A Tuesday Xtra: Reading Like a Writer

A writer is a reader just like a musician listens to music. If you are like me, books on writing are included with the novels, short stories, memoirs and histories you read. My advise to read broadly. Everything is worth a read, even the ingredients on your cereal box. There are many great books on writing. After reading a slew of them, I’ve come to one conclusion. Keep my reading on writing to a short list. Then read them not just once but many times over. In addition to a dictionary and a thesaurus, here’s a list of nine books that you can’t go wrong with.

1.Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose. Before a writer becomes a writer, they read. Francine Prose teaches writer how to read in ways that benefit their writing. She offers some helpful suggestions on what to read as well.

2.Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White. This small, inexpensive guide lays down the style rules for the road.

3.Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing by Elmore Leonard. Elmore Leonard sold millions of books. If you’re thinking why should I pay attention to him, there’s no better reason than that. At least be aware of these rules before breaking them.

4.The Lonely Voice: A Study of the Short Story by Frank O’Connor. Frank O’Connor was an Irish master of the short story. In this guide, he calls attention to the short story writers who matter. Even if a writer is not thinking about writing short stories, this is relevant to any potential fiction writer.

5.On Writing by Stephen King. Both a memoir and a guide on writing, this book has become a classic. We all know Stephen King and how many books he has sold. Here’s his insights to the writer’s trade. I would suggest you read this one “zestfully”.

6.This Year You Write Your Novel by Walter Mosley. This is a short book but it is filled with much wisdom on how to carve a novel out of novel. Walter Mosley has done this with his mysteries again and again.

7.The Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray and Brett Norris. This handy dandy workbook is designed for the potential novelist who has a full-time job. Through a series of exercises, the writer will have a finished novel at the end of a year by working a few hours each week. Using the work of well-known writers, it shows the writer how to take an idea and run with it, how to structure plot, how to scene. Each exercise is designed to prompt the writer with their own work.

8.Anatomy of Story by John Truby. Once a writer has a first draft, what are the things that they have to look for when evaluating their text. John Truby lays down twenty-two elements that go into creating a great novel or screenplay.

9.What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund. How important is the appearance of words on a page to a reader? This book calls attention to an element many of us writers totally ignore.

 

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Root-a-toot Tavi, Ideas and All

Writers are asked, “Where do you get your ideas?””

The thing is every one of us get ideas all the time. The difference between the creative artists and the rest? We listen. When we have an idea we think is interesting, we don’t judge whether it is a good idea or a bad one. We take it out and play with it for a while.

And don’t forget it’s all about the play. We say musicians play, not musicians work. Actors role play, not role work. When we writers forget we are playing, not working, that is when we have a case of the writer’s block.

Once we are finished playing, we are not the best judge of whether the results are good or bad. Whether it worked or not.

I once heard the screenwriter William Goldman assert the same thing. He said that making movies was always risky. No one knew whether a movie would be well-received or not. Then he told the story about a movie he wrote the screenplay for: “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”. After the movie was released, he and the director were walking down the street in New York City one evening. They saw this line around the block. When they found out that the line was to “Butch Cassidy”, they were surprised. Pleasantly so. But still surprised.

And when you play, accidents happen. During a session in a recording studio, Bob Dylan was working on “Like a Rolling Stone”. The musicians took a break. Al Kooper was just hanging out. During the break, he sat down at the organ and started playing around. Dylan walked back into the room and said, “That’s it.” That organ music Kooper played became the beginning of the song.

All creativity is risky. So take a chance and be brave. Nothing is more fun, and rewarding, than playing with an idea. If you don’t believe me, look at how many creatives have long lives. That kind of playing keeps us young.

And the more you listen the more the ideas come. It’s a big sandbox out here. So do yourself a favor. The next idea you have, try playing with it. Who knows? You might be just as surprised as I was when I got “Root-a-toot tavi, I’m so savvy,” I just had to play with it. Here are the results:

Root-a-toot Tavi

Root-a-toot tavi
I’m so savvy
So savvy as all

Swinging on a star
Being who I are
Having me a ball

Root-a-toot chili
Burgers on the grilly
Cook’s standing tall

Running up the hilly
Jack and Jilly
Going to the mall

Root-a-toot billy
I’m so silly
Dancing down the hall

So just look up
Drink from the cup
Spring, summer and fall

Root-a-toot wavy
Stir up the gravy
Step out for the call

Lighter feet, baby
Don’t step heavy
Do give it your all

Root-a-toot tootsy
Don’t give a hoot-sy
Go break down that wall

Kick up your boot-sy
And doodley scoot-sy
Never ever stall

Root-a-toot dabby
Be kind of fabby
John, George, Ringo, Paul

Go catch a cabby
Take a trip happy
Have yourself a ball.

