How to be a Better Writer

on 31 May 2012

READ.


That is all.


Ok.  I'll write more.  But seriously, that's what it boils down to.  Good readers become good writers.  It's the same principle as nutrition, if your body is what you eat, then your mind is what you read. 

Consequently, that means you have to read GOOD books.  If all you read is Twilighty crap, then your writing will remain juvenile and undeveloped.  But if you are constantly stretching yourself and pushing yourself to read more challenging texts, and then pushing yourself to articulate things that are more and more complicated, then you grow stronger and more fluent as a writer.

After reading, I would say practice, practice, practice.  I've been writing various stuff for 18 years now and while I'm paid to edit and assist (and sometimes tutor) people in writing, I would not consider myself to be a good writer.  The English language is so complex, so varied and nuanced, and human experience is so far beyond the constructs of language, that to assume you're a good writer is FOLLY.  Practice writing what interests you--stories or essays or poetry--and never allow yourself to get complacent, there lies stagnation and death.

As you're practicing you have to find your "voice."  It's a hard thing.  That's why reading is brilliant, you read other people's voices to better hear your own.  And then you have to learn to trust it.  Don't compare it to others, don't try to be like other writers you might admire, be yourself.  Write with your own voice, and let that voice guide you.  And while you may never write the Great American Novel, you will write things that are TRUE to you.  And because they are true and YOU, they will be great in their own manner.

My Wake-up Call

on 29 May 2012


So, Samwise, think on this.  I know you're scared and heavy and in lots of pain right now, but in a few short months, you'll have your own version of this AWESOME wake-up service.

Of Time and the River

So, Brett asked my opinion on American Authors, so here you go.

I met Samwise because I wanted to move in to their (Samwise and Juliet, whom I only ever called Julietta (pronouced hoo-lee-eta) a al Baz Lurman's Romeo and Juliet) apartment.  I can't remember if it was Samwise or Julietta who was reading The Great Gatsby, but one of them was reading it for a book group and in my completely oblivious way, I sat down and proceeded to expound on the brilliance of F. Scott Fitzgerald and the greater theme of time and the river in the novel.

I'm pretty sure Julietta thought I'd lost my marbles, but it was fine if I lived there, so I did.

I confess myself decidedly finicky about American authors.  I think it has something to do with the relatively new literary tradition in our country, that American literature is inconsistent and decidedly lacking in luster.  I have a few writers whose works I admire, but in general, I don't care for American literature.  The authors that I admire, I find are more connected with European traditions than American.  Here's my list...

  • Louisa May Alcott (I really like her novels, though, after reading 1 chapter of her biography I don't know that I'm a fan of herself.)
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Oh my.  I love that man.  I should specify, I love his mind, I love the way he writes, but he himself...was maybe a little iffy.  The Great Gatsby was one of those books I read in high school that totally blew my socks off, and it continues to blow my mind every time I reread it.  I love his melancholic meditation on how fluid time is, how perilous and futile it is to try to resist the passage of time, and how our choice is to learn and grow with the passage of time, or to stagnate and thus reduce ourselves to irrelevance and misery by resisting it.
  • Earnest Hemingway.  Hm.  I don't particularly care for him.  And it is with reluctance that I admit that he had considerable talent.  But he did.  He has an interesting style, particularly for someone who thoroughly enjoys the long-winded, effusive 19th century styles of Dickens and Conrad.
  • Robert Frost.  I love Robert Frost.  I'm not sure I could say anything more complimentary than that.
  • Edith Wharton.  I love Edith Wharton, I love her novels, I love her style, I love how totally unchanged society seems to be from the portrait she painted in the late 19th century.  She is wise and brilliant.
And that's it for classics.  I have a few modern writers that I enjoy, here's the list...
  • Jonathan Safran Foer.  Author of Everything is Illuminated, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Eating Animals.  He is quirky and wise and funny and post-modern and thus, not for everyone.  But I think he's just brilliant.
  • His wife Nicole Krauss.  Author of the History of Love.  She is also wise and funny and heart-breakingly intuitive.  She has an understanding of the human soul that defies her youth.
  • Haven Kimmel.  Author of A Girl Named Zippy, She Got up off the Couch, and the Solace of Leaving Early.  She's local here in North Carolina and she is also quirky and funny and wise and sad.  Apparently, that's my favorite combination in modern literature.  I have everything she's published (except Iodine with is a horror novel) and I'd probably read a cereal box if she wrote it.
  • Chaim Potok.  He was recommended to me by my wise and brilliant sister Sherry.  And (I just confessed to Samwise) I read FOUR of his novels in a five week period when I was pregnant with the Boy.  I LOVE him.  His style is vaguely reminiscent of Hemingway, but he's considerably wiser and kinder to human nature than Hemingway is.  I particularly love the Chosen, My Name is Asher Lev and the Gift of Asher Lev.  (I reread those Asher Lev books every other year or so.)
  • Thomas Wolfe.  I have to be in the right mood to enjoy Thomas Wolfe (he's early 20th century and his style is...impressionistic), but his books live on my shelves, so he really does belong on this list.
And there you have it.  M's musings on American Authors.  I think my ambivalence is owing to the youth of our country, and you might look at our nation and say, "Well, it's  236 years old!  That's OLD."  But in artistic terms, it really isn't.  There is a richness to European (and Russian) literature that derives from the Romans and the literary traditions of the Middle Ages.  I am willing to admit that in a thousand years, American literature might, might be going somewhere good.

