their own choices as well. There’s something truly charming about this odd, idiosyncratic holiday; on one level, we can be a little sickened by the commercialization of it (Black Friday started even earlier this year), but on another level, we can enjoy the simple ideal at its heart. A meal with friends and family, and being humbled by all the things we can be grateful for, is plenty to celebrate. It might even have more religious meaning these days than other holidays; sitting down and breaking bread with friends is one of the world’s earliest demonstrations of religious feeling.
Now the craziness of the Christmas shopping season is upon us. I tried driving by a Target near my house and couldn’t find a single parking space. Not one, in a vast sea of parking. It’s a little horrifying, but Black Friday does pass us safely by, and then we can get back to living our lives. Soon the first snows will start to dot the sidewalks of our cities, and it’ll be beautiful, at least until it lands.
I’m happy to report that as a teacher, I get a significant portion of this week off as students head home for Thanksgiving. Teachers are just as excited about school vacations as students, if not more so! But I’m pledging to use this time for some serious writing and work on the publishing trail. We editors of Two Cities Review are gearing up for the launch of our kickstarter page, and I’ll be focusing on my own story writing too. It’s also important to devote a little time to getting work out in the pipeline and having it appear on the desks of editors. Got to keep stuff moving all the time, or else you will accumulate a sad stack of stories in a drawer that will never see the light of day.
But this week is about more than time off; it’s about family and friends, about reflecting on what you’re grateful for. This time last year was a difficult time for my family; with a year of distance on some family tragedy, perhaps we’ll be better able to feel thankful for a good year. I’ll be glad to be with my family, to be taking on new cooking challenges, and to be thinking about all the good things that have happened. It’s time for you to think about what you’re grateful for as well; even if it’s been a hard year, there’s always room to feel glad to be alive. Remember that.
On a selfish note, Thanksgiving is also a prime observation time for writers. Bringing folks who may love each other but may not like each other together is always ripe for conflict and character. Do some observing this holiday and notice the tensions, the backbiting, the passive aggressiveness, or the skeletons in the closet of your own family. Notice how people hide things and how other things just can’t be hidden. There’s nothing like a Thanksgiving dinner to bring a tense, interesting story into one room and to one table.
So happy Thanksgiving, readers! I’ll continue to keep you posted on tips and techniques for making the most of your writing in these weeks.
As you have heard, I’ve got a lot of things going on in my writing, teaching, and editing careers right now. I’m finalizing a version of my novel, and I’m also beginning to tentatively send it out. I’m maintaining this blog and writing for another; and I’m in the process of starting and co-editing a new literary magazine, Two Cities Review. That isn’t mentioning my day job as a writing teacher. That’s quite a lot of activity!
I know I’m not unusual in this regard; most of us are absolutely swamped by different demands and activities these days, and we’re struggling to further our creative lives at the same time. The tendency is to attend to our most pressing, short-term needs, such as that looming deadline or that aspect of the day job, while neglecting the projects that require a longer view. This is why it takes people so long to finish their novels, if they finish them at all. But years later, if we look back and see that we didn’t think long, we’ll regret it. The difference between that talented writer who published her book and that talented writer who didn’t is often a question of who devoted herself more to that book’s getting out there and getting read.