Writer Wednesdays: 9 Historical Fiction Research Tips – A Guest Post by Author Jeanne Gassman

HistoricalFictionResearchEditor’s note: I’m thrilled to be able to share a guest post today from author Jeanne Gassman.  If you’re a historical fiction fan, or just love a well-written novel, you can purchase Jeanne’s book BLOOD OF A STONE online via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound. Thanks so much Jeanne!

 

Heidi Oran was kind enough to ask me to share a few tips on researching a historical novel. I published my debut historical novel, BLOOD OF A STONE (Tuscany Press) in March 2015, which is set in first century Palestine. I am currently working a new historical novel, THE DOUBLE SUN, which takes place in the mid-20th century. Because these books take place in such different time periods, they’ve required different approaches for research.

 

1. Books and Magazines

I began my research for BLOOD OF A STONE by building a library of scholarly books and magazines. My books included everything from atlases to “life-and-times” collections to Who’s Who in the Bible. I often found new resources by reading the bibliographies of my current resources. A favorite magazine for researching ancient biblical history was Biblical Archaeology Review, which is available in print and online. The value of using topic-specific magazines is that they are often more current than the books and contain great photos.

2. Museums

Another fantastic resource proved to be museums. I visited the wonderful Getty Villa in California where I saw numerous artifacts I had referenced in my novel and discovered they were exactly as I had described them. The Getty also had a great bookstore with both books and DVDs on the era I was writing about. For museums I couldn’t afford to travel to, I checked to see if they had virtual tours or videos. Many of them do.

3. Historical Experts

Your local university is an excellent place to find historical experts. Again, if you can’t find someone locally, you may be able to establish an online connection. When my publisher requested I have BLOOD OF A STONE reviewed by a historical expert, I hit the Internet, Googling the term: “first century Palestine experts.” Wonder of wonders, that search turned up three people who had been interviewed for a story on NPR. And this is where it gets interesting.

I tracked down each of those three people with some detective work, searching for them online. Did they have a website? Where did they work? Were they listed on places like LinkedIn? I found all three experts online, as well as contact phone numbers. The first one I called had had a stroke and was in a rehab facility. When I called the rehab facility (I’m persistent), they told me he was suffering from dementia. Cross expert #1 off the list. The second one I called was on sabbatical out of the country. Cross expert #2 off the list. The third expert I called at home after finding her phone number listed on a faculty directory at a university. After deciding I was NOT a stalker, she happily directed me to a PhD candidate who fit my needs perfectly. My historical expert was a treasure. He reviewed my book not once, but twice, and was available for brainstorming when I had questions about tiny details.

4. The Internet

Using the Internet may seem like a lazy and obvious choice (Wikipedia, anyone?), but there is so much more out than you might expect. For example, one of my characters is from Nabataea. Did you know there is an entire website devoted to the Nabataean culture? Everything I needed to know about her I found on that website. I discovered hobby groups online devoted to cooking ancient Roman recipes, a wonderful resource for the menus and foods in my book. When I needed to know more about camels, I found a website with articles about the camel markets and guidelines on how to buy a camel. When I needed to know more about magicians and soothsayers during the first century, I turned up a website on how to perform a haruspication (the reading of animal entrails). It’s all out there if you dig a little. But be sure to confirm your information by searching for secondary and independent sources. Not everything you read on the Internet is true.

For my new novel, THE DOUBLE SUN, in addition to building a new library of books and magazines, I’ve gone to other resources that are equally valuable. Here are a few:

5. Museums

Surprise! Museums are rapidly becoming my first choice for research because they lead to so many other sources. For THE DOUBLE SUN, I needed information about the atomic bomb tests in Nevada, nuclear research, uranium mining, and radioactive fallout. I’ve visited The Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas, NV, the Museum of Nuclear History in Albuquerque, NM, and the Uranium Mining Museum in Grants, NM. I’ve also toured the Nevada Test Site. The docents and caretakers at these museums are also wonderful resources and are eager to answer your questions.

