Saturday, November 17, 2018

Five Minute Friday: ONE

I'm linking up with Five Minute Friday, writing for five minutes on a given prompt.

This week's word is ONE.

Earlier this week there was a piece published in the online magazine LitHub by author Jonathan Franzen: 

It wasn't a very helpful list, to be honest. 

Some of the "rules" sounded more like fortune-cookie proverbs: "You see more sitting still than chasing after."

Some were vague: "Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting." Uh ... ok ... would you like to proffer, bestow, or furnish some examples, Jonathan?

And some were just head-scratchers: "It’s doubtful that anyone with an Internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction." First of all, what if you have a job as an accountant and then come home and work on your novel: how does having WiFi at work make you a poor fiction writer? (Why not just say, "Stop surfing the net when you're supposed to be writing your novel," if that's what you mean?) Also -- "his workplace"? What is this, 1950? Or does this rule only apply to male writers?

I just have One Rule For Writing, and it's an adaptation of a quote attributed to Mother Teresa talking about prayer:


I don't mean "You're as good a writer as you're ever going to be, so just churn out whatever comes easiest and don't challenge yourself."

What I mean is, find the time, place, style, tone, voice, genre, or structure of writing that works for you. If you can't get up at 5 a.m. to write for two hours, don't. If it isn't possible for you to write every day, don't worry about it. If your style is earnest and thoughtful, don't try to write light, quirky material just to cater to popular audiences.

And the paradox is: as you focus on writing "as you can" -- finding your unique style and gift -- one day you'll look back and see that you are writing more and better than you ever thought you could.


Thursday, November 15, 2018

November 2018 Quick Lit: What I've been reading

Today I'm participating in Modern Mrs. Darcy's Quick Lit linkup, where we share short reviews of what we've been reading. 

This month I read one memoir and two novels, all of which were excellent.

Fire Shut Up In My Bones by Charles M. Blow. When Chapters had its moving sale a few months ago I picked up several $1 or $2 books, including this one. I wasn't familiar with Blow's work as a journalist or even with his name, to be honest; I chose the book simply because it looked interesting. I'm glad I did, because it is a beautifully-written, moving memoir of Blow's life beginning with his boyhood in Louisiana with a philandering father and hard-working mother. Blow always felt lonely and different in his family, which he says contributed to his being taken advantage of sexually by a cousin -- an event that separated his life into before-and-after and was the catalyst for his lifelong exploration of both his sexual identity and his identity as a black man. Well worth reading.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett. The only other book of Patchett's that I've read is her most famous, Bel Canto. Commonwealth doesn't quite live up to that standard, but I still really enjoyed it. It begins with a long scene in which the Keating and Cousins families intersect, setting in motion two divorces and one marriage. The story focuses mainly on the six children (two Keatings, four Cousinses), who are thrown together in the wake of their parents' breakups. Their troubled relationships come to a head when they grow up and one of the daughters becomes involved with an older writer who uses her family's story as inspiration for what becomes a wildly successful novel. There are a couple of minor subplots that  didn't seem particularly significant, but overall I loved how the plotlines interwove together, filling in the details of past events from various characters' perspectives. Patchett is such an accomplished writer: she knows just how much detail to provide in any given moment so that we understand the situation without requiring a huge amount of backstory, and her characters are distinct and believable. This is an excellent novel about how families can come through very tough situations, reconfigure, and become even stronger.

Virgil Wander by Leif Enger. I loved this novel. It starts slowly with narrator Virgil Wander, a middle-aged bachelor, recovering from concussion symptoms after a freakish car accident and reorienting himself to his quiet life in a down-on-its-luck Minnesota town. In the early chapters we meet a whole cast of quirky characters: a kite-flying stranger seeking information about his son, a beautiful woman whose husband went missing years ago, a local boy who made it big (maybe?) in Hollywood and is now back and attracting attention ... and more. At first it's hard to keep everyone straight, but Enger is such a warm, trustworthy storyteller -- and Virgil is such a likeable person -- that soon I was fully absorbed in the lives of all the characters. Then, about halfway through, the plot kicks into gear with a series of unsettling events that kept me turning pages and rooting for Virgil and his little community. So good.

Saturday, November 03, 2018

Five Minute Friday: REPEAT

I'm linking up with Five Minute Friday, writing for five minutes on a given prompt. This week's word is REPEAT.

A few years ago I wrote a children's story called "Peter Repeater."

It's about a little boy named Peter who repeats everything other people say. 

He repeats what his parents say.

He repeats what his older siblings and his baby brother say.

He repeats what his classmates say.

He repeats what his teacher and principal say.

He annoys EVERYBODY with his repetition, and he won't stop.

I said, he annoys EVERYBODY with his repetition, and he won't stop.

Then one day his teacher takes the day off (trust me, she needs it) and his class gets a substitute teacher.

Peter tries his repeating ways on this new teacher -- but he gets more than he bargained for. The teacher says so many long, complicated sentences, with such big, silly words in them, that Peter can't keep up. Finally he has to admit he's met his match. His new teacher just isn't repeat-able.

There are lots of people out there doing what everybody else is doing. But you can stop others in their tracks by being original.

Thinking outside the box.

Going where no one has gone before.

It's so freeing when you realize you can just BE. You don't have to be a repeater.