Reading on Writing #8

Day 8: Emerging From Under Your Rejection Slips

  • By Muriel Spark

Well, I identify with her as our editor introduces her with a speaking voice a “sonorous contralto” which is what mine sounds like. But, upon further study, Muriel seems a bit unbalanced. Her column talks extensively about her perseverance.

Her story isn’t very appealing to me – the starving artist just isn’t something I’m interested in. But, maybe because I have many more options – I can publish myself electronically or in print without having to beg a publisher to take my work.

She does seem to have attracted some notable admirers, she’s a writer’s writer I noted.

For someone into their eighties before the end of the twentieth century, she mentions using the internet so she’s not out of touch.

Intention is what she credits with her creative work and notes how when an intention is set resources and information appear to support the work. Her closing is: “happiness or unhappiness in endings (of stories) is irrelevant.”

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Reading on Writing #7

Day 7: A Real-Life Education

  • By Susan Minot

Mummm a contemporary female writer I don’t normally read. I’m beginning to think I’m not very well read at all. I guess that’s part of this project – to expand my reading horizons and be more deliberate in my literary education. A lot of what I know about English Lit I (not American Lit) learned while helping my husband complete an undergrad degree in it. I often read the same books he did and helped him with his class assignments and papers.

I relate to her story. When she talks about never really setting out to be a writer and even now to her preference for being called an artist not a writer; I’d surely rather read than write (writing can be hard work, reading is usually pleasant). She talks about how television shows from our childhoods, including Gilligan’s Island and The Twilight Zone had as much impact on us as the books we read. She also relates how in pre-teen years she loved biographies which have long been a favorite genre of mine.

We diverge when she goes off to boarding school and begins journal writing. I’ve never been able to keep a journal for long, real life seems a more important use of my attention. She says “Being a writer was never what drove me; writing did.” And then says writing for her is an instinct honed by endurance.

I love the ending where she points out that writing allows the author to do all kinds of things with words. We can paint, collect, dissect, put on disguises and costumes, inspect minds and hearts, entertain and dream. An inspiring thought.

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Reading on Writing #6

Day 6: The Leap From Necessity to Invention

  • by John Keegan

Another new-to-me writer. His genre, war history, isn’t on one of my regular reading lists. I have noticed that the personal stories of regular soldiers have become more popular, starting with Private Ryan and just recently the WW2 in the Pacific miniseries on HBO.

He started writing as a means-to-an-end, paying his children’s school bills while working as a teacher. His experience, while unique to his time and place, mimics a modern novice writer’s options. We can publish a series of articles via blog posts, compile them into a book form and publish it ourselves for a very minimal cost and keep all the proceeds we can generate selling it online as an ebook. There are numerous examples of authors using this formula to get their work distributed and even to get a traditional book publishing deal.

As he closes, he points out that English writers can learn a lot about their native language by studying other languages. Though I’ve never really learned another language, I do know that to be true. He also points out that there are “strange varieties of English” being spoken and written by those outside the native speaker’s territories. He thinks that’s a bad thing, I think English is the language of choice because it is so flexible and we should learn to love it and use it as Michener suggested.

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Reading on Writing #5

Day 5: Touched By An Angel

by Mary Higgins Clark

Who hasn’t heard of Mary Higgins Clark? She publishes a new mystery novel every year. I’m not a big fan but I’ve read a couple. I find them formulistic but she obviously has talent. Not only for telling a story but for her devotion and disciple to the writing life.

She’s a product of a university writer’s program and had some early success followed by a fallow period before she found her niche.

Her story credits a fairy godmother for bestowing on her the storytelling ability. As she recalls her childhood and early writing experiences, brief career as a Pan Am stewardess and university student, she notes that for a writer, everything is “grist for the mill”. Encouragingly, she says she’s still in love with stories and writing after 25 years of it and that each new book has “the excitement of setting out on a journey”.

She closes with a funny note from a young reader that should help keep any writer’s ego in check.

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Reading on Writing #4

Day 4: How to Identify and Nurture Young Writers

  • by James Michener

Another favorite from my childhood. Yes, I read his giant historical novels and immersed myself in the past of exotic locals. Though the characters and stories were fictitious, I learned a lot of history from Michener. He’s introduced by pointing out he didn’t publish his first book until age 40 but he was already part of the literary world as a teacher and editor before writing his own books. I’m sure this allowed him to write a great first novel, unlike younger less experienced writers.

He’s another rags-to-riches story, orphaned as a child but allowed by virtue of an above average intelligence, to obtain a good education. As a product of and professor in the American university system, he advocates for aspiring writers to use the system. He assumes the young author wants to get published in the system he knows – as he writes in the mid-1990s. Towards this aim he offers these five points:

  • Become a master of the English sentence.
  • Expand your vocabulary, including modern “street lingo”.
  • Read – be familiar with what has been published, especially with what’s in vogue now.
  • Smooze people in any way connected to the publishing industry.
  • Get into a university writing program.

He feels the teacher-student relationship is extreamly important to creating a good book and getting it published and he offers several examples from his recent experience with young writers.

Michener concludes by noting “People who want to have written a book … don’t fantasize about the hard work of actually writing it.” And says writers today need to have “a burning vision of how to express old truths in new forms.”


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Reading on Writing #3

Day 3: Looking for the Spark

  • by Joanna Trollope

Another author I’m not familiar with! All my notions of being well read are swiftly falling away. None-the-less, I find her story and her insights quite appealing.

She’s very modest, she’s from a very poor English family but began her writing career as a girl and writes under both her real name and a pen name: Caroline Harvey.

Ordinary people are her forte and she stresses realistic dialog and being a keen observer of humans. The first quote I underlined is: “A cliché is a cliché only if it is comfortably taking place in someone else’s life.”

She quotes another English writer also named Trollope (no apparent relation) with two I like:

“Nobody gets in closer to a reader than a novelist, not even his mother.”

And her favorite:

“My task is to chronicle those little daily lacerations upon the spirit.”

A little morbid for me but thought provoking.

She also says “What fiction does, in this difficult world, is reassure us that we are not alone, nor or we (most of us) lost causes.” And, talking about people as subjects, “… is there a subject more fascinating or more important?”

She closes with the thought that writing isn’t a glamorous job, but it’s the job of writers to translate life into language. I think I’ll go check out her books at Amazon now.

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Photos – Digital Versions of Life 1

I’m adding another daily activity to the projects list. I want to get all our family’s photos albums scanned and saved onto discs.

Earlier this year I spent a week at my in-laws’ scanning theirs as part of my mother-in-law’s 80th birthday gift (a large digital photo fram with some of the scanned photos on it).

I also want to put together nice audio/visual presentation for both of Don’s parents as their time left here with us shrinks.

Plus, it’s fun to pictures from childhood up on Facebook for my kids and other relatives to relive good times!

Today I did a portrait Don’s folks had taken 20 years ago:

And here’s one of Don & me in 1990 (not quite as formal):

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