6. Libraries

Your reference librarian is your friend, but your small-town librarian is your best friend. Unlike large college libraries, small-town libraries tend to have more personal documents, including private letters, local newspapers, donated collections of historical photographs, and self-published memoirs from prominent local citizens. At the Grants, NM library, which is a converted house, the local librarian gave me access to thirty years worth of a retired reporter’s notes on uranium mining and radioactive contamination. I found hand-written interviews, photographs, published articles, and the names of hundreds of people who had been involved in the crisis. For research on my characters who lived in northern Arizona, a local librarian brought out volumes of old newspapers. I was able to read articles and peruse the ads and letters to the editor–all valuable for establishing a feel for time and place.

7. Government Documents

The Freedom of Information Act has opened up thousands of government documents that you can access online. You can research immigration records, lawsuits, criminal cases, court judgments, and Congressional records. Some resources charge a fee, but a lot of material is available for free. Since I am writing about the Cold War and atomic bomb testing in my new novel, I needed to know more about what the government knew and didn’t know and what information they shared with citizens. I have found everything I needed in official documents, once classified, that have been released by the Department of Energy and the Atomic Energy Commission.

8. Oral Histories

My novel-in-progress is very specific to a group of people who developed cancer from the atomic bomb testing. When I visited the website for the Nevada Test Site, I came across The Nevada Test Site Oral History Project, a series of interviews with people who worked at the site. That led me to other, less formal oral histories and personal diaries of people who developed cancer. For example, someone in an interview mentioned a short documentary called “Pink Clouds,” which then led me to a Facebook group of cancer survivors in southern Utah–all of them affected by the same radioactive fallout.

9. YouTube

For my novel-in-progress, YouTube has become an invaluable resource. I’ve found videos of atomic bomb explosions, government films on Civil Defense, personal documentaries about working at the Nevada Test Site, and government propaganda films about the Cold War and Communism. And where do I save all of these Internet resources? Pinterest, of course!

 

I hope you found a few of these tips useful. A good historical novelist is also a detective, willing to follow rabbit trails to find the specific details and information that will bring the story to life. And it’s so much more fun to learn about a historical period via a great story!

 

—–

 

Jeanne Lyet Gassman holds an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and resides in Arizona. Her debut novel, Blood of a Stone (Tuscany Press), received a 2015 Independent Publisher Book Award (bronze) in the national category of religious fiction and was a finalist for the New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards and the 2015 Independent Author Network Book of the Year Award. Her short work has been nominated for Best Small Fictions 2015 and the Pushcart Prize. Jeanne’s short stories and creative nonfiction have appeared in Hippocampus Magazine, Run to the Roundhouse, Nellie, Hermeneutic Chaos Literary Journal, Red Savina Review, and The Museum of Americana, among many others. Visit Jeanne at her website: www.jeannelyetgassman.com

 

New Series: Writer Wednesdays Starting This Week!

WriterWednesdays

I haven’t written here since September of 2015. That’s a long time! Truth is, I don’t have a ton to say. I’ve been in an absorbing phase for a while. Listening to podcasts, reading books, learning. And writing. Writing, writing, writing.

But I miss blogging. And a few friends have asked me to share more about what I’m working on, so I thought I’d take a page from Steven Pressfield‘s Writing Wednedsays and kick off a new series here: Writer Wednesdays. Not quite sure of the frequency yet, but I’m thinking monthly, which is a vast improvement over semi-annually!

I’ll be talking about everything from freelancing, to pitching, to writing fiction.

This Wednesday I’ll be sharing my research process for my newest work-in-progress, which is in the historical fiction genre (but also, women’s fiction!).  I’m learning as I go, but that’s what this space is about – it’s what it has always been about – sharing the things I learn that may be able to help others out as well.

See you Wednesday.

x

 

On Big Magic – What Elizabeth Gilbert Got Oh So Right

I’m the first to admit that I’m a huge Elizabeth Gilbert fan. I watched her TED Talk a few years ago, and she seemed rather genuine and funny. I like her for all of the same reasons hundreds of thousands of other women like her: she’s a straight shooter, and has some really great insights on creativity and life.