Welcome to Samwise Week

on 28 May 2012

I know that everyone THINKS this is Memorial Day, but really, it's the start of Samwise Week! 

Thank you to my readers (all 2 of them!) for the ideas.  I'm going to post my responses this week for your entertainment and Samwise the Brave's distraction.

The first suggestion was a super fun memory of Samwise...but here's the problem.  I have loads, but they're all sort of like inside jokes, difficult to articulate to the public at large.  But here, let me try...

YEARS ago, when I was still living in Seattle and Samwise was still living in Seattle we decided to celebrate our birthday together.  Once upon a time, there were four Great Friends.  Moi, Samwise, Whimsy and Holly.  And ALL FOUR of us have January birthdays.  We were all single together, some students, some not, but those years felt like a long war and we came out the other side of them very, very close.

So this particular January we headed out to the Cheesecake Factory to celebrate our birthdays.

I can't remember what we ate (I assume cheesecake figured in somewhere), I don't remember if we did anything afterwards, I can't remember what we specifically talked about.  But here's what I remember...

Loud.  Oh goodness.  When the four of us got together we were LOUD.  Rock Concert Loud.  Hearing Damage Loud.  We cracked jokes just to make each other laugh and then we would laugh long and loud and uproariously. 

People, we were so loud that OTHER DINERS were staring at us.  Our poor waiter was at a TOTAL loss as to what to do with us.  I vaguely remember a degree of disdain.  But we were having so much fun we didn't care at all that we were being completely rude to our waiter and fellow diners.  We were young and brash and felt invincible.  And totally sober.  We were that loud and obnoxious and completely sober.

That's the kind of friends we are.

(I can still remember the horrible headache I had the next day.  That's how loud we were, I woke up with a hangover...and we drank WATER.)



The thing about memories is...they're sometimes fickle.  I look back on the past 12 years of my friendship with Samwise and she's this constant, steady presence in my life.  She's the best friend a girl could ask for because she loves you enough to give you just what you need, and to take just what you can give without asking for more.   She's funny and smart and noble.  And inspite of her quiet appearance, she can be LOUD.


(Chris wanted me to include HIS favorite memory of Samwise.  He only made it out to Seattle once, back when we were newly engaged, we went out together for Whimsy's wedding and to meet the family.  Samwise came down to my parents' house for Thanksgiving dinner where he dared Samwise to drink a glass of gravy.  And she totally did it!  I have to admit, I beamed with pride!)

Call for Topics

on 23 May 2012

Trusty, Blog Friends...I need your help.

Or rather, my best friend Samwise needs your help.

Here's what you need to know:  Samwise is AWESOME.  There is a reason I call her Samwise, she is the real hero of my life, the one who isn't the least bit tempted by rings of power.  And she loves to grow stuff in the dirt.  Also, she's stuck with a funky body...it does stuff she'd really rather it didin't and it won't do other stuff she wishes it would.  Right now, she's gestating her second and last baby (a boy!) and she already had some funky problems BEFORE being pregnant, well, you can imagine how her pregnant body is responding, thinking up new and creative ways to reek havoc with her life.

So she's a little bit stressed and in need of some distraction.  This is where WE come in.  See, Samwise lives 2000 miles away from me (or else I would just pop 'round to her house for a visit), so most of our catching up happens on email or via the blog.  She's on partial bed-rest now and I think she could use some fun distractions.

