Reading the Bookshelf

I rarely buy books, and tend to rely on the wonderfulness of the public library, but over the years I have created a decent collection of books.  Typically, once I’ve purchased and read a book, I don’t like to part from it.  As a result, I have tons of must keep books that collect dust and haven’t been read in more than ten years. Granted I’ve moved all of them from one house to another three or four times in those ten years, but rereading them hadn’t happened.

Too busy to make it to the library in the last few weeks, I’ve been scouring my bookshelves for reading material. First, I reread Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler and enjoyed yet again the quirky characters Ira and Maggie. Next, I picked up Toni Morrison’s unsettling and rich novel Paradise that begins with the words, “They shoot the white girl first.  With the rest they can take their time . . .”

What I love about rereading books is when I get to parts that are familiar and remind me of why I decided I must keep hold of it.  Even better is rereading the story line and not quite remembering the details enough to know what is going to happen.  My experience with rereading books began when I was a child.  I loved the book Little Women so much that I simply read and reread it one time after another.  I did the same thing with certain books from the Little House series written by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Today, I can say with gratitude that these books and these readings have all contributed to my desire and passion to be a writer.  The magic of composing a work that someone else might cherish leaves me breathless with excitement and possibility. What a gift to be able to be a part of that magic!



RadioLab: Me, Myself, and Muse

muse paperbagI love this podcast about the muse!  After listening to the podcast, try the following for a writing prompt: Imagine having a conversation with your muse.  What would you say? What might he or she say in return? Would you have a gripe session? A moment of gratitude? Try writing everything in dialogue and set the scene.

Visit RadioLab’s website to listen to Me, Myself, and Muse

Description on the website: Imagine you’re a writer, but the words won’t come. Could you bargain with creativity to get past your writer’s block? Oliver Sacks found himself in that very situation back in 1968: he was struggling to finish his first book, and got stuck. He imposed a deadline on himself that, while it got him writing again, came with a terrible cost. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Gilbert (the author of Eat Pray Love…one of the most popular books ever), wanted to find a way to, as she puts it, “live a creative life without cutting your ear off.” She offers some advice for doing battle with your muse, and explains why she believes your muse wants you to fight back.


The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon.  You can always do it better, find the exact words, the apt phrase, the leaping simile.”  –  Robert Cormierbrain surgeon

I created a revision handout for one of my composition classes that comes from the book Deep Revision by Meredith Sue Willis.  Every time I use this with a class I’m reminded how useful the ideas are for my own work whether fiction or creative nonfiction.  Here are some of the ideas you can give a try:

  1. Enrich your draft.  Go back to what you have written and add details to the beginning, middle, and end.  Write in the margins, between lines, and add new passages.  The objective is to add material throughout the draft, material such as sense impressions. (What gesture did she use when she said that? Was it a hot day or cold? What sounds were in the background? What did his cologne smell like?)  Describe a setting, people, action, tones of vice, thoughts.  Include narration to give background.  This process is a means of both adding and expanding, and a means of going deeper – slowing down time, as it were – and re-seeing or re-imagining. (Writing with detail) 
  2. Try writing 3-5 different opening lines for your piece.  Show it to a friend and ask them to choose which of the beginnings would most entice them to continue reading your essay. (Hooking your reader)
  3. Try a Rapid Read.  Go through your piece as fast as you can, looking for anything that seems out of place or uninteresting.  Mark these passages for possible cutting.  Then, go back and reread your piece without those passages and decide if they need to be cut entirely, moved to another spot, or rewritten more interesting or clearly. (Unity and cohesion)
  4. Try revising your piece backwards to look closely at your word choice.  Start at the end (read the last sentence first) and look for bland words that can be replaced, repetition, or awkwardness in your writing.  Mark these places for revisions. (Word choice)

Back-to-school change affects adults, too

My January 24, 2013 column in the Windsor Beacon.  Click on the link below:

Back-to-school change affects adults, too

“One of the best things about teaching part time at a college is the long winter and summer breaks. One of the hardest things? Going back to work after a month of staying home with the family. The first week back is as shocking as jumping into an ice bath.

I start preparing myself by preparing the kids. “Next week, I go back to work,” I warn. “We won’t have time for this in the mornings.” By “this,” I’m referring to the never-ending process of getting dressed and ready for school with packed lunches and book bags. You know, the typical two-hour process that begins with kids saying, “I don’t feeeeeeel good” right out of bed and “I’m tiiiiiiiiired,” as they drag their feet walking out the door . . .”