A few months ago she launched a podcast, Magic Lessons, ahead of her book launch. If I wasn’t a fan already, the podcast would have converted me. If you haven’t listened, download them now and start from the very beginning. They’re all gems! In each episode she speaks with a listener who has a creative dilemma, and gives them her advice. The next episode will feature the same question, but she turns to her friends and other experts and has them weigh in. This includes Cheryl Strayed, Brene Brown, and others.

Last week Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear was released, and today I’m sharing my thoughts on what she got oh so right. Because the truth is, she nailed it with this book! My hope was that it would be different from her podcasts and Facebook posts–more serious. Different ideas and concepts; she delivered.

Today I’m sharing my top five takeaways from Big Magic.

Warning *SPOILERS AHEAD!* (They’re not too bad though, but still, spoilers.) 

 

1. We are all creative people

We kind of already know this, right? But still, there are so many individuals out there who don’t consider themselves creative people. Often these people express their creativity in a way that’s less obvious, but it’s still creative work. Gilbert also gets the point across that we can do something we love, without it having to amount to something more. It doesn’t always have to be for an end goal. (More on that in her podcast with Brene Brown too!)

2. Ideas are living things

This concept blew my mind. Gilbert describes ideas as being something that’s out there, floating around. They come to us in moments of inspiration, but may have lived with someone else before us, and will eventually leave us too if we don’t act on them. (And that’s okay if it happens.) She has an incredible story about the passing of an idea that will make your jaw drop.

3. Creative work is unpredictable

I’m roughly quoting here, but at one point she says that in all aspects of life and work, if you work hard enough, you will eventually succeed. This is true–except for creative work.

Creativity works within its own set of rules and guidelines. It’s a difficult truth to accept, but it really makes you focus on the process rather than the result. 

4. We are too precious with our art

There is a distinct line between nurturing your work, and being too attached to it.  Your work is not your baby, Gilbert says. She tells a story about an opportunity that she had to be published, and the sacrifice she had to make in order to make it happen, and it’s eye opening. Had she made the decision to baby her art, she wouldn’t be where she is today.

5. The “shit sandwiches” won’t bother you

I loved this chapter so much because I feel like we’re so disconnected from the discouraging, or more difficult aspects of chasing our dreams. Shit sandwiches from a writer’s perspective? Rejection letters, terrible reviews from readers. It’s not ideal, Gilbert says, but they are a small price to pay for being able to do the work you love.

 

I could go on and on, (special shout out to not quitting your day job!), but these are way up there for takeaways.

Have you read Big Magic? Be sure to join the Women Writers’ Collective discussion in October for a chat about it. 

 

 

Recent Reads: Summer 2015 Recap & Reviews

Goodbye Summer 2015! Hello boots and sweaters and pumpkin everything. I am sad to see it go, perhaps even sadder knowing that after a brief autumn comes a long, grey Canadian winter. But the fall is glorious, isn’t it? 

The real reason for this post is to share some book reviews from the summer months. I veered off the path of my summer reading list, but covered a lot of ground. Here are the highlights. (There are definitely lowlights as well, *cough* Emily Giffin *cough*). Honorable mention: Sarah Addison Allen. I’ve read three of hers recently and while not all the stories are stellar, I can’t resist her writing. Good lighter reads.

 

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? – Mindy Kaling

Mindy Kaling rules my life. I’m obsessed with her show, and her social media accounts confuse me by making me feel like we’re actual best friends, so yes, I loved this book. Her new one JUST came out last week and it’s atop my list. 

The thing I love about Mindy, is that while she is funny, she manages to highlight some pretty huge issues. My favorite line from this book however, is this: “Don’t peak in highschool.” She hilariously destructs the John Cougar Mellencamp song Jack & Diane, pointing out how flawed it is and what a terrible message it sends to youth. Don’t peak in highschool. Think about all of those people you know who did…

Men We Reaped – Jesmyn Ward

I’m a complete Jesmyn Ward fangirl. She’s handsdown my favorite contemporary writer! (When she followed me back on Twitter I may have texted a friend to tell her.) In Men We Reaped, her memoir, she tells the seemingly unrelated stories of five young African American men, friends and family, who died within four years in her small community of DeLisle, Mississippi. Among them, her brother. She tells their stories with a raw honesty and deep respect – in fact all of her books share that same method.

