Where I Write

blog1.jpgWhen I was a teenager, I carried a spiral notebook or a set of ten loose ruled pages stapled together and folded in half on my person at all times. I could write anywhere – in the car, while waiting for my parents, while waiting for an appointment, during classes or other events, and everything in between. While I didn’t keep track of things like this back then, it’s likely that I wrote every day, even if only a few lines or paragraphs.

Now, I find that I need a little more time. I need to get my head in the game, and it takes a bit more effort. So I thought I’d make a list of places where I have found my writing endeavors successful.

  • Home office – one small bedroom in my house contains a few bookcases and two desks, one for me and one for my husband. We like the setup because it reminds us of the tables we used to work at in our college library, but we are hardly ever at our desks at the same time. I find that I am able to work well in this space, but that I don’t take advantage of it as much as I could. If there were space in one of our living areas, less separated from the rest of the house, I think I might use a desk there more often.
  • Work office – as a full-time instructor last year, I had the pleasure of a nice sized office with a view over the pond all to myself. I found that during class days it was difficult to switch from teacher/grader to creative writer, but I occasionally made special trips in on the weekends or off days, and they proved to be quite productive. I found this space especially useful for full manuscript revisions, because I had plenty of space to lay out pages and pages of manuscript.
  • Yard – at home, when the weather is nice I like to write outside. Whether in a shaded rocker, around the fire pit, or just outside on the deck, nature and fresh air are inspiring to me. I try to take advantage of this as much as possible.
  • Coffee shops – of course, coffee shops. I live dangerously close to a Panera Bread, but if I drive a bit farther there are several local options. It’s true that the sense of business, coming and going, and other people with laptops set up to work on their own projects definitely put me in the right head space to work.

I thought I’d also mention some places that seem as if they should be good places to write, but where I have found that for one reason or another I just couldn’t get into my manuscript.

  • Public libraries – I’m not sure what’s different about the comings and goings at a library compared to a coffee shop. Perhaps it’s the expectation of silence, or the separateness of the little homework rooms (usually the best bet for an outlet). I’ve given this a try on many occasions, and it never proves as productive as I’d expect.
  • The beach – okay, maybe this isn’t an obvious writing spot! But since I can be so productive in my yard, I’ve tried the beach. Didn’t quite work… I wonder why?
  • With a friend I haven’t seen for a while – even two writers (or even two people who just have things to do) can be caught spending more time catching up and sharing about what they are working on then doing any actual writing. I still think this is a worthwhile thing to do, I just have different expectations about getting things done when doing it.

Where do you like to write? Anywhere I didn’t mention? Let me know!

 

Supporting Characters (and What is a Foil?)


Have you ever heard of a “foil” in literature before? Or wondered what all of those other characters do for a story while the protagonist and antagonist are locked in their epic struggle? Let’s look at some examples!

Joseph Cambell’s The Hero’s Journey and Character Archetypes:
http://www.movieoutline.com/articles/the-hero-journey-mythic-structure-of-joseph-campbell-monomyth.html
https://narrativefirst.com/vault/archetypes-and-the-heros-journey

Thanks for watching ibelonginabook! I’m Emily, and I am a writer with a masters degree in writing and experience teaching writing and English at the college level. Writing, reading, and talking about books and literature are my favorite things to do. If we have this in common, leave me a comment suggesting topics you’d like me to discuss in future videos, and subscribe to my channel for more videos like the one you just watched. Happy writing!

Writing Picture Books: General Guidelines


Have you ever wondered how the picture books you read to your kids are written, or thought about writing one yourself? Here are some general rules you need to know to set yourself up for success! Side note: if you think it’s easy, it’s not.

Thanks for watching ibelonginabook! I’m Emily, and I am a writer with a masters degree in writing and experience teaching writing and English at the college level. Writing, reading, and talking about books and literature are my favorite things to do. If we have this in common, leave me a comment suggesting topics you’d like me to discuss in future videos, and subscribe to my channel for more videos like the one you just watched. Happy writing!

Summer Reading


Here are some recent reads I’ve really enjoyed, and I think you will too!

