“Reading Like a Writer”

In my last two blog posts I’ve written about the books I read in March. Last Monday’s post was nearing 2,000 words, so I decided to save my comments about Reading Like a Writer:  A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them, by Francine Prose, for today. I’ll just hit some of the highlights.

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Reading Like a Writer, by Francine Prose

Chapter One:  Close Reading

I read and took copious notes from the first four chapters of this book and perused the rest of it. As an aspiring author, I loved how the first chapter confirmed that I read like a writer. It’s called “close reading,” and it means reading every word for the pleasure of getting every phrase – being conscious of such things as style, sentence formation, and how the author creates characters.

Based on what Francine Prose wrote, I no longer need to apologize for reading slowly. I’m trying to hone my craft by reading published writers.

Chapter Two:  Words

In the second chapter of Reading Like a Writer, the author recommends that you read slowly enough to read every word. She compares the language a writer uses to the way a composer uses notes and a painter uses paint.

To paraphrase Ms. Prose, reading to appreciate the writing is akin to not only admiring a beautiful painting from afar but also close up so you can see the brushstrokes.

I also appreciated Ms. Prose’s thoughts on the advice often given to writers, which is “Show, don’t tell.” Ms. Prose says this much-repeated advice confuses novice writers. I can vouch for that.

In editing my earlier manuscript for The Spanish Coin (before I started the complete rewrite), I took the “show, don’t tell” advice to the extreme. I was ruthless in cutting narrative, thinking I could best “show” through dialogue. It was all part of the learning process. Ms. Prose’s take on this is that showing is best done through “the energetic and specific use of language.”

Chapter Three:  Sentences

If I had known I would someday want to be a writer, I would have paid more attention in the 8th grade when we had to diagram sentences. I wasn’t very good at it, and I really didn’t see the point.

I hadn’t thought about sentence diagramming in years until I got to the third chapter of Ms. Prose’s book. She wrote about the value of diagramming sentences, and what she said makes sense to me now.

She lamented the fact that students are no longer taught to diagram sentences. Her explanation that sentence diagramming provides for the accounting of every word and provides a way “to keep track of which phrase is modifying which noun” gave me a way of understanding the value of the exercise that I could not have appreciated as an eighth grader.

I probably couldn’t diagram a complex sentence today if my life depended on it, but Ms. Prose might just be onto something when she insinuates that having that skill would help a writer.

This weekend I happened upon an article from the Huffington Post about diagramming sentences. Here’s the link, if you wish to take a look:  https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/01/diagram-sentence-grammar_n_5908462.html.

A word of warning, though, for those of you of “a certain age.” Reading the Huffington Post article, I soon felt like I’d entered a time warp. I don’t think our sentences had “complements” when I was in the 8th grade.

Chapter Four:  Paragraphs

In the fourth chapter of the book, Ms. Prose quotes master short story writer, Isaac Babel:

“’The breaking up into paragraphs and the punctuation have to be done properly but only for the effect on the reader. A set of dead rules is no good. A new paragraph is a wonderful thing. It lets you quietly change the rhythm, and it can be like a flash of lightning that shows the same landscape from a different aspect.’” – Isaac Babel

In all the various English courses I have taken, I don’t recall any teacher or professor ever saying to break for a new paragraph “only for the effect on the reader.” I’m still letting that sink in. It’s refreshing and freeing to think about it. It is for the writer to determine which rules are dead as far as her editor is concerned.

Chapter Seven:  Dialogue

Characters in a novel should “say what they mean, get to the point, avoid circumlocution and digression.”

Chapter Eight:  Details

Another interesting observation Ms. Prose makes is about details and the truth. She observes that details persuade that the truth is being told.

She points out that a piece of clothing can speak volumes about a character’s circumstances.

Chapter Eleven:  Reading for Courage

Continuing to fly in the face of common advice given to writers of fiction, Ms. Prose suggests that the trend in modern fiction that characters in a novel must be nice in order for the reader to identify with them is possibly not true.