I know Jesmyn has a new book coming out next year, and I will read that one too. We need all the raw truth-tellers we can get right now. If you’re going to pick one author off this list to read, start with Jesmyn and spread the word. Don’t expect it to be an easy read – on your heart anyway – but expect to become a little less ignorant about the realities of others struggles.

Brown Girl Dreaming – Jacqueline Woodson

I have to admit, I don’t love a fast-paced style of book. I prefer traditional narration. But after hearing buzz about Brown Girl Dreaming, and reading the first few chapters, Woodson sucked me in. The book is another memoir, written not in prose, but short poems. Sometimes the chapters only last a few sentences, other times they are a few pages – all quite short. 

Brown Girl Dreaming is the story of Woodson’s childhood growing up in two worlds: South Carolina, and New York City. Through her young eyes, we get a glimpse into the Civil Rights movement, and how different the experience was for a black family living in a northern state like Ohio, or NY, versus the Jim Crow-lingering south. This book is actually for middle grade, I believe, and I will be sharing it with my boys very soon. Five stars, this one. Mandatory reading for all children!

 

Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel

I love a good haunting book, and Station Eleven fits the bill. Even better was that I had no idea what it was about before I began reading it. This is something I wish for you too, if you haven’t read it, so I won’t say a thing about plot. The only thing I will share is this: it’s literary science fiction. Sort of. And it takes place in the Great Lakes region. Highly recommend this one. It’s stayed with me.

 

The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman

I picked this book up because I knew it’s been a popular one for a while. It did not disappoint. It’s a short novel, filled with whimsy and magic, but also a lot of darkness. Describing the plot of the book: man goes home to read a eulogy and take a drive to the ocean at the end of the lane that isn’t really an ocean at all – doesn’t really do it justice. It will pull you in and you won’t be able to put it down until it’s over.

 

What books have you read recently? Share below. And if you’re on Goodreads, give me an add!

 

8 Things Writer-Moms Can Relate To

1. People have NO CLUE about the writing side of your life. They probably think you’re on Facebook all the time or doing other really luxurious things.

2. You find a typo somewhere in that article you submitted, and it’s too late to do anything about it.

3. You talk to yourself while you’re writing and it starts to trickle out into other times (grocery shopping, driving.) And you’re okay with it.

4. You come up with your best sentences and story ideas while showering. Because that’s the only time you really get to yourself.  

5. You decide to start an early morning routine for writing at 5am. Then your child wakes up so you not only cannot write, but you also must parent for hours before you intended to.

6. You decide that night would work better, so you pull all-nighters and are a zombie the next day.Then you probably get sick because your immune system is weak from lack of sleep.

7. You’ve been super overwhelmed and asked yourself WHAT AM I DOING THIS FOR ANYWAY!?

8. Then you remember this…. (And if you don’t get this reference, get yourself a Netflix account immediately and watch Friday Night Lights.)

What I’m Reading: Summer 2015 Edition

You have probably come across a list or two or ten of Summer Reads – but I decided to share mine anyway and add to the mix.

This will serve two purposes. The first and most important is that I get to share some amazing authors that maybe you haven’t heard of. I’m not kidding, there is very serious talent here!

The second is that this is a pretty aggressive challenge for me because I’m spending a lot of my free hours (ha) writing my second novel, and sharing with you gives me a sort of accountability. Most of these books have been on my list for a while!

Without further adieu, here are my Summer Reads for 2015. (If you’re looking for light beach reads, I apologize in advance!)

1. & 2.) To Kill a Mockingbird & Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

I don’t know that I need to say much here. To Kill a Mockingbird is a fan favorite for so many reasons.

When I found out a second book would be released this summer, I was thrilled. And then a bunch of information hit the news – apparently Harper Lee isn’t in the best of health and perhaps was taken advantage of. That put a damper on things for sure. But the bottom line is that it’s coming out soon and I can’t wait to read it. (And apparently Lee is actually fine with it.)