My Goodreads page

Cinder and Scarlet (The Lunar Chronicles) by Marissa Meyer

Winterhouse by Ben Guterson

Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

The Wish Tree by Kyo Maclear

The Digger and the Flower by Joseph Kuefler

Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor by Patricia Valdez

Many: The Diversity of Life on Earth by Nicola Davies

Thanks for watching ibelonginabook! I’m Emily, and I am a writer with a masters degree in writing and experience teaching writing and English at the college level. Writing, reading, and talking about books and literature are my favorite things to do. If we have this in common, leave me a comment suggesting topics you’d like me to discuss in future videos, and subscribe to my channel for more videos like the one you just watched. Happy writing!

10 Commonly Confused Word Pairs

Have you ever wondered which words are the right ones to use in a sentence? Or maybe used a word that turned out to be incorrect, when you didn’t understand why? Let’s clear the air a bit by looking at these commonly misused words and what they really mean.

Thanks for watching ibelonginabook! I’m Emily, and I am a writer with a masters degree in writing and experience teaching writing and English at the college level. Writing, reading, and talking about books and literature are my favorite things to do. If we have this in common, leave me a comment suggesting topics you’d like me to discuss in future videos, and subscribe to my channel for more videos like the one you just watched. Happy writing!

Writing Tools

blog.jpgEvery writer has favorite tools that help them hone their craft. From fancy computer programs to simple notebooks, here’s a list of tools I use or have used in the past, and what I like about them.

The Basics:

  • Pen and Paper – the old standard is still necessary for writers today! Even though I do most of my drafting with a keyboard rather than a pen, a good notebook is essential for brainstorming, outlining, and questioning a story. Often when I find myself stuck on a given work in progress, it isn’t until I go back to a pen in my hand and work through a bit of a draft long form that I am able to pull out of the slump. I use rollerball pens, and my favorite notebooks are the softcover ones with the stitched spines, like these.
  • Caffeine – the writer’s vice. But hey, it’s better than alcohol, right? A good cup of coffee or tea is nectar from the writing muse.

The Noisy:

  • Headphones or earbuds – sometimes I will sit at a desk or table for a half hour or more and wonder why I’m not making any progress – just can’t get into the swing of the writing thing. Then I realize, wait, there’s no music! Plug these babies in and watch the word count rise.
  • Pandora – what to listen to? I usually don’t enjoy writing to music with lyrics, unless it is a specific genre to help me get into the right mood or headspace for a certain character or setting. My standby writing music comes from two Pandora stations. The first one is made of action movie soundtracks, and gets my blood going for those stories or scenes with a lot of action or tension involved. The second is comprised of piano-based music. I love this type of music because listening to the keys of a piano helps my fingers to keep typing away at the keys of a keyboard.
  • Rainy Mood – if, for whatever reason, I don’t want to listen to music but I want some background noise, I use the website RainyMood.com, which plays a variety of rainy day sounds, from a light drizzle to a downpour to a thunderstorm.

The Fancy:

  • Scrivener – if you haven’t heard of Scrivener before, it is a computer software especially for writers. You can split your manuscript into easily accessible chapters and scenes, tag sections by setting, character, or timeline, link character profiles, store research and notes, view a “pinboard” or longform outline… and so much more. Yes, that’s a lot! This program can be overwhelming for me, especially in the drafting phase. It is easy to be so distracted by all the different settings, color codes, cross-references, etc that hours can go by without any actual writing happening! I think it is a great program that is really useful for lengthy WIPs that include multiple points of view or timelines, and a lot of characters.
  • Microsoft Word – the basic word processor, MS Word is still my preferred place to type and format a manuscript. Since agents and publishers will expect Microsoft Word files if they request your work, it’s nice to know that my manuscripts are already in the correct format and meet publishing world standards.
  • Write or Die – this free tool is really useful if you are on a deadline or trying to meet a self-made goal. The online program is free, and it provides a text box where you type for a given amount of time and attempt to reach a certain goal. If you stop typing, the page gradually turns red, and eventually plays and obnoxious sound to get you typing away again. Just make sure you save your work at the end!

The Inspirational:

  • Pinterest – when I’m working on a manuscript, especially in the beginning stages, I like to create a Pinterest board to collect images that put me in the headspace of that story. Whether it’s photos of people who remind me of my characters, images of settings I plan to use, artwork that fits the mood of the story, or links to websites with useful information and research, it’s nice to have it all in one place. If I have to take some time away from a WIP, I like to go back and look at this board to get into the right frame of mind before starting up again.
  • Library Card – writers read, and boy am I glad we can do it for free.
  • Bookstore – as wonderful as libraries are, they can have a bit of a clinical feel. People have meetings, do homework, come in to use the computer, etc in a library, so there’s something nice about bookstores – where the focus is solely on books purely for the sake of books!

