I've had my head buried in WordPress, plug-ins and all manner of things as I finally committed to doing a full redesign of this site. Be on the lookout for the relaunch of Down the Writer's Path later this month.
Thanks for being patient. If you have minute click on over to the Facebook Fan Page where all the activity is taking place right now.
How's the writing going? Need a bit of a push, maybe a reason to pick up that pen or tap those keys? Check out the image below, feel the emotion, and write for the next five minutes. Let us know how it went. Ready? Go!
Meet Teddy. He dreams of becoming a reading mentor in a READ program. Some call them Reading to Dogs literacy programs, others say Sit, Stay, and Read. Teddy and I learned about these programs a number of years ago and he quickly became immersed in reading to anyone who would listen.
Teddy is one of 5 rescue dogs who live with me. Other members of the pack are Waco the Wonder Dog, a Great Pyrennes, whose ambition is to become a service therapy dog; Riley, a vociferous Cocker Spaniel who is a dedicated petrologist and has been rock collecting for years; Charlie, a 10-month old Pug and newest to join our clan; and Freddie, the dancing bear Maltese. The boys love reading and they have a particular passion for books that feature dogs. Like any reader, they are always in search of a good book so please share your favorites with them.
Over the last few years, the boys barked incessently about their desire to have their own blog. My Reading to Dogs blog is the result. I've combined my three passions: writing, reading, and dogs. I'll be sharing information on dog literacy programs and everything and anything about dogs. I've heard rumors that the boys have their paws to paper and are pushing pens on paper. Apparently they have a lot to say and I've heard there may even be book reviews coming.
WRITERS: Looking for a positive way to promote your work and help literacy at the same time? Send a photo of you and your dog reading together with your permission to post the photo firstname.lastname@example.org with subject line: Reading to Dogs photo, and I'll post it to Reading to Dogs with your name, the name of your dog, the book's title and anything else you add. (Yes, you can borrow a dog and no, it doesn't have to be one of your books.) Act now before Teddy yaps at your heels in pursuit of a good book. Quick! Grab a book and a camera. Call your canine pal and read!
Once upon a time reading was the fertile bed for emerging writers. The two were inexorably linked and their natural habitats were public libraries and bookstores. Many came from homes where reading was a priority. Others had teachers or librarians who knew how books could release the imagination. Life is different now. So are the folks who want to write. Unfortunately, today it's all too common to hear writers admit they don't read. Frankly, I find this wrong on so many levels.
The idea of a writer not being a reader is such a contradiction. It goes to the heart of why someone would want to become a writer. At its most basic, a person who writes wants to capture their thoughts, feelings, expressions, and ideas. Journal writing fulfills that need. After that most writing ultimately requires a reader in order to achieve its fullness of expression. At their core, writers have a need and/or desire to communicate and these storytellers require an audience to complete the circle. If a writer doesn't read, doesn't like to read, why on earth would he or she want to work in a medium that requires readers? Why would they expect anyone else to read what they write? And how do they support their industry if they don't read and if they don't buy books?
Today the visual reigns supreme in movies, videos, games, etc. Illiteracy rates continue to climb and the culture seems less and less intent on prizing the skill of knowing how to read. The classics have fallen away or have been dumbed down to the point where the few young readers who make the effort fail to gain their full import. Learning how to read has been reduced to recognizing a group of letters without gaining an understanding of the more advanced reading skills dealing with comprehension, context, subtext, and other subtleties.
Writers who don't read come to the table empty-handed. They have no idea of the conversations that exist between writers and their readers and amongst writers from one generation to the next. That loss can lead writers to make mistakes and wrong assumptions in their pursuit of the craft. How can they weigh their ideas for originality when they're clueless as to what's gone on before? How can they identify clichés? How can they participate in the ongoing conversation when they aren't privy to it?
Writers who do read come with embedded knowledge gained from years of reading. They've been engaged with authors who sought to communicate ideas and create worlds built on words, sentences, and paragraphs. They understand the dance of white space. They take in the natural rhythms and inhabit a variety of worlds, hear different voices. They've soaked in craft without realizing it. They have an innate understanding of what a reader wants because they've been one. When they take up their walking stick, they start much further down the writing path toward their goal.
Movies are high value in the culture today. I understand that even though I seldom watch them. If I see any, they're at least 2-3 years old and on cable. It's been eight years since I've gone to see a movie. While I have enjoyed the experience, it's not one I tend to want to repeat. I am a book person. I love being surrounded by books, revel in experiencing them and having my imagination fully engaged in the way only books can do. I willingly return to books to repeat the experience. That said, I spent two years studying screenplays and analyzing films, and I continue to keep up with the form. We are, after all, a visual culture and my readership has been imprinted with those storytelling techniques. So why are writers neglecting the very foundation of their craft?
