Saturday, February 14, 2009

From the Front Porch

Finishing a book is just like you took a child out in the back yard and shot it.
- Truman Capote

I, Karin Gillespie, blog proprietor, have decided to add a new feature to "A Good Blog Is Hard To Find," a kind of newsy, reflective, kick-back entry that will appear only on weekends. In it, I’ll talk about publishing news, releases from Southern authors, and anything that I think might appeal to readers.

To start off: I’m always reading some sort of writing book and this week it’s BECOMING A WRITER by Dorothea Brande, originally published in 1934. I first read it many years ago when I was taking the first baby-steps to learning to be a writer. Now with five novels published, I definitely consider myself a “real” writer, but back then I was still trying on the identity not entirely sure it was a good fit.

Years later another author, Julie Cameron, borrowed some of Brande’s ideas and wrote The Artists Way, a book that, along with Brande’s helped me become a writer.

Most writing books dive right into technique: characterization, POV, plotting etc. Those books are necessary later but many developing writers have to deal first with the psychological issues of a being a writer, i.e. the procrastination, the imposter syndrome, the blocks, the unforgiving critic.

I’ve been writing so long it’s hard to remember those dark days when I struggled with issues that kept me from writing. Now, it’s the exact opposite, I usually have to unpeel my fingers from the computer. (But that’s another story.)

Still I remember doing Brande’s and Cameron’s Morning Pages and how they truly did a voo-doo number on head, finally turning me into a writer, as surely as a fairy tales turn frogs into princes.

The Morning Pages were the most powerful exercise for me, but there were others in those books that helped me. Most writers have to almost be tricked into writing-the resistance can be so great. The exercises reminded me of the young student waxing cars in the Karate Kid. (“Wax on, wax off.”) They seem truly idiotic while you’re doing them, but, little by little, they are like little miners in your head, chipping away at all of your reasons not to write.

Here are a couple of other books that are life-changing for beginning writers (or old-timers who lose their way).

If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit by Brenda Ueland (Also published in the thirties.)

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg:

Feel free to suggest your own.


I’ve been hearing raves about The Help by Kathryn Stockett, a novel set in Jackson, Mississippi in the sixties and one that explores the relationships between black maids (the “help”) and the families they care for.


Have you ever bought a novel because the critics were crowing about it but it ended up being dull as dirt? You’re not alone. Welcome to group griping, otherwise known as Amazon reviews.

Everyone wants to write a high concept novel but what is it really? Here’s the skinny.
Where’s the glamour in publishing?


I have a copy of BECOMING A WRITER to give away. For a chance to win, comment on any blog entry this week. Let me know which blog, you commented on and email me at Winner will be picked by a drawing early morning Saturday and announced shortly afterwards. Watch this space for more contests.


John Jeter said...

I love this place. It's like a park, a lush, green park, where people meet and meander and drink in the gorgeous breezes - and everyone's well-nourished and really funny and smart. Loved the links in your meme, Karin. Read the one about high concept. My novel was turned down many times because its theme, "honor," was considered "high concept" that "would never sell." It's still being turned down, even though it's already been published. I'm going to try for Higher Concept. Haven't figured out how high yet. (You would LOVE "Indirections," by Sidney Cox.)

TheWritersPorch said...

Being a devout fan of Harper Lee and Margaret Mitchell any book that is reviewed as being in thier company has me sold! I just ordered a first edition hardcover of " Help" !
Carol Murdock

Charmi Schroeder said...

THE WAR OF ART by Steven Pressfield and WRITING PAST DARK by Bonnie Friedman are two excellent books that I keep on my writer's bookshelf.

Kimberly said...

Karin, I'm so glad you're going to do this each weekend. Now I have another reason to visit.

I love the writing books you mentioned. This year, I'd planned to reread the books that helped me early on. Today's post inspired me to do that.

The days I do my morning pages or journaling about the project I'm working on, my writings flows better. It makes me wonder why I don't do them every morning. Lots to ponder here. Thank you.

Karin Gillespie said...


It's a shame because so many great novels won't see the light of day because they're "too quiet" or aren't easily described. Especially in this publishing atmosphere. I've heard a lot of agents say they are only considering high concept novels.

Hi Kimberely,

I'm glad you like the new idea and that the post was inspiring.

Anonymous said...

It's positively exciting to read commentary from someone who might almost be my granddaughter that books that made me try (in my fifties) to become a writer can still have an effect. I say this because from my viewpoint, the worst negative I find myself facing seems to be the sense that I'm becoming abstracted, even alienated from what interests younger readers. Like most (if not all) serious aspirants, I continue to read almost everything I can afford about how to BE a writer as well as how do DO writing. I also, of course, read up on how to sell it. Much of the time, if I'm honest, I realize that isn't going to help me. Publishers simply won't even read what I can write, let alone make an effort to sell it. Apparently, the few who can make a buck from what is usually called "literary" fiction are all the market can bear--at least in the US. Anybody have any UK connections?

My last investment was another not-so-new book by Caroline See called Making a Literary Life. Perceptive pragmatism all the way, and funny besides. Other older favorites are Carol Bly's The Passionate, Accurate Story (1990) and Henriette Anne Lauser's Writing on Both Sides of the Brain. Some days, facing the computer screen can be an exercise in pure stubbornness--after yet two or three more rejections from agents and/or publishers. Without these and your already named written props on my bookshelf, I might quit. That's when I start rereading.

As a slightly published writer, I can't help feeling the need for some kind of legitimacy. We are struggling a bit financially like nearly everyone else, and the money that goes for our Internet service, paper, ink, electronics and supplies ought to be at least replaced, or so it seems. Yet how many books have we, as authors, read that repeat that we should not write for others or fame or fortune, but for ourselves. As an old woman, I only want to shout, "Poppycock!" (as a more polite locution than the one that comes to mind). If I've learned nothing else, I've found out that apart from therapy, the reason we write is to be read! If that didn't matter, there would be no impetus to aim for accuracy, rhythm, truth, beauty of language, inspiration, imagination...on and on. We put out the effort because we want to entice and satisfy those who will read it!

Joan L. Cannon

Shellie Tomlinson said...

Dear Sweet Karin, while I think this is a great idea,you should know that I see this for what it is. Yes, the others may be unaware, but I understand your devious little plot. It wasn't enough that I would come by this wonderful meeting of the minds place and find myself jumping from blog to blog like a frenzied fly at a Fourth of July picnic and lose total track of time -- you're now devising total new ways to get me here.

Oh well, let the devil have the deadlines. I'm blog hopping. Again. :)))

Karin Gillespie said...

Curses! You have foiled my evil plot, Shellie!

Keetha said...

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is one of my favorite writing books, as well as Carolyn See's Making a Literary Lifem which Joan mentioned.

Just two weeks ago, I picked up a copy of "If You Want To Write." I've been reading it slowly, savoring each line. It is fabulous.

Anonymous said...

I had to return after reading these comments--if only to add my admiration for Bird By Bird. Another word caught my attention. After having my third novel professionally critiqued and pronounced "literary" and "quiet," it feels as if I've come to a new blogging home.
Now, who has the secret of finding a place for books like these?

Mindy said...

How to Write a Novel by John Braine-- a British author. Written in the 70's.