What tools do you find important to your writing process? Any that I didn’t mention? Let me know!

Character Types: Protagonist and Antagonist

Have you ever wondered what the terms “protagonist” and “antagonist” mean? What about the difference between the protagonist, the narrator, and the main character? This is the video for you! We’ll even look at examples like The Great Gatsby, Sherlock Holmes, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Thanks for watching ibelonginabook! I’m Emily, and I am a writer with a masters degree in writing and experience teaching writing and English at the college level. Writing, reading, and talking about books and literature are my favorite things to do. If we have this in common, leave me a comment suggesting topics you’d like me to discuss in future videos, and subscribe to my channel for more videos like the one you just watched. Happy writing!

Short Story VS Novel


What is the difference between a short story and a novel? How does a writer approach each type of story? What are some examples of good short stories? Find the answers to all this and more in today’s video.

“Kleptomania” by Emily Vander Ark

“The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe

“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving

“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson

“What You Pawn I Will Redeem” by Sherman Alexie

Thanks for watching ibelonginabook! I’m Emily, and I am a writer with a masters degree in writing and experience teaching writing and English at the college level. Writing, reading, and talking about books and literature are my favorite things to do. If we have this in common, leave me a comment suggesting topics you’d like me to discuss in future videos, and subscribe to my channel for more videos like the one you just watched. Happy writing!

5 Craft Books I Recommend

There are so many craft books out there, all claiming to show you how to defeat writer’s block once and for all, or how to make time to write every day, or how to turn your first draft prose into Newberry-worthy sentences. No one wants to waste time reading a book that doesn’t have much new to say when you could be writing, and it can be difficult to know which books are actually helpful and worth your time. I’ve read my fair share of craft books that left me unimpressed, but I’ve made a list below of the books I find I’ve gone back to again and again. I hope you find them helpful, too!

114817.jpg

No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty – This book by National Novel Writing Month founder Chris Baty is perfect for beginning writers. Whether or not you are seeking to draft a novel in 30 days, the tips and advice on character creation, plot, structure, and theme can be helpful to any writer.

21873177.jpg

 

Writer to Writer: From Think to Ink by Gail Carson Levine – Gail Carson Levine is best known as the author of Ella Enchanted and many other fairytale retellings, but among writers, she is also known for her wonderful blog on the art of writing. Her thoughtful posts and writing prompts are enriched by true discussion in the comments are writers discuss the challenges they face. Writer to Writer draws from these blog posts to answer reader questions and give writerly advice, as well as excellent writing prompts at the end of each chapter to get your creative juices flowing.

12543.jpg

 

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott – Writers everywhere are grateful to Ann Lamott for giving them permission, through the pages of this book, to write “***** first drafts.” Lamott’s best-known piece of advice from this book is that all first drafts are crap, and if you recognize that in the beginning of the process, you’ll be able to allow yourself to just get the words down. Once you have the first draft, you can turn it into something pretty.

 

7694868.jpg

Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway – I can’t count how many times I have returned to this book since taking an undergraduate fiction writing class. While it is technically a textbook, it is an invaluable resource for those who are serious about learning the craft of writing. I remember being overwhelmed in a class where we were asked to write short stories. There were so many elements of fiction covered in this book – how could I possibly bring them all together in less than ten pages? Now that I have more experience and education as a writer, I find this book an excellent tool to come back to during the revision process as each nuance of a manuscript is carefully edited.

20181Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot that Grips Readers from Start to Finish by James Scott Bell – Another textbook, this one focuses closely on the plot of a story, from beginning to end. I find it useful at both the beginning and the revision stages of a manuscript to work through the exercises in this book. Rather than providing exercises based on developing a variety of skills as Burroway’s book does, this one asks you to bring a work in progress to the table, and apply each of the plot exercises given to that story. As a writer who struggles in this area, I love the guidance in this book!

 

Did I leave your favorite craft book off the list? Tell me about it!