She also says it’s not necessarily true that every loose end in a work of fiction needs to be tied up neatly by the end.

What a relief to read those last two theories! My characters don’t have to be nice in order for the reader to identify with them, and all the loose ends don’t have to be tied up at the end of the novel? This is in opposition to what I learned in fiction writing class back in 2001.

“Words,” by Dr. R. Brown McAlister

Chapter Two in Ms. Prose’s book brought to mind the title of the remarks made by one of the two guest speakers at my high school graduation. Dr. R. Brown McAllister, a beloved icon in Cabarrus County Schools at the time, had retired after many decades of teaching and working as a school administrator, and he had a dry but keen sense of humor. The printed program for the graduation ceremony listed “Words,” by Dr. R. Brown McAllister.

In his deadpan way, Dr. McAllister went to the podium and said something like, “I was asked to talk about words, so here I am.” That was in 1971 and I still don’t know to this day if he was asked to talk about words or to say a few words.

The more I attempt to be a writer and the more I read, the more I appreciate words.

Since my last blog post

I have made a social media plan and made an effort to do more on Twitter (@janetmorrisonbk), my writing-related boards on Pinterest (https://www.pinterest.com/janet5049), and my Janet Morrison, Writer page on Facebook. Implementing the plan will be a challenge but I’m told I must get my name out there if I hope to sell any copies of The Spanish Coin if and when it gets written and published.

I did not get much reading done last week, but I’m trying to learn that I can’t do everything I want to do. I can’t even do everything I need to do.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’ve just started reading Every Note Played, by Lisa Genova.

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Every Note Played, by Lisa Genova

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time

If you haven’t signed up for my sometime-in-the-future newsletters, please do so by completing the form below.

Janet

S is for Social Media

This is the 19th day of the A to Z Blog Challenge, so I decided to write about Social Media. (19 letters down, seven to go!) Those of you who have been following my blog for several months know that being social on media is not my favorite pastime. I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but writers are pushed from all sides to embrace social media. I can’t seem to escape it.

“The Personalities of Social Media,” by Jenny Hanson

I read an excellent blog post about writers and social media on April 19, 2017, “The Personalities of Social Media” at http://writersinthestormblog.com/2017/04/social-media-101-lets-talk-personalities/.

Jenny Hanson wrote “The Personalities of Social Media” blog post. I don’t want to steal her thunder, so I invite you to read her post if you wish.

Reading that Writers in the Storm blog post clarified for me why certain social media outlets appeal to me more than others, and it gave me permission to stop worrying about LinkedIn. Whew! It was worth the read just to learn that.

LinkedIn and Goodreads

Ms. Hanson wrote, “Yes, if you are looking for a job or a business contact, you need to be on LinkedIn, but readers tend to hang out at Goodreads and in the six programs mentioned below.”

What I learned from Ms. Hanson’s post is that social media fall into two camps:  (1) ones that require immediate response and (2) ones that you don’t have to respond to immediately.

2 categories of social media

Of the major social media platforms, Ms. Hanson says that Pinterest, Instagram, and Snapchat fall into the second category. They seem to suit my personality better than the ones that are included in the first category (Twitter, Google+, and Facebook.)

I’m not by nature a phone person. People whose cell phones are a permanent extension of their hands do not understand me any more than I understand them. Let’s just agree to accept each other and not be judgmental.

Category One

  • Facebook

I enjoy some aspects of Facebook, but it is something that I usually check once every day or two. Apparently, I’m not using it correctly. I’m sorry, but I really don’t care to see a picture of what you ate for lunch. (I’m trying not to judge.) I like it because it provides a way for me to know when my friends have a joy or concern they want to share. It provides a way for me and friends with whom I share political views to commiserate.

  • Twitter

I get on Twitter once- or twice-a-day, which means I’m not using it correctly either. I have made some interesting connections with other writers and several published authors via Twitter, but I might not be putting enough original information in my Tweets to keep those relationships going. Twitter gives me a way to publicize my blog, and I have gained many blog followers as a result.