My problem is that I'm having a bit of writers block.  I'm tired and I think it shows in my inability to think of interesting things to say.  So I'm asking YOU to pitch in.  Please to leave a comment and ask a question or suggest a topic or story you would like me to write about on the dear ol' blog to cheer up my Friend.  We'll all ban together to cheer up the best Samwise a girl could ask for.

That thing on the sidebar

on 18 May 2012

So this is for Brett.

And anyone else who's curious.

Nearly three years ago, while we were living in Georgia, I saw a call for essays on spirituality and birth.  In particular they were looking for stories from women who had had c-sections.  Chris was working, and the Boy was sleeping in his crib, so I sat down one night and thought about his birth and what he had taught me and I wrote an essay and sent it in.

Well.

Now it's been published in that book, the Gift of Giving Life.  It's compiled essays from Mormon mothers with various experiences of labor, delivery, and mothering.  It was out just in time for Mother's day, but I haven't picked up a copy yet.

So that's the deal with that thing on the sidebar.  M in Print.

Up and Coming

on 16 May 2012






Everyone, I'd like you to meet Molly.  She's the forlorn looking black pup.  The brown one is my sister-in-law's Reese.  We're actually getting pretty excited for her to come home.  Don't get me wrong, we still think we're crazy, but we're also excited.  I'm a little worried that she's going to be lonesome without her sister...but maybe I'm just projecting.

Life in Numbers

on 09 May 2012

I keep walking past my laptop thinking, "I should really update the blog..."  And then I take a moment and look around and think, "ok...just let me do these few things."  And somehow I never get back here.  And while none of it sounds terribly impressive when I say it out loud, I thought y'all should at least know what's been going on around here...

In the past couple of weeks...

  • The Girl has decided that life is boring in one position, so she rolls and kicks and squirms herself all around whatever surface she's laying on.  It's FUNTASTIC!  I'm learning NOT to leave her on elevated surfaces.  
  • The Boy has taken to catching hold of the back of my shirt as I go about the business of the day and saying, "I've got you, Mama!  I CAUGHT YOU!"  It's hilarious.
  • Leike is fading.  It's not quite a death vigil, but she throws up (or tries to) at least once a day.  It's not pleasant.
  • I have, I am not kidding, FIVE projects on knitting needles.  That's the most I've ever had at one time.  I'm about to finish up one in the next couple of days and two of them are bigger (sweaters, a pullover for me and a cardigan for my girl) so they're on-going, but I need to buckle down on the socks and the afghan squares.
  • I cut all my hair off!  I was trying to grow it out, and while I was pregnant it was fine.  My hair gets enormous when I''m pregnant (I think because it just grows and grows and never falls out), but then when my body realizes it's NOT pregnant and I start shedding, oh gross.  It's awful.  So I bit the bullet and took myself to a salon downtown yesterday.  It was very cool.  I am pretty sure I am not cool enough to go in there, but in there I did go.  And the stylist did a bang up job.  I'll try to pin down Chris to document it.
  • We've finally moved the Girl into the cloth diapers 24/7.  We've been sort of easing her in for the past, well, couple of months.  (Chris was a pretty big chicken about it this time.)  But now she's in full time and I for one am happier.  I LOVE the wooly covers--they're adorable and they breathe beautifully.  And the bumgenius, are awesome as ever.
  • The Boy is taking swim lessons this summer.  And I am really excited.  I'm a bit nervous, I'm worried he's going to be a clingy chicken, but his cousin teaches swimming at a local pool, and since she's back from school for the summer, I thought we'd hire her to teach the Boy.   He says he's excited but I'm pretty sure it's because he has NO idea what swim lessons mean.  I'll be sure to take pictures and blog about that.  Hilarity is bound to ensue.
  • We have Hogan for two weeks at the end of this month and while I'm excited, I love that dog, I'm also a trifle nervous.  Chris is going down to the Beach House for Memorial Day weekend and I'll be all alone with 2 children, 2 cats--one of them elderly and infirm, and a dog.  A dog that is not my own, but which I am responsible for.  All I can say, is I might have to buy myself a treat with some of that money.
  • Which brings me to the next item.  We're getting a dog.

(crickets chirp)


I know.  And yes, before you ask, I'm pretty sure I've completely stepped away from my sanity.  But here's the thing.  The dog is FREE.  The dog is a Labradoodle, so it promises to be a clever dog.  And we've wanted one for a long time.  So my sweet sister-in-law picked her out for us, and took her home to stay at her house until Chris gets down there for Memorial Day weekend and then he'll bring her home.

