Summer Reading Challenge

I have a problem. I buy books. Too many books. I measure things I want in books – specifically – used books. As in – I’d love to buy the latest tablet but that’d be like eighty used books.

I’d rather have the books.

Murder at the Vicarage

My Latest Book

Thus as an avid book fan and reader and writer of them I submit this thought to you during this beautiful summer.

A lot of luster can be lost on reading when we turn to the same old self-help, western, romance, fantasy, and classic author. Yes, even classics can get dull when that is all we read. I once heard an interview where author Neil Gaiman said Tolkien didn’t read fantasy books, he read books on Old Norse and Finnish philology and it helped him, obviously, write books of his own flavor.

As you think of what book you may devour this summer go out of the way. Despise ordinary and go on a distant hunt, far away from your normal go-to genre as possible. If you read fiction only by male writers get a non-fiction book written by a female like Madeleine L’Engle’s A Circle of Quiet. If you only read romances check out H. G. Well’s The Time Machine.

We all have different tastes but reading the usual suspects is akin to going to the same restaurant and ordering the same thing. There are millions of books out there. Good ones. I wrote an article last year published here about how Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein changed my life. It was pure accident and I am forever grateful for it.

So go out there and read. Challenge your mind with a new flavor of novel. If you want a suggestion ask below. If you have already decided please share.

Jot is Moving to Three Rivers!

For the past two weeks I promised there would be an update about the fall installment of Jot. It says it all in the title, but we are headed out of Grand Rapids.

First, we should note that the plan is to head back to Baker Book House in the spring. We love Baker. It provides a tremendous environment for the Jot Conference. This change is because we were approached (and had been thinking about holding a conference elsewhere to get to know more Michigan writers) not because we were dissatisfied with anything Baker has done.

So why move?

Conferences, just like writers, need to grow. They need to stretch and try new things. Part of the move to Three Rivers, Michigan is because we’ll have the opportunity to connect with other writers and hold a conference in one of the best used/rare/independent bookstores in the state. It is also the first place that I, Bob Evenhouse, fell in love with reading and dreamed about writing someday. In part, it’s responsible for the Weaklings and the Jot Conference.

I know what some of you are thinking. How far away is it? When is it? Does it cost money now? Why should I make the drive? Your head is swimming. We’ll address some of these questions below. We are always open to feed back here or on our Facebook page.

Where is Three Rivers?

If you head on US 131 South, you’ll run right into it. Once on 131, you’ll turn on about three roads. So if you are directionally challenged, fear not! The address is Lowry’s Books, 22 North Main Street, Three Rivers, MI 49093 and it’s exactly a one hour seventeen minute drive from Baker to Lowry’s.

When is it?

Saturday, September 12th, from 6-10PM. This will give you the morning and afternoon to explore the quaint downtown and get lost in the bookstore.

Why should you make the trip?

For the same reasons we are. One, it’s still Jot, a free one night writers conference. Three Rivers harbors a quaint down town with many shops to explore. There are coffee shops, fair trade stores, and hidden-gem restaurants. Looking for a writer’s day? This is the perfect opportunity.

What is Lowry’s Books and More?

Lowry’s is amazing. I almost wrote that I “could spend hours there” but I’ll be honest. I do spend hours there. When my wife and I leave my kids with my parents and say we’ll be back in thirty minutes, they know that means three hours. I swear there’s a wormhole that opens up and sucks you in. The bookstore has literally hundreds of thousands of books. I’ll post pictures and a video soon, but it reminds me of the wand shop in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone just to give you a visual – endless piles of books to be explored.

So we implore you to join us. As writers we know the importance of time. But we also know the importance of a new adventure, new opportunities, and the thrill and energy they can bring to your work.

Hope to see you there.

Neil Gaiman On Writing

Last week I said I would reveal exciting information about the next Jot. I apologize for not following through. There are some lingering conversations and I will save that post for next week.

Today’s post is a video from one of my favorite writers, Neil Gaiman.

Why is he a favorite? Because he knows how to tell a terrific story that pulls you in and never lets go.