Most writers are not as skilled in reading as they were when I was young and, unfortunately, either they don't understand the need or don't have the desire to develop their reading skills. They don't know or don't care that their lack of reading has an impact on their development as a writer and on the stories they create. If you fall into one of those categories, perhaps you'd like to give this reading thing a try. There are books that can guide you and offer suggestions on where to start. Why not create a New Year's resolution to take up reading but do it with a defined purpose: Read to learn your craft.
New Year's Day is a holiday but does that mean it's a day free of work? Not for me and maybe not for you. I have traditionally spent the days leading up to New Years reviewing, encapsulating and analyzing the outgoing year. That means pouring over the wall calendar and Day Timer to list all the completed projects and note all the planned and surprising accomplishments of the year. There's nothing like watching that list grow with forgotten successes. It sets the stage for the new year and gives momentum to the birthing of new goals. Along the way I take note of those tasks and dreams that did not come to fruition. Are they things I want to carry into the new year? If so, what can I do to ensure their success?
I write the New Year in. It's a long-standing tradition now. I like the idea of ushering in the new year doing that which I enjoy most and will spend most of my time doing. Focusing on my writing and on the project that makes up my main goal energizes my New Year intentions. Which means, of course, that last night I got in touch with my characters and spent several hours reconnecting with them and planning the next few scenes. But is that enough?
This past year I took lessons to become a dog trainer and have been mentored by a master dog and horse trainer with more than fifty years experience. He's an old cowboy who loves what he does and who has a simple way of doing things. The main thing he's drummed into me is that before I take the lead to work a dog I should already have a plan of what I'm going to do. I should review it in my mind, then grab the lead and work the plan.
You've heard it before. It's not new. Napoleon Hill of Think and Grow Rich fame offered the plan-the-work work-the plan roadmap to success years ago. If that simple axiom can turn a fresh, young cowboy into a master horse and dog trainer, then it can make me—and you--a successful writer.
For me, that means I'll be spending today working up my action plan to achieve my writing 2010 goals in all areas of my life. I'll project out 5 years, then work back from there to 3 years, 1 year, 6 months, 3 months, and 1 month. I have simple goals and an overarching master plan so it won't take long. The question is what will you be doing today?
Okay, okay, we all know January approaches and with it the annual decision: To goal or not to goal. Writers run the spectrum when it comes to this ritual. Where do you fall? I confess I practice a fairly extensive annual goal setting and year-end reflective writing. In fact, I like to write in the New Year.
My ritual consists of a fairly comprehensive review of the passing year. My focus is not limited to my writing life. I look at my mental, emotional, spiritual, physical, financial, and lifestyle areas. I also take a look at friends and family, recreation, and my creative life. Did I achieve my original goals? Did I adjust them as the months passed? How successful was I in the practice and commitment of my intentions? I also take a look at what things may have happened that either worked for or against the goals set in January. Did I complete any goals, projects, or major tasks? All of this I assess through writing. I do think there is something about setting my thoughts on paper or in a computer file that makes them more concrete. The writing definitely makes my thinking more specific. Because I do this annually, I can review what I wrote and often piggyback off of those thoughts. Since I take stock every 3 months during the year, I"ll often find notes reflecting on the progress at that point. It makes for an interesting couple of days when I do this. There's so much I often forget by the end of the year.
As I finish with the current year, my thoughts turn to the new one. What are my intentions? What do I want to accomplish during this new year? I tend to get very specific. No vague thoughts for me. My goals are clear and simple. I even break my major goals down into smaller subsets. This whole process is easy to do and really helps me get ready for the new year. I open a journal or a file and just start writing.
Today there are plenty of tools to guide you through the process and even help you with your goalsetting and with goal-related habit-making. I found one earlier today called Joe's Goals. It's a cool tracking program to help you initiate and instill your goals. It sets up in minutes. Here's mine.You can click on the badge to see them all.
Do you incorporate your love reading and writing into the holiday season? Are there any holiday rituals that you'd like to share? I confess I'm a crusty dragon of a gift giver who remains intent on keeping books at the top of my gift list for myself and for others. Yes, my grandchildren are into the videos and remain entranced for hours upon end but I continue to search for books, writing, and art paraphernalia to engage them in other aspects of the creative world. This year continues the tradition. Sewing books, best-selling vampire stories, travel guides, inspirational romances, political books, and blank journals filled my gift list this year. No movies, no videos, no CDs, no games. I leave that to others. Let's face it. I'm a writer. If I'm not willing to give gifts from the realm of my own endeavors, who will?
Do you read? There was a time when I never thought I'd have to ask that question of a writer. Times change and with them writers and their habits evolve. Today you're more likely to hear a group of writers rave on about the latest movie they've seen than talk about their latest read. While I understand all the reasons writers give for their near-obsessive chatter about movies, I confess I don't understand this compulsion to trade movies for books. I can't tell you how many times I meet writers who admit they haven't touched a book in months or years but want to write a book. Why?