3.) The Marauders by Tom Cooper

I’m reading The Marauders right now and I love it! It’s written from different points of view and will grab your attention right from the first page. It’s extremely well-written, which frankly, is refreshing. Here’s a small excerpt from the description on Amazon. Be sure to read the reviews to see how much love this book has received.

“When the BP oil spill devastates the Gulf coast, those who made a living by shrimping find themselves in dire straits. For the oddballs and lowlifes who inhabit the sleepy, working class bayou town of Jeannette,  these desperate circumstances serve as the catalyst that pushes them to enact whatever risky schemes they can dream up to reverse their fortunes.”

4.) The Turner House by Angela Flournoy

The Turner House is a family drama – so if you’re into those, you will want to pick this up. I’m a setting girl as well – I’ll read just about anything that can transport me to a place I’m already fascinated by – and I’m looking forward to delving into the East Side of Detroit in this debut novel. Here’s the Amazon excerpt.

“The Turners have lived on Yarrow Street for over fifty years. Their house has seen thirteen children grown and gone—and some returned; it has seen the arrival of grandchildren, the fall of Detroit’s East Side, and the loss of a father. The house still stands despite abandoned lots, an embattled city, and the inevitable shift outward to the suburbs. But now, as ailing matriarch Viola finds herself forced to leave her home and move in with her eldest son, the family discovers that the house is worth just a tenth of its mortgage.”

5.) Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

I recently finished Jesmyn’s debut novel, Salvage the Bones, which was so beautifully written I’ve been eager to read all of her work. Men We Reaped is actually a memoir. In this book, the DeLisle, Mississippi native writes about the five men she knew who died in just four years.

“Their deaths were seemingly unconnected, yet their lives had been connected, by identity and place, and as Jesmyn dealt with these losses, she came to a staggering truth: These young men died because of who they were and the place they were from, because certain disadvantages breed a certain kind of bad luck. Because they lived with a history of racism and economic struggle. The agonizing reality commanded Jesmyn to write, at last, their true stories and her own.”

This won’t be an easy read – Salvage the Bones certainly wasn’t – but it will be an important one.

6.) Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

I think everyone has probably stumbled across this read by now. Luckiest Girl Alive is Reece Witherspoon’s darling – she’s scored movie rights already!

I actually read this book already for a local book club, and enjoyed it. It’s a page-turner as promised. They say if you like Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train you’ll like this one. That is, if you can get past the irritating spelling of the main character TifAni FaNelli. (<– This was a unanimous irritation in book club!) Irritation aside, good story!

With a singular voice and twists you won’t see coming, Luckiest Girl Alive explores the unbearable pressure that so many women feel to “have it all” and introduces a heroine whose sharp edges and cutthroat ambition have been protecting a scandalous truth, and a heart that’s bigger than it first appears.

7.) Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

Okay – this actually doesn’t come out until September but I adore Mindy Kaling so I’m sharing it now. You can pre-order it here! This is sure to be a great (funny) read.

 

How I Wrote a Novel (A Look into my Writing Process)

It’s been almost six months since I first decided to embark on the National Novel Writing Month challenge (NANOWRIMO). To say I thrive on deadlines would be an understatement!

It was such an incredible (blurry) experience. In four weeks I wrote a first draft. (I started my NANIWRIMO at the end of November instead of beginning.) I watched the word count crawl up to my goal of 70,000. I stayed up until 3 in the morning writing, and drank tea all day to get me through to the next night, loving every second. And then I took a short break- I wrote the last chapter on Christmas Eve actually, and rang in the New Year with a completed manuscript under my belt.

Then, I began the extremely painful but enlightening process of revisions. First I tackled the big stuff, adding another twenty thousand words. Then I tackled the smaller stuff, effectively deleting ten thousand of those words. Then I killed my darlings, cut cliche’s, and removed anything that made me cringe. Finally I did the line edits, over and over and over again, though I am certain I missed some. (Critique partners and beta readers for the win, guys!)

As soon as I got to the point where I was ready to query agents, I started thinking about my next book. I started with one idea, and then got another. I flushed out the ideas and decided which one I’d go with. And now I’m working on novel number two.

Because this is what I do now: I write stories! I couldn’t stop if I tried, though I never want to.