How about you? Any ideas lately?

A Brand New Year

Hip hip hooray! We made it through 2016. Now there’s a whole new year on the horizon. I am not saying it will be better or it will be worse. All I am saying is there’s 365 days ahead of us and we get a new start. It’s my hope that one of your New Year’s Goals is to continue to check out Uncle Bardie’s Stories & Such.

Before I go into my hashing and rehashing, I just want all of you, my friends, to know how much I appreciate all that you do. Blogging for me is like being a member of a large circle of a community.

I try to keep up with the posts in my Reader. In addition, late at night when moi has a case of the insomnias, I go roving through the posts of people who have given me a like or a comment. That’s a great way to find new blogs. I may not follow you or make comments on your latest blog posts but I am grateful for the posts. And for your generosity.

Only another blogger would understand how much work and thought goes into each post. We send them out into the world with hope that they will find a friend or two and touch someone with a blessing. Your generosity and your hard work is much appreciated from this end of the galaxy.

Now for some hashing and rehashing. Over the past two and a half years, I have had the great pleasure of giving you Stories & Such. I hope you have enjoyed them as much as I have making them.

For the last year or so, Uncle Bardie posted five posts a week. Sundays have been a free-for-all anything-goes kind of post. Mondays a weekly movie. Wednesdays an on-going novel called “Politics in America” and the Man from Weazel Sneeze. Thursdays a weekly music selection. And Fridays a Creative Artist.

Uncle Bardie’s been doing a heap of thinking lately. That means that he’s been ramming his head against the wall to shake his brain loose. Long time ago Uncle Bardie started with three posts a week. Beginning this week, he will return to three posts a week.

Why cut back? Doing five posts a week consumes a lot of seconds and minutes and hours. I have come to realize that it’s time to get on with some longer writing projects. I have several long stories and a novel that needs serious editing. Only by cutting back on the posting can I get to those projects.

So here’s the plan. Sundays will continue to be a free-for-all. Fridays will combine three weekly posts–Friday’s Creator Corner, the Weekly Music Pick and the Movie of the Week–into one and retitle the new post “Uncle Bardie’s Spotlight”. Each week will feature one of the three on a rotating basis with an occasional re-ordering to honor someone or something specific or just because I want to be ornery that week.

Wednesdays are for an on-going project. In 2014, I spent a year of Wednesdays creating short stories in response to a series of short story prompts. Fifty-five to be exact. 2015’s Wednesdays were a humorous look at “Hamlet”. 2016 brought y’all “Politics in America”, a satirical response to the presidential campaign. Come February 1 of the new year that will sink over the horizon Titanic-style.

But Wednesday’s comedy will not be over. On top of that, it will not end. There will be more comedy. As Zero Mostel sang in “A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum”, there will continue to be comedy.

That comedy will come in the form of a very loosely based historical humorous novel called “The Absolutely Unbelievable Extraordinary of Lady Wimpleseed Prissypotte”.

The Adventures take place at the end of the nineteenth century. The daughter of a rich American is pressured into marrying a British Lord. Momsie wants a title in the fam. The Lord the daughter marries has one foot in the cemetery and one in the grave. In chapter three, her new hubby croaks in a bowl of soup. Suddenly the heroine doesn’t know what to do with herself, so she goes in pursuit of True Love. Or at least a good orgasm.

The novel has bandits, Mata Hari, Tarzan, big game hunters, Queen Victoria and three of the nicest ghosts ever to haunt a British manor house. If that wasn’t enough, it has mud pies, steamboats, and Istanbul. Loosely based on the old serial, “The Perils of Pauline”, it was a lot of fun to write. I hope it’s as much fun to read.