  • Google+

I haven’t been active on Google+. I haven’t seen it as a good fit for me; however, after reading Ms. Hanson’s post, I have a better understanding of how it is a powerful way to increase my search ranking on Google. I guess I need to give Google+ a fair chance.

Category Two

  • Instagram

I have an Instagram account, but I really haven’t gotten excited about it. Ms. Hanson’s blog post includes links to two articles about Instagram that I definitely need to read. I’m sure my hesitancy to use Instagram stems from my strained relationship with my cell phone.

  • Snapchat

It probably goes without saying that I haven’t even investigated Snapchat. Apparently, I need to if I want to attract a younger demographic to my writing. It’s visual, and it’s only there for 24 hours.

  • Pinterest

I really enjoy Pinterest. It is a good way for me to find articles about the art and craft of writing. I have set up several boards on my Pinterest account where I Pin the articles I like and think other writers who follow me might benefit from reading. I have a variety of boards on Pinterest, ranging from writing to recipes to quilting to politics. It’s a way for me to show my personality and varied interests. Pinterest can take up as much of your time as you will give it. One thing leads to another until sometimes I don’t remember where I started. My searches on Pinterest never disappoint me.

In closing

Thank you, Jenny Hanson, for presenting information about the various social media platforms in a way that helped me to recognize why some platforms appeal to me more than others. And thank you for helping me to understand why Google+ is an important platform for writers.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. (I’m back to Bittersweet, by Colleen McCullough after putting it aside so I could read In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom, by Yeonmi Park.)

If you’re a writer, I hope you have rewarding writing time.

Janet

5 Things I Can’t Afford to Try on Social Media in March

Although I have made some good friends via social media and it does provide a way to stay in touch with old friends or relatives who live far away, social media stresses me out. If you’ve followed my blog for very long, you already know that.

I just want to sit at my computer and write, but the publishing world tells me that I have to have a brand and I must keep my brand in front of my potential readers. I’m being told this is important before I even try to get my first novel published. It’s exhausting!

In an effort to simplify social media for myself, I have looked into a number of websites that offer to do just that. There is an old adage that says, “You get what you pay for.” If I were independently wealthy, I could purchase all kinds of services that promise to put my social media life on Easy Street. That is not the case, though. If I had a multi-million dollar business, these services might make sense. They would be business expenses. I don’t make enough money from my writing yet to need big tax write-offs.

Below, I’ve listed what I found out about five social media services that I can’t afford to try. Just because I can’t afford them doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use them. I’m not endorsing any of them, but I’m not trying to denigrate any of them either. Each Tweeter and blogger must decide for himself because each person’s situation is unique.

  1. Tweepi

The Ultimate Guide to Generating Leads on Twitter, a downloadable document by Steve Arnold, (steve.arnold@markethub.io) recommends Tweepi to, among other things, keep up with which of your followers are actually looking at your content. This allows you to drop followers that are just boosting your followers count. They aren’t interacting or helping you and you aren’t helping them. Unfortunately, the cheaper of the two plans Tweepi offers is $10.75 per month when paid annually or $12.99 per month when paid monthly. I can’t afford that, even though I recognize it would be somewhat beneficial to subscribe to a service like Tweepi.

My conclusion:  My world does not revolve around Twitter. I’m sure some of my “followers” are no longer “following” me. If they aren’t interested in books, writing, or an occasional political Tweet from me, that’s okay. I understand that literary agents and book publishers may want to have a clear idea of how many interested followers I have on Twitter, but it’s just not important enough to me right now to pay to get that information. It’s something to reconsider when I’m closer to getting a novel published.

  1. MarketHub

Mr. Arnold, of course, recommends that bloggers use MarketHub, since he is the company’s founder. His downloadable referenced above under Tweepi, states, “MarketHub pumps out extremely high value curated tweets on your behalf.” MarketHub offers a 14-day free trial. I hesitate to sign up for free trials because sometimes they’re difficult to cancel before a subscription fee kicks in. I have no idea if that’s the case with MarketHub, and I haven’t been able to find out how much MarketHub charges after the free trial period.