I have a lot of people ask me about writing now, and how I got started with fiction. But I’m SO NEW to this experience, I certainly can’t give expert advice. All I can do is share what works for me. Because if there is one thing writing a  book taught me, it’s my PROCESS. I feel like I know my brain so much better now than I ever have.

So today I’m sharing my writing process for those who are a little overwhelmed with knowing where to start. I get that, and I felt it too. 

 

Here is the method I use when I approach writing.

 

1. I Research

One of the first things I do is create a new Word Doc, start a secret Pinterest board, and grab a fresh notebook. This trifecta perfectly encapsulates the many was in which I learn and remember.  I use my notebook to jot down facts I want to remember. I use my word doc to save links, and make notes. I use Pinterest for setting inspiration.

In my first book, the settings are real places — places I’ve been — so that was fairly simple. In this  new book, I’m creating a fictional town. This requires much more research because I want to get it right.

This brings me to another point: I think it’s an author’s responsibility to do their due diligence. Don’t cut corners. Do the research. 

2. I get to know my major characters

I’m not the type of person who does full character write ups on all her characters before she starts writing. Because I discover things about my characters as I go. But, I do like to have a good idea of their strengths and weaknesses before I start.

3. I outline plot points

The popular thought is that there are two types of writers: those who plot (plotters), or those who fly by the seat of their pants (pantsers). I think I lie somewhere in the middle there. I like to have a list of major and minor plot points, as a guideline, but I don’t necessarily fill in the blanks until I write.

I know many writers who just sit down and write without knowing where the story is headed, and that’s best for them, but it’s not for me. My brain needs order beforehand to allow for more creativity.

4. I use Scrivener

Oh Scrivener, how I love thee. It really is amazing and I highly recommend it to all writers.

The first thing I do when I create a new Scrivener file is create three new folders and label them: Act 1, Act 2, Act 3. Then I fill them with a few subfolders, followed by “text” pages. That way it’s all laid out and I have a visual representation of the chapters. Some people label them too, which I tend to do as I get closer to working on them.

I also copy and paste any Word Doc info to a new page in the research area. Whatever is related to the book goes in Scrivener.

4.  I stop researching for a bit

There comes a point in time where I have to stop researching for a bit. I am the type of person who wants to know everything about a subject before I write about it (see #1), but that can hinder me because perfectionism often kills progress.

I usually can tell at this point if I know enough to start writing. Do I have a good sense of the setting? Can I represent the voices of the community appropriately? Once I can answer yes then I take a break from research, save for minor things that take a moment or two to look up.

6. I write the first draft 

Now it’s time to write. I’ve only just begun my second novel, and I’m not certain how long this one will take. I suspect two months. And I suspect the first draft will be in much better shape than my first one was as a first draft. 

I know people take weeks, months, or even years to write a book, but I don’t think anyone could argue there is an appropriate amount of time it SHOULD take you. We all have different lives. Different obligations. This will look different for each of us.

(Also, as a note: don’t be alarmed when you find yourself struggling through Act 2. I’ve spoken to many, and agree myself, that this was the hardest part of the book to write. Rivaled only by those first three chapters.)

Happy writing everyone! I hope this overview of my process helps those who are struggling. Let me know if you start your novel!

New on Thin Difference – 5 Things I’d Tell My 20-Something Self, 10 Years Later

Do you ever wish you could sit your younger self down and give him/her a talking to?

The thought has definitely crossed my mind on more than one occasion. In fact, during a conversation with Jon Mertz from Thin Difference, that exact idea popped up and we decided to give it a go – with a focus on leadership lessons of course. 

Today I’m sharing:

5 Things I’d Tell My 20-Something Self, 10 Years Later

Here is a sneak peek:

At the risk of sounding like a broken record – I can’t believe how much I’ve changed since turning thirty nearly two years ago. It probably sounds absurd; how much can one really change that quickly? But I swear it, I’ve somehow managed to figure out the many problems I struggled with over and over for the entire decade of my twenties, in a fraction of that time

Perhaps it was the still developing prefrontal cortex – in fact, I’m fairly certain it was – but I am grateful for my once youthful spirit and determination. I was a risk-taker. I wasn’t afraid to try new things and delve into the unknown. The results were mixed – some turned out the way I’d hoped, others were colossal failures – but with each experience, I was provided an opportunity to learn something valuable. I call that a win either way!