And that's really it.  Like I said, it doesn't seem very impressive when you say it out loud, but I feel like a crazy person.  I really thought that my Outside Life, the stuff I do outside of my apartment, would settle down once the Girl got here, but it hasn't.   I still try to catch some sleep in the afternoons when the babies sleep, but alas, there's so much going on that I feel the pressure to get some of it done while the babies sleep.  Which means I've entered that lovely and charming State of Chronic Exhaustion.  It also means that I'm not reading anything stimulating, I'm reading to veg out.  And between the exhaustion and everything else, it leaves me feeling not terribly interesting right now, which is probably why I never make it back to the blog. 

The First Crush

on 04 May 2012

My Boy has been having a bit of a flirtation.  I should probably be dismayed that he's starting so early, but I've been enjoying it myself, and so have just allowed it to continue.

Who is he flirting with?  Infatuated by?  Enamored of? 

I'm glad you asked...you may have heard of her...






When he's not killing bad guys with his light saber or driving cars all over the book cases or having a party of animals in his bed, he's asking to sit on my lap and watch some Adele.

I may have to come down and end this little affair, he's starting "playing" Rolling in the Deep on his "drums" (aka a cardboard box with his light saber). 

Still an Amateur

on 03 May 2012

The Girl woke up this morning determined to remind me that I am still an amateur at this whole Child-Rearing Thing.

The specific lesson she chose to teach me was the exact different between "spit-up" and VOMIT.  It was super fun, as you may imagine, and I have learned my lesson well.

Try as I have to get a decent picture of her being all coy and charming and happy...this was the best I could do:





The Minister's Cat is a Serious Cat.  At least when the camera comes out.  She smiles and laughs and is absolutely hilarious, and as soon as I try to document it (and not just for the blog, but for ME), this is the face she pulls.  If not an abject scowl.  She's 4 months old today and I can already sense the resentment of my desire to show her off. 

Clearly, I'm still an amateur in many more ways than one.

8 Years, 8 Reasons

on 01 May 2012

Happy Anniversary to Burnstopia!  It's been 8 years ago today that I married Chris.  I've toyed with different ideas of what to write today, and in the end, I'm stealing an idea from my friend Rae, but putting my own spin on it.

When we first got married we both realized something:  You don't really know someone until you live with them.  I find it ironic that people think that if you "live together" before you get married that somehow your chances of divorce go down, but they don't.  Sometimes they go up.  I think your chances of divorce go down when you determine to STAY MARRIED.

But I digress.  I was folding laundry yesterday and thinking about how very different life is now from what it was when Chris and I were married, and eight years just doesn't seem like that much time, but lo, life is REALLY different.  And that got me thinking about the things I loved about Chris when we were dating/engaged and then married.  And the different things I love about him now...

So how about a list?


Four Things I Loved about Chris when we were Dating-Engaged-Newly-Wed:
  1. He was completely patient and understanding of my neurotic tendencies, one might even say vaguely amused by them.
  2. He was curious about everything, about other countries, cultures, languages, arts, foods, everything.
  3. He was always calm and settled (as opposed to my being always nervous and UNsettled).
  4. He rarely argued, preferring peace to being right (very much like myself on that one). 
And Four Things I Love about Chris NOW:
  1. He is an AMAZING father.  He loves the Boy and the Girl to distraction.  And he will go to almost any length to amuse and instruct them.  He's patient and loving, but he's not afraid to discipline and correct.  He's fun, but he balances the fun by also being strict.
  2. He's turned into Mr. Fix-it.  When we were dating, and newly wed, he never tried to fix anything himself (granted we didn't have that much to fix), if the Beetle broke, he took it to the dealership.  But now?  Now he looks it up and buys the parts and the tools and fixes it himself.  And it cracks me up and impresses me all at the same time.
  3. He's not afraid to pull me back from the Verge.  When I start to blow things out of proportion,  when my temper is starting to get the best of me, when I'm taking things too personally or veering off in irrational directions, he's not the least bit afraid to say, "Whoa, Nelly, come on back.  You are fine, all is well, settle down, that's not what was meant, come here and I'll rub your back."
  4. He's adventurous.  When I married him, I joked that he was a 65 year old man in a 25 year old body.  But as the years pass he's more and more willing to try new things, new foods, new places, new experiences, and we always have fun getting lost together.  He might complain and grouse while we're in the midst of some things (I can think of a few hikes in particular), but it doesn't take long before he's laughing about it all and talking about what a great adventure it was.

So Happy Anniversary, Babe.  Thanks for 8 great years.  Let's hope there's 492 more coming...