The Graveyard Book was introduced to me a few years ago by fellow Weakling Andrew Rogers. It’s the story of a boy raised by ghosts. From the very first line I was hooked –

“There was a hand in the dark, and it held a knife.”  Gaiman, page one, line one,The Graveyard Book. 

The book is both delicate in word choice and chilling. If you are looking for a delicious summer read, I highly recommend this one. Please enjoy the clip below.

Mr. Neil Gaiman On Writing.

10 Books Every Writer Should Own

I’ve read dozens of books on writing and creativity. I try to steer clear of the ones that say – Ten EASY steps to become a writer overnight instantly! – because that’s a lie. Writing a book is anything but easy, is not finished overnight or instantly done. It’s a progression sometimes a painstakingly slow one.

Thus, below, I’d like to share a few books that have helped me in my journey as a writer, ones that I personally own and have earmarked. If you have any that have changed your perspective, made things clearer, or helped significantly in your writing quest, please share them in the comment section below.

Also, keep a special eye out for next Tuesday’s post where we will reveal the date, time, and location of Jot V!

  1. The Art of War For Writers by James Scott Bell. Why? It takes a handful of minutes to read a daily entry and does not cut into writing time. It’s like a daily devotional for the writer with tips, tricks, and kicks in the pants.
  1. IMG_0566Zen in the Art of Writing by the late Ray Bradbury. Why? Because in his words I feel his gusto, how he cares for his work and how he burns with a desire for good fiction. In the age of hacks, it’s great to read about passion for the craft and not about ways to make money.
  1. Revision and Self-Editing For Publication by James Scott Bell. Why? I constantly need to revise. Also I believe Mr Bell writes with clarity rather than a lecturish tone and is a successful novelist.
  1. How to Grow a Novel by Sol Stein. Why? Because he’s done it all. Mr. Stein’s been an editor, he’s written novels, and is a writing instructor so he knows his stuff from behind the desk, at the desk, and at the podium. Also, it’s based on a successful writing class so it’s like taking a free writing course.
  1. The Art of Fiction by John Gardner. Why? Mr. Gardner has great information to share but also, my personal favorite, superb writer exercises. One is, describe a sunset from the point of view of a woman who just murdered her alcoholic and abusive husband. Disturbing? Yes. But it’s stepping away from the orphan boy, good wife, or brilliant scientist. He’s asking you to stretch and get uncomfortable. Writers must always grow.
  1. Conflict and Suspense by James Scott Bell. Disclaimer – No Mr. Bell is not paying me or holding a gun to my head. But this is what fiction novelists are trying to learn. How to create good characters and ratchet up the suspense and conflict in order to draw the reader in.
  1. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. Why? This is not a book on writing so much as an expose on Resistance. This is the force that is calling you away or distracting your from your work. If you want to know why you cannot get your writing done, I’d start with this one.
  1. On Writing by Stephen King. Why? It’s his memoir of his early writing career. In it Mr. King realizes his drunkness was going to kill him or destroy his family, and also takes him from poor unknown to wealthy success. Who doesn’t like a good success story where one overcomes tremendous adversity?
  1. The Art of Work by Jeff Goins. Why? Goins is writing about work, calling, failing, and struggling. He was a person who always wanted to be a writer and now he’s on the New York Times list. It’s about the deeper questions of why you write and is a solid book for all of us dreamers.
  1. The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White. Why? The Quintessential book on craft, sentence structure, and grammar. I’ve read this book many times.

Thanks for reading. Again, please share your favorite writing books below.

We look forward to sharing the details of the fall edition of Jot next week!

THE BEST WAY TO FAIL AT WRITING A BOOK

It happens often. Mostly when I am struggling with my novel and I read a magnificent work of fiction. I drop the book, my arms fall to my sides, and I stare at the ceiling knowing for certain that I will never lossy-page1-1024px-Moods,_President_Lyndon_B._Johnson,_Secretary_of_Defense_Robert_McNamara_in_Cabinet_Room_meeting_-_NARA_-_192612.tifbe that good.