CONTINUE READING HERE…

 

Learning to Write – 7 Books on Writing for Newbies

I’ve always loved writing. When I was a kid, my mom bought me an electric typewriter at a yard sale. It was shiny and smooth and colorful – a bright teal with cherry red keys here and there. I used to plop it on the dining room table, feed through a piece of white paper, and write. I’d write a few lines or pages, and then, unhappy with my work, I’d crumple them up and toss them aside. It was all very tortured-artist. The good stuff I’d keep, slipping the pages into a plastic protector before returning to my favorite pastime: reading.

I continued to write through high school (though I do admit to borrowing and submitting my sister’s work on a few occasions – sorry Mrs. Clark!). But the passion was still there. It was one of the only classes I could bare to sit through.

Fast forward to age 23: I became a mom, a small business owner, and scored my first blogging gig. All shifted the course of my life in significant ways. Obviously parenthood is MAJOR, but the other two were big in their own ways. More specifically, in terms of writing, I learned what the people who run blogs want. I learned to deliver the goods. And I learned that I really did love writing, especially when I created this little home for myself back in 2011.

Then one day I decided to write fiction, and quickly realized I knew nothing about writing. Well, that’s not really fair. I knew what I liked and what I didn’t like. I knew what held my attention and what put me to sleep. I understood writing in theory, but the actual practice was a whole new, mind-blowing, world.

When I began my first attempt at fiction, it fell flat. I was overwhelmed and frustrated, mostly because the project itself was historical fiction – a big undertaking. It wasn’t until I decided to write something purely for my own eyes – something that I myself would want to read – that the process began to flow.

But that was only the beginning. Maybe you’re one of the lucky folks who can just sit down and let a story flow, but I’m not. My brain doesn’t work like that. I knew I needed to learn more (everything) about the craft, so I started picking up books. I read On Writing by Stephen King first, over the summer. And when I was in Nashville in October, I scored a copy of Strunk & White’s classic The Elements of Style at a cute bookstore near the Vanderbuilt campus. Next, I began The Art of Character by David Corbett, a suggestion from my brother in law Eric. My confidence was building, but I was still too intimidated by the process to put anything into practice.

During National Novel Writing Month in November I reached out to my friend Jenny, who recommended K.M. Weiland‘s Structuring Your Novel as a good place to start. (You can buy Jenny’s first book Karma Gone Bad here. You’ll love it!) And this book was a game changer for me. Eye-opening on many levels. From this point, I was able to write a first draft.

Now I’m in the throes of the revision process – adding layers upon layers to my chapters. And I’m able to do so because I have a box of tools I can go back to for inspiration, guidance and motivation. Today I’m sharing my favorite books on writing that I keep nearby. I like a straight-shooter when it comes to books on craft, so if you’re like me, you’ll enjoy these too. And if you’ve ever dreamed about writing a novel, this list is a great place to start.
 

7 Books On Writing for the Newbie Novelist

Strunk & WhiteThe Elements of Style

This is a must buy. It’s a succinct reference book that you will go back to again and again.
 

David Corbett The Art of Character

Creating characters who are not cliched is hard work. This is a must read if you want your characters to stand out from the pack. There are exercises at the end of each chapter that are thought-provoking and will have you digging deep into yourself.

K.M. Weiland – Structuring Your Novel

I love K.M. Weiland. She doesn’t waste your time with unnecessary prose in her writing. She tells you what you need to know, shares multiple examples of others who have done it right, and prepares even the most unprepared for the exciting task of writing a novel.

Stephen King – On Writing

What can I say about this book that hasn’t already been said? I would quote it all if I could. I never understood the Stephen King love until I read this. He is the wisest guy around. Definitely number one on my list for books on the craft.

 

Carly Watters – Getting Published in the 21st Century

This book covers it all. Written by Literary Agent Carly Watters, I highly recommend for anyone new to the querying process and those preparing their manuscripts for submission. It’s a very intimidating task the first time you do it! Again, no nonsense delivery.