Yes, I understand screenwriting and movies are great for understanding structure and scene development. They're great to tap today's cultural pulse. But unless you understand the difference between a movie and a book and how that translates into writing, you may be hurting yourself. Each has its own strengths. Each can be helpful in developing your knowledge of writing. But if you're going to write a book, for heaven's sake, do read. A novel or a short story has its own peculiarities, its own domain. As a writer it's good to get to know the landscape. Looking at a map is helpful but it's not enough. You'll miss that wonderful creek or the new road that replaces the old dirt road everyone keeps talking about.
The question of what you read seems to be the follow up question. Do you focus on the top 10 novels in your genre and say the hell with everything else? Or do you choose 2 or 3 top writers in your chosen genre? That's good as far as it goes but what about the other genres? Can you learn anything by reading outside your box? I think so.
William Faulkner didn't write romance but he knew the value of relationships and how they play out with the reader. Why else commit the boy-meets-girl structure to paper writing it over 500 times? Stephen King translates daily life onto the page and makes it real enough for readers to lose themselves in the worlds he constructs. He taps into our fears and plays them out across his literary landscape and the readers take them as their own and follow him. Like many writers of the past, Michael Crichton spun new science discoveries and extrapolated them into the future creating bestseller cautionary tales. Lawrence Block, Harlan Coben, and Dennis Lehane don't just thrill us with the latest in serial killer techniques but probe the human psyche for the reasons why men do the evil that they do.
Each genre has stout pillars that support the tales and serve as guideposts for the readers. Mapping their layouts and then reading to see how each writer makes the generic landscape his or her own is one reason why it's important to read. Read Tom Clancy or Jodi Picoult. How did they put their own stamp onto a generic form? Why did so many readers respond? Read as a writer but more importantly read as a reader. And above all, please don't wait for the movie.
One of the things I like best about today's tools found on the web is the way they bring everything to me. Instead of having to go out and search, much of the material I like to skim, surf, and read arrives via my iGoogle home page and various tabbed pages. On my main page the common links I use pretty much daily are found in the two "box of links" areas on the right (see the images below). I can immediately click to my project manager that is dedicated to my current project at TeamworkPM or I can click to Facebook or MyLibraryThing, etc. When I click on the reading tab I'm taken to my page where I have used gadgets and feeds to gather book reviews, quotes, columns, magazines and topics that interest me to spur my thinking and stimulate my creativity. On the iGoogle writing page I have a writing sprint 5 minute hour glass timer, a clock, writing quotes, word links to dictionaries, etc. Sprinkled throughout I have timers that tell me how many days, weeks, hours, and minutes until my various deadline dates whether it's for a workshop, a completed draft, or any other writing-related project. Often these are self-imposed deadlines. On my writing project page I have gadgets that gather information that may be relevant to my book. It took a little bit of time to put my home page and tabbed pages together but now it saves me many hours. I can quickly find the things I tend to use on the web and move on. I have a total of 16 iGoogle pages full of things I like to use. Best of all no matter where I am or what computer I'm using, my iGoogle page is ready and waiting.
In this computer society it's easy to move from the pen to the keyboard and give little thought to the consequence. But what are we sacrificing? Julia Cameron has spent a lifetime extolling the virtues of the direct connection between writing by hand and tapping into the creative force that exists in all of us. Her books, including the classic The Artist's Way, urge everyone to spend twenty minutes a day first thing in the morning taking pen to paper. No keyboarding allowed.
But how does that translate into the everyday life of the writer? As a former Artist Way facilitator for six years and a journal writing instructor, I have seen the value and impact of the pen at work. But as a writer I understand the need for the keyboard. I wrote my first novel entirely by hand in a large Mead notebook that I picked up at the local drugstore. Then I had to enter all that material into the computer. Sure, I edited as I went along but then and there I decided to teach myself to create at the keyboard. Doing so has given me a great skill that I rely on daily.
I know: Not everyone can create at the keyboard. Not everyone can type fast enough to keep up with their natural word flow. For some the act of typing gets in the way of their creative mind. It's only practical and necessary to spend time with pen and paper. Despite the digital revolution, many writers continue to write their first drafts by hand. These writers often feel they have a special connection to the imagination and that there is a direct link between their mind and their hand. They also enjoy the freedom from the keyboard. Best-selling NYT author Susan Wiggs is one who continues to write her first drafts by hand.
Of course there are many who are unable to write by hand. They have physical disabilities and are incapable of even holding a pen or holding it steady enough to write word after word after word. But for everyone else there is a choice. What is yours and why?
AWP: Links to Resources for Writers If you like in-depth discussions with authors and about writing and the process, this is for you. This one always provides thoughtful reading on writing: authors, craft and process.
Bellevue Literary Review The journal publishes works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry that touch upon relationships to the human body, illness, health and healing, and says, "We encourage creative interpretation of these themes."