I want to close out this post by wishing you a Happy New Year for 2017. And leave you with the wonderful Renee Fleming singing Cesar Franck’s “Panis Angelicus”.

 

Mount Nanowrimo

nanowrimo_2016_webbadge_winnerI am standing here, looking down from the summit of Mount Nanowrimo. Of course, Nanowrimo is known to one and all as an abbreviation for the National Novel Writing Month.

It has been a long hard slog but I have made it. 50,505 words of crap tilted “Don in November”. It was my fifth climb and I have to say that this one was not fun. I would like to say that I began this on a dark and stormy night. But that would be stealing from Snoopy. I can’t do that to the beagle who brought down the Red Baron.

I had the stupid idea for a joke that I would write a novel about Don writing a novel in November. Like I say, it was a real stupid idea. As I’ve guessed all along, my life isn’t all that interesting. Now I have the words to prove it. I should have stuck with my original idea of writing a spy novel. That definitely would have been a lot more fun.

At the end of the first week, I was really tired of my life. Since I was doing prompts every morning before I dug into the novel, I decided to see where one of these prompts led. By following this exercise, I ended up with two stories.

The first was a Hilly and Jess story. Hilly was a country singer who was a one hit wonder. After ten years of plugging along playing cheap dives and bad bars, she was getting extremely tired of the road life. Even waitressing would have been better than the road. Just about the time she’s ready to quit, she meets Jess.

Once upon a time, Jess had gone off to Nashville to try his hand at songwriting. ‘Bout the time he started to get the hang of things and had a copy of songs recorded, he had to go back home to help his mother take care of the farm.

These two met. There’s thunder and lightning and the stars were aligned big time. It’s love at first sight. And the rest of the story took off.

The second story was about Hissy Fitt. Hissy Fitt was the daughter of the Wicked Witch of the West in “The Wizard of Oz”. Hissy Fitt was the one who put the bad in bad witch. She took after her mother, only more so.

Down the road, I’m thinking about rewriting the Hissy Fitt story and posting it here. Maybe some time next year.

So what did I learn. Prompts help to get me through during the bad times. Have a story to work on before starting to climb Nanowrimo. And best of all, I can write 500 words a day in my sleep. The month was productive after all.

Will I do this next year? Am I a wild and crazy guy? We’ll see.

Nanowrimo time again

It’s November 1st. You know what that means. It’s time to write a novel or 50,000 words toward a novel for the National Novel Writing Month. That’s 1667 words a day. At five hundred words an hour, it’s a little over an hour and a half of writing per day. Some don’t write the complete 50,000 words. They do use it to start that novel they’ve been meaning to write. Or add words to that novel they are writing. If you are interested, just go to nanowrimo.org and sign up and join thousands of others.

I had been thinking of writing a spy novel for my fifth effort. It was to be the story of an ex-CIA agent who gets involved with an assassination of a Russian leader in the 1990s. Then last Thursday night, this wild crazy idea hit me. Since I am a wild and crazy guy, I go, “Why not?”

I muddled the idea over and by the end of the weekend I had decided I would do it. I would write my novel about me writing a novel in November. Call it “Don in November”. It would be autobiography or memoir but not autobiography or memoir. I will let my imagination run wild and see where it goes. Novelwise, that is. Perhaps Don will become a werewolf or a vampire or remain his old lonesome self. At this point, I am not sure whether it will be the entire month or just Don’s day on November 1.

I know, I know. You’re thinking just how boring that might be to read. The good news is that no one will ever read it. No matter what I write for the Nanowrimo it will be crap. It’s a first draft and most first drafts are garbage anyway. And no one ever reads them. If you are like me, no one would want to read it.

It will be a challenge. But it might just be fun. “Don in November” can be a great way to hone my descriptive skills and work on my weak areas. I plan on throwing everything, including the kitchen sink. And I will save the spy novel for another year.

So what does that mean for the blog here. No worries. I have taken care to schedule my November posts. And I will let you guys know how the experiment is going from time to time. Who knows. I may still do the Spy Novel.

If you do decide to sign up and join us, look me up on Nanowrimo.org. If you do join us, reach out to me, LBardie, and add me as a Buddy. Who knows? You might just write the rough draft of a few bestseller. A number of published writers have.