Archive for February, 2010

One of our bookshelves

When I was teaching, I read close to a hundred books a year, mostly YA. The more books I read, the easier it became to recommend books to my students, who were mostly reluctant and struggling readers. Plus, I love to read.   


However, as a writer, I sometimes find it difficult to read when I’m writing. Sometimes the voice of the book I’m reading creeps into the book I’m writing. This happens more in early drafts than in later drafts. Maybe this means I just haven’t found the voice for my book yet, I’m not sure.    

I once had a seventh grade student who came to school all excited about a story he had written. He handed me five notebook pages filled with his neat hand writing, a big smile on his face. And the writing was amazing: He’d copied word for word, the first chapter of Treasure Island.  

What happens to me isn’t that extreme. I’m not starting my novel with: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Or, Call me Ishamel.    


However, I’ve had more than a few writers tell me they can’t read when they are in the middle of a writing project. Others just keep devouring books non-stop.     

Then yesterday, via a link from Natasha Foundren’s blog, I found this quote by Will Self regarding reading while writing: 

Stop reading fiction – it’s all lies anyway, and it doesn’t have anything to tell you that you don’t know already (assuming, that is, you’ve read a great deal of fiction in the past; if you haven’t you have no business whatsoever being a writer of fiction).  

Right now, I am reading every night, enjoying some great YA novels, as I plow through a rewrite of my current WIP during the day. 

However, when I wrote Placement, I didn’t read anything. That story was buzzing in my head, inhabiting me. I’d wake up at night with a plot solution and scribble it down, or with a piece of dialogue, or a new scene idea. No way could I pick up another book. 

What about you? Do you read while you are writing? If so, are you reading in your genre or outside of it? Are there specific times in your writing process when you just cannot pick up a book? Are there other times when reading is helpful for you while you are writing? In what way? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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I’m being Interviewed

I’m honored to be interviewed by Heather Kelly at Edit to Within an Inch of my Life. Please join me at her blog for the interview and an extended question and answer session. Thanks.

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Toeing the Line

The start of the Equinox Marathon in Fairbanks, Alaska. 

When I ran my first marathon, I had little idea of what I was doing. I ran slower than I could have, so when I crossed the finish line I was smiling. I was hooked. I wanted to keep running marathons, and I wanted to improve my time.

So, I started running more and more, and figured that by putting the miles in, I’d improve. A year later I ran my second marathon. I improved my time by a few minutes, but was hurting at the end, and it took weeks to recover.

(That’s not me, but it’s an accurate representation of how I felt.)

Long story short. Logging a bunch of miles didn’t really help much because I didn’t know how to train.

So, I talked to other runners, read books, and focused my training. Over time, I’ve improved some as marathoner, but I’ve worked harder than I imagined I’d work after crossing that first finish line.

When I finished my first novel, I was excited. Then I tried to make it better and learned how much I didn’t know.

A few novels later and I’ve improved, but I think much of my improvement has come from major rewriting, trading manuscripts for critique, reading craft books, taking a creative writing class, and studying other novels.

This running/writing analogy isn’t perfect, and I know there is no substitute for putting in the hours writing, but I’m curious: What are you doing to improve your writing besides writing? Is there one thing that has been particularly helpful? Where’s the balance for you between writing and doing other things to improve your writing?

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I’ve been at my parents’ house in South Bend, Indiana for twelve days now, sleeping in the room I slept in when I was growing up. One more night and then I’m heading home to Fairbanks, Alaska. If you’re curious how I ended up in Alaska, I’ve written about it here.

I visit for long stretches because Alaska is so far away from Indiana. And the older my parents get, the farther away it feels. (My dad just turned 83 a few days ago.)

I try to visit three times a year for ten or twelve days. When I visit, we usually go to Lake Michigan at least once—a place I visited often when I was growing up.

Last summer I took my parents up to Pentwater, Michigan for a couple nights.

Last fall we spent the day in St. Joe, Michigan and I ended up with a new friend.

This winter we didn’t get up to the Lake, but this was what it looked like last February when we did.

I try to balance my writing with visiting, writing early in the morning or late at night, but inevitably, the writing falls off. I start off strong, then I hit a few fragmented days where I get nothing done. Then I get back into it, but the writing often feels clunky. That’s the way this blog post feels.

A couple years ago I was writing the first draft of a novel set in the mid-west and wrote sixty pages while I was here. That was cool.

But rewrites, like the one I’m working on now, are more difficult because I’ve got lots of notes, or I want to print out some pages and can’t, or I suddenly have to research something.

While I’m here, I accomplish what I can during the down time. A big thanks to Jill Kemerer, Jody Hedlund, and Natalie Bahm for keeping me on my writing toes via twitter these past twelve days. A few encouraging tweets went a long way. I rewrote five chapters. I was hoping for ten, but as Kim Stanley Robinson wrote: “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.”

What about you? Where did you grow up and where do you live now? And, how does your writing routine change when you are away from home?

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