Gearing up for NaNoWriMo — National Novel Writing Month

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), a creative frenzy in which tens of thousands of ordinary people around the world sit down in coffee shops, at kitchen tables, and in classrooms to compose their own 50,000 word novels in 30 days.

Nanowrimo is not about producing brilliant writing, but about finally putting that great idea you had into words and seeing it through to the 50,000 word finish line. The project is specifically designed to help amateur novelists defeat their two greatest enemies: writer’s block and procrastination.  No one gets through the first draft of a novel without falling into a plot hole or cranking out some corny dialog, and that’s perfectly okay! All you have to do to succeed at NaNoWriMo is to keep writing. As an added bonus, some participants report that they’re too busy sending pirates after their heroes to overeat at Thanksgiving and can even escape kitchen duty by cultivating an honest aura of scholarly dedication! 

Come December, participants have Continue reading “Gearing up for NaNoWriMo — National Novel Writing Month”

Nightstand Reads: Martha Brockenbrough’s essential books for writers

It’s a little daunting to write a proper introduction here about Martha Brockenbrough. She is the founder of SPOGG, the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar, as well as National Grammar Day (which received quite a lot of press attention). Her new book, Things That Make Us [Sic], which just came out today, takes a sharp-eyed look at bad grammar in public spaces. People who die a little bit inside when they see a misspelled word or misplace apostrophe will find hope—and humor—here. We’d like to introduce Martha to our readers, and have her share a few of her favorite books about writing and grammar.

My husband said a few weeks back, “You know what I find really endearing about you? The way you leave stacks of books all over the house.”

Translation: You and your book heaps are sort of driving me nuts, but I am too nice to complain. I will take my revenge on you by playing another game of XBox.

My husband is absolutely right, of course. Things have gotten out of hand with me and the reading matter. My shelves are stuffed. The windowsills are probably a fire hazard. There’s hardly room under the bed for dust bunnies to breed, let alone breathe. The books are everywhere.

But in my defense, we live in a crooked house and there’s nothing like a stack of novels to help keep a door propped open.

I’m no librarian, but I’ve organized the stacks somewhat.

In the writing stack
The Elements of Style 
by William Strunk and E.B. White (illustrated by Maira Kalman)
This book will always be one of my favorites, because it was in reading it in eighth grade that I discovered the concept of a writing style. That’s when I started to hone mine, with varying results. “Juvenile!” said my high school English teacher (and honestly, he probably still does, which is why I am working on a novel for teenagers).

I really love the illustrated version by Maira Kalman. Her paintings add a certain moody whimsy to the experience. My own copy of this book is signed, which makes it a double treasure.

On Writing by Stephen King
Honestly, I haven’t read much Stephen King since high school. That was the last time I willingly subjected myself to a scary book. Ever since, life has been plenty scary on its own. But my dad gave me a copy of this he’d picked up at the airport, and I’ll never let it leave my collection. Neither of my parents was ever really thrilled about the idea of my becoming a writer. They would have felt much more certain I’d have a solvent future, free of alcoholism and suicide-by-oven, or whatever demons haunted authors in my parents’ nightmares. When my dad gave me the book, it felt like he was giving my dream his blessing. It’s the same thing the book does for writers. No matter what your style or shortcomings, you’ll find in this book an invitation to the table.

Bird by Bird by Ann Lamott
There are many gleaming gems in this book, but my favorite is the idea of getting just a postage-stamp-sized bit of work done every day. Most people can’t set aside everything to write. We have kids, outside jobs, volunteer commitments and sick hamsters, to name a few distractions. Lamott unlocks the secret to writing so simply. Just a little bit every day. Everyone has time for that, and if you want to be a writer, you’ll do your postage stamp today.

Novel Metamorphosis by Darcy Pattisison
I met Darcy last year at a retreat, and she just dazzled me. This book is for people who have a draft of a novel done, and who want to make it better. She has developed a science for revisions, and for those of us who weren’t born knowing how to write a great novel, Darcy lays some helpful groundwork.

The Elephants of Style by Bill Walsh
Bill is a copy editor at the Washington Post. If you haven’t had the pleasure of meeting a newspaper copy editor, well, you’re missing out. Copy editors know the issues of the day. They have no patience for sloppy, flabby writing. And they can tell you without hesitation that Jell-O has a capital J and a capital O, which is preceded by a hyphen (which itself is different from an en-dash and an em-dash). They know so much, and this book (along with Lapsing into a Comma) will help make the professional writer as possible.

Editor’s Note: Martha will give us some fiction suggestions later, right here on Shelf Talk. In the meantime, she will be reading from Things That Make Us [Sic] at the Secret Garden Bookshop on Thursday, October 16, at 7 p.m.

June Question of the Month – An irregular series

ask_a_librarian_button.gifThe reference librarians at The Seattle Public Library are pretty darn amazing. They don’t know everything, instead they know where to find everything. As part of an irregular series of posts we salute the talented and dedicated reference staff at your local library. Names and other identifying information have been removed from the questions we showcase. Got a stumper? Click on Ask a Librarian. It’s what we do.

“What part of the brain controls writing (forming letters)? “

We have found some good basic information on the website of the Center for Neuro Skills. This site describes the parietal lobe near the back and top of the head as having the functions Continue reading “June Question of the Month – An irregular series”

The Triggering Town by Richard Hugo

One of my favorite books in our poetry section isn’t a book of poetry at all. Richard Hugo’s The Triggering Town gathers nine brief lectures, essays and “sentimental reminiscences” by the beloved Seattle writer. I’m not a poet and I don’t plan to become one, but Hugo’s ideas are so wise and clear, and his humor and candor are so appealing that I suspect a lot of readers will enjoy this. Writers certainly will find plenty to think about here, and will jot down many of Hugo’s rules of thumb, such as “Use number 2 pencils … Don’t erase. Cross out rapidly and violently, never with slow consideration if you can help it.” Or “Use ‘love’ as a transitive verb for the first fifteen years.” Come to think of it, that last one is good advice for non-writers too. There is some great pragmatic discussion of being an artist in the material world (Hugo worked for Boeing for many years) and interesting local touches (for more see Hugo’s autobiography, The Real West Marginal Way, and the documentary film Richard Hugo: Kicking the Loose Gravel Home.) The wonderful chapter about Theodore Roethke, who taught Hugo at U.W. back in the 1940s, may leave you wanting more, and Straw for the Fire, fellow student David Wagoner’s recent collection from Roethke’s own notebooks, fits the bill perfectly.