 

Steven Pressfield – The War of Art

The subtitle of this book is, “Break Through The Creative Blocks & Win The Creative Battle” – and this book will help you do just that. It’s perfect for all of the dreamers out there who want something so badly but face resistance. This book has a spiritual element to it as well, which I loved. (He pretty much tells you of his belief in a higher power right off the bat.)

 

James Scott Bell – Revision & Self -Editing for Publication

You’ve written your first draft. Now what? On Writing is a great for revision details, but for those requiring more details, this book is amazing. Learning how to revise your work is hard. Harder than writing. This is a great reference.

 

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A couple notes here. The first: while reading these books, it’s important to keep reading fiction! It’s so easy to get caught up in the technical stuff. Keeping rich stories in your life will help keep that balance and remind you why you want to write in the first place.

I also wanted to suggest buying these in hard copy. Ebooks are great, but you’ll likely find yourself referencing them often, and it’s just easier to do with something tangible.

As Steven Pressfield says in The War of Art,“The sign of the amateur is overglorification of and preoccupation with the mystery. The professional shuts up. She doesn’t talk about it. She does her work.”

Okay Steven. I’ll shut up now.

I’d love to hear your favorites! Share below!

Six Truths for Weary Bloggers

I was chatting with friends recently, and it became very clear to me that there is a process when it comes to blogging. We go through similar stages and phases. We experiences highs and lows. We are certain of ourselves then completely unsure. It seems to be quite common.

But it doesn’t feel that way when you’re in the midst of it.

It feels very isolating. It feels like failure. It may even feel like quitting.

There is a lot of competition in the blogging world, which can be discouraging. And coupled with self-doubt, blogging can become a chore instead of a way to express ourselves creatively and tell our stories. Stories that we need to share for our own healing and growing, and for the benefit of others too.

Today I wanted to share some truths I’ve learned about blogging for those who are in the weary stage of it all.

1. Your blog may not blow up. Ever. – There are many reasons why this is true. The number one reason is likely due to the fact that the blogosphere is oversaturated. But also, as my friend Michelle pointed out, most of us are now consuming our blog posts, and other articles through social media. It’s what our friends/family/colleagues share through their social media channels that are we are clicking on. That plays a major role in driving traffic. Finally, the blogosphere may be oversaturated but it’s also a very big space that sometimes feels small. You may think a blogger is huge, but in the grand scheme of things they are not. The ones that are huge are the exception, not the rule.

2. You should still have one. – If you plan on making a career for yourself in writing, then you need a blog. Agents and publishers will check you out. There needs to be something there. And with the simplicity of the process today, you can have a simple site up in sixty minutes.

3. You will probably get bored – How long is one person supposed to stay the same? What’s the cap on that? Take the seven-year-itch and divide it by two – that seems like a reasonable amount of time to expect someone to remain stagnant in their content. I’ve talked to so many bloggers who face this challenge: they’ve grown, changed, become bored with writing about the same thing. How does one evolve and bring their blogging along with them?

4. You will ask yourself why you’re doing this. – It’s a wall that we all hit at some point or another: what am I doing all this work for? And it’s a very important conversation to have with yourself. What are your writing goals? Do you want a book published? Do you want to make money through blogging? Are you treating your blog as a business? The answer to these questions will determine where you need to be focusing your efforts because…

5. You will have to choose between blogging & something else. Most of us have to make a living somehow. Either we are working full time, or raising children, or both. There is always something else that demands our immediate attention and will win it. That leaves us with little time for anything else – for getting closer to accomplishing our dreams. And the reality is, blogging is often a stepping stone: it’s not the ultimate goal. But it’s scary to step back. For many of us, our blogs feel like home. But the more we hold on to the comfort, the longer it will take to see our dreams through.

6. Quality > Quantity. If you are at that point where you have to step away from your blog a bit, fear not. Quality > quantity. I’d rather read a personal blog entry from the heart a million times over a product review. I would rather hear an update from you every three months than be bombarded with your every move. And I’m not alone. Whatever you decide to do – the majority of your readers aren’t going to bail on you.