Many of my writer friends have shared this same thought. We compare ourselves daily and when we read a gold trimmed version of our favorite classic we are overcome. I get the feeling you, dear writer, may also struggle with this.

Part of the problem is what I bring to the table. I was not educated in Oxford nor was I a war correspondent for the Toronto Star during the Spanish Civil War. My life experiences are dull in comparison. But this is not the problem. The problem is that I consider even for a moment that someone else’s life is better than the one I am living now. I forget that everyone has a tale, whether tragic or otherwise, to tell.

C.S. Lewis wrote C.S. Lewis Stories. Hemingway wrote the way only Hemingway could. I bring my own experiences and thus tell a story the only way I know how. This is what I must remember. I must reach into myself and write out of who I am. You must do the same.

The world of literature would be boring if bookshelves were stuffed only with novels about Harry Potter or Baker Street.

Write your story.

That's it. Nice easy Pace 
Photo Credit -CEphoto, Uwe Aranas / CC-BY-SA-3.0

On Setting Goals That Are Achievable

Sometimes, we chase after what we love with a fiery passion, but that fire can fade and dwindle until a project becomes unappetizing or forgotten during the busyness of life. For me, and for other writers I know, setting goals addresses both the direction of the a writers passion, and helps pull your through the doldrums.

Goals, by themselves, are dull, ordinary things. For me there is nothing that can squelch the creative spark than looking at a list of things to write. Where’s the muse? Where’s the magic?

However, I find this is the best way to remain focused and on track.

But I don’t think of these as a list of things to do anymore but guidepost and combining them with a frequent reminder to review them (say once a week) can be the framework we need to accomplish what we want, and even drive progress.

There are scientific reasons for writing down our goals. There is also the notion that you get to cross things off a list and also finish your writing tasks at the same time. To me, the simultaneous awesome that comes from crossing something off a task list and writing project list is almost second to none.

That's it. Nice easy Pace  Photo Credit -CEphoto, Uwe Aranas / CC-BY-SA-3.0

That’s it. Nice easy Pace
Photo Credit -CEphoto, Uwe Aranas / CC-BY-SA-3.0

Writing them down makes then real, but we must also make sure these writing projects have realistic deadlines. If you are working full time and going to school and have a family, maybe your two hundred thousand word fantasy epic will not be completed in three months. Instead calculate a weekly or daily goal and the multiply that to have your end date. This will help eliminate procrastination and allow you to settle into a nice even pace that won’t take over your life.

It’s also important that the goals are just a little bit aggressive to push us but not so much they rule over us like a tyrant. They must come along side you as an aide, similarly to a running coach.

So set the bar just out of reach. Then, review them with frequency to ensure you’re on the right track

Have a daily or weekly goal? Share below to help others!

One Key Method To Finishing Drafts On Time

Ever have one of those days where a meeting creeps up on you? Or maybe you have a test and completely forgot? We all have.

Occasionally, I have this same feeling with writing. I open my word document and prepare to write and am shocked by the word count I find. Wait, I have how many words? Oh no. I think back through the week and realize I am way off track of my goal for a present draft.

I work in sales and I have to balance a lot of goals to meet corporate objectives. I’m a cog of the machine and if I do not perform we miss twenty percent of our potential. A lot rides on my foresight.

I don’t say this because I want you all to know that I am great at hitting goals but that I’ve had to grow to be aware of them over the last decade. It’d been foolish if I checked in on day one and then the last day of the month. I need to be aware of the pulse of everyday.

Calendar SwedishThis can be true for our writing too, especially if you have many obligations in your daily life to keep balanced. This is why I have set a reminder in my calendar to go off once a week that says – where are you compared to where you need to be at the end of this month?

It helps me keep perspective and change tactics if I am falling behind. Sometimes, I can relax a bit and settle into a pace. More than not, however, I need to start working harder.

If you have the sudden word count panic I wrote about above, maybe it’s time to set reminders throughout the month to keep track of your word count, blog, journal, or article goals? We’ll talk more about goal setting in the next post, but knowing where you are at today will help you build to where you want to go.

Write well. And write smart.