My conclusion:  I don’t really want a computer somewhere writing Tweets for me. I’d rather do my own writing. Period.

  1. Commun.it

With a free account, Commun.it will send out automatic weekly “Thanks for following me” Tweets; however, those Tweets include a flashy advertisement for Commun.it. I learned that the hard way. That was embarrassing! This has continued even though I went to the website and deactivated this feature which I admit I should have been aware of when I signed up. I’m still trying to determine how to best manage social media. I can’t afford a Business Account on Commun.it.

My conclusion:  I don’t know how to get rid of Commun.it. Maybe if I ignore their e-mails long enough, they will stop sending out “Thank you for following me and, by the way, don’t you also want Commun.it to send out Tweets on your behalf without your knowing it?” e-mails.

Chris Andrews, a writer in Australia who reads my blog and I read his, advised me a few days ago to look into using Clicky.com. It’s a free service that should help me with this. I signed up for it, but there’s a glitch somewhere in a code so it’s not up and running for me yet. Stay tuned. Thanks again, Chris.

  1. Moz.com’s Keyword Explorer

I keep reading online that if I’m going to have a successful blog, I must use the trending keywords in my posts and in the posts’ titles. Otherwise, my SEO (Search Engine Optimization) won’t be good. In other words, no one will find my blog.

Moz.com has a service called Keyword Explorer that helps a blogger find keywords that would be most advantageous for him or her to use in order to drive more traffic to their blog. I don’t mean to bad mouth moz.com, but their cheapest plan would cost me $948-a-year, if I chose to pay annually. If I chose to pay monthly, my annual cost would be $1,188. Ouch! That’s more money than I’ll make this year from my writing. A lot more.

My conclusion:  Keep looking.

  1. Google Keyword Planner

I looked into using Google Keyword Planner, another service that would find the best keywords for me to use in my blog post titles. Surely, it would be cheaper than Keyword Explorer. If I understood the adwords.google.com website correctly, they will “help” me for free as long as I spend at least $10-a-day on ads. No thanks! I don’t have a published novel to advertise yet.

My conclusion:  As of November 21, 2016 – just four months ago today – my blog had 220 followers and had been visited by people from 32 countries. As of 11:30 last night, I had. . . drumroll, please. . . 1,000 followers and my blog has been visited by individuals from 42 countries. I must be doing something right, and I’m not spending an arm and a leg to generate traffic.

Proof of my 1,000th blog follower on March 20, 2017!

My general conclusions today about social media

I keep a daily check on my blog and my accounts with Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. As long as my follower numbers steadily increase, I’m happy. And I must admit that I love seeing the flags appear on my blog’s sidebar as people in different countries visit the site. (See, I’m not completely against social media, and I’ve always loved geography!)

Social media should be fun. It should bring people together – even people who don’t agree with each other on the topic being discussed. I will continue to blog and use Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. I might continue to use Google+. Two weeks ago, I created an account with Instagram. I might even use it someday.

Until my next blog post

Rest assured that I do my own writing. That’s what writers do. They write.

It upsets me when someone takes my words and claims them as their own.

It upsets me when someone writes words and claim that they are mine.

For the time being, except for those pesky Tweets commun.it keeps sending out, I plan to write my own Tweets, figure out my own keywords for my blog post titles, and refuse to stress out over who is following me on Twitter. Life is too short!

I take Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, as my example. She didn’t play by any of the rules dictated by the publishing industry in her lifetime. I’ll play by the rules as necessary, but I’m not going to let social media control my life.

This blog post makes me sound angry. I’m not angry. Just venting some frustration. Not ready to draw a line in the sand.

I hope you have a good book to read. If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

Janet

P.S.  Relax. My next blog post will be a sample of my writing. With any luck, it won’t be controversial and won’t contain any rants or venting.

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