Review: Time To Write by Kelly L. Stone

Cover of Kelly Stone's book Time to WriteKelly L. Stone. Time to Write. Adams Media, 2008

Review by Betty Winslow

Having a hard time carving out time to write? Yeah, me too. Life is often so full of responsibilities, distractions, crises, and interruptions that getting anything extra done seems impossible. Novelist and freelance writer Kelly L. Stone completely understands; she established her own freelance writing career while holding down a full-timejob and raising a family.

Do I hear you asking, in a wistful voice, “But how?” Have hope, fellow writers! Reading Stone’s Time to Write (with its bold cover promise of “No excuses, no distractions, [and] no more blank pages”) will answer that question a dozen times over. No matter where you are in your writing career or what sort of writing you do, you should be able to find something helpful in Stone’s bag of tips, tricks, advice, and encouragement from more than 100 professional writers. (And if you don’t, read it again. You probably missed something the first time through!)

Trying to figure out how to balance writing and family life? Wondering if a schedule might help your production level? Dealing with distraction, rejection, or your inner critic? Looking for some useful tools to make your writing life smoother? All that and more is covered, in the voices of writers like Jodi Picoult, Debbie Macomber, Sandra Brown, Cecil Murphey, Steve Berry, and Rick Mofina.

However, if you’re curious about how exactly Stone herself does it, you’ll probably be a bit disappointed. Aside from a few (very) brief personal comments and anecdotes sprinkled here and there, she keeps her own writing life pretty much in the dark, which means you may end up (as I did a few times) wondering out loud, “So, how did you do this, Kelly?”

Still, this is a minor quibble. It in no way detracts from Time to Write’’s value to anyone who’s ever wondered how on earth to cram writing into an already jammed life. Are you already shaking your head and muttering, “There’s no way!” There is. Truly. Reading Time to Write can help you figure out ways to fit writing into your own busy life. No more excuses!

Postscript: Time to Write also introduced me to a number of writers I was not be familiar with, and some intriguing titles. Looks like I’ll be using Stone’s tips to make time to read, too!

AW’er Betty Winslow has been freelancing for almost 30 years and her writing has appeared in many magazines and eight books (and on several other websites). 

Ursula K. Le Guin, Finding My Elegy

Cover of Ursula Le Guin's Finding My Elegy, showing landscape and sunsetI have to confess, I’ve stalled writing this review because I don’t want to think about reading any elegies for Ursula Le Guin. Ive been reading and treasuring her books and essays and poems since I was child growing up in the 70s in a single-wide trailer on the wind-scoured American Great Plains. Le Guin wrote doors for me to other places, fascinating places, places to dream of visiting and aspire to reach. An elegy traditionally laments someone’s death. In a more contemporary sense, an elegy may be an expression of existential or metaphysical loss, sadness, or yearning. To consider an elegy for Le Guin means having to admit she’s old and cannot live and write forever. I hate that. Not only because it requires facing the realization that I’ve gotten a great deal older as well, but because the notion itself makes me sad, anticipating the inevitable loss of a treasured friend and ally regardless of the fact that she’s not someone I know personally.

There’s no introduction, no forward, no dedication; Finding My Elegy: New and Selected Poems, byUrsula K. Le Guin opens quite simply and immediately after the colophon and table of contents with a short, early poem. Offering serves as both preface and invocation, entreating the reader and invisible gods to judge a poem made of the verge of sleep but then forgotten upon waking, and if finding it good, to accept it as an offering. Taken with the resonance of elegy in the collection’s title, and the clear symbolism of sleep as a metaphor for death, the initial poem is a clear invitation to the reader to explore these inner lands with the writer, then make up our own minds regarding the worth and weight of the journey.

Inner lands are familiar territory for Le Guin. Her essay collection, The Language of the Night, begins with a 1973 essay called “A Citizen of Mondath” in which she opens with a quotation from A Dreamer’s Tales, by Lord Dunsany:

Toldees, Mondath, Arizim, these are the Inner Lands, the lands whose sentinels upon their borders do not behold the sea. Beyond them to the east there lies a desert, for ever untroubled by man: all yellow it is, and spotted with shadows of stones, and Death is in it, like a leopard lying in the sun.

Le Guin concludes her essay with the observation that, “Outer Space, and the Inner Lands, are still, and always will be, my country.” It’s fitting, then, that nearly forty years later, Le Guin is still exploring those Inner Lands with additional maturity, insight, and gravitas.

It’s sometimes difficult to explore big and abstract ideas in prose without sounding pompous and impenetrable, and likewise its hard to express simple daily observations without sounding trite and a little dull and droning on with too many words to convey what was an instant of experience. These are the sorts of insights sometimes better reserved for poetry.

Finding My Elegy offers poems written between 1960 and 2010, so some of them will likely be familiar to the longtime Le Guin reader. Seventy of the poems were selected from earlier volumes, and seventy-seven are presented for the first time. The poems range in length and form, romp with expression and wordplay, and wind about exploring the impossible and inexpressible, the sacred contrasted with the profane.

There are quiet poems about life and work and sleeping cats, here, reminiscent of Emily Dickinson’s gift for juxtaposing the mundane with the profound. There are longer, more structured, careful poems, exploring the faces of god and motherhood and love and sex and despair and sleep.

The poems span the entirety of Le Guin’s career so far, from 1960 to present; collected and presented together, they distill much of Le Guin’s writing life. Finding My Elegy is not so much lament as examination, a recollection of a literary body of work that is rich, evocative, and sometimes whimsical much like any life.

An elegy for such a remarkable body of work and thought must be sought, because theres so very much to recall, sort, and consider, that there are no simple summations. The entire retrospective taken as a whole reads like a single long poem made of many smaller parts.

Nothing about Le Guin’s selection and presentation of these poems is accidental or random, and as a reader its only fitting that we approach this collection with the same attention to detail and mindfulness, both of the parts and of the whole of the book. As Le Guins reader, we seek so that we, too, may find her elegy.

If you haven’t read much poetry,don’t worry: Finding My Elegy is an excellent door into the inner lands for any reader. If you’re a long time poetry lover,you’ll find the journey extraordinarily rewarding and well worth your consideration. Ultimately, the collection, itself, is a long and lovely elegy to be remembered, reconsidered, and revisited again and again.

Previously published on Floccinaucical.

Review: The Writer’s Idea Book by Jack Heffron

Jack Heffron. The Writer’s Idea Book. Writer’s Digest Books

Review by Mridu Khullar

Jack Heffron’s The Writer’s Idea Book is a unique experience. He’ll have you sitting on your desk with a paper and pen in your hand like your high school English teacher did. But unlike Mrs. Matthews, who had huge glasses and a mole on her chin, Jack doesn’t force you to write. His words inspire you, guide you and most of all make you want to write.

You’ll find more than 400 prompts, and absolutely no nonsense. Heffron doesn’t waste time — not yours, not his. And his unmatched advice will prove to be of help to not only beginning writers who can’t find any ideas, but also to established pros.

Although The Writer’s Idea Book is aimed at writers of novels, stories, screenplays, poetry and nonfiction, it is mostly of use to writers of fiction. The author guides the reader through the various twists and turns required in plot construction, coming up with believable yet interesting characters, and basing stories on places you’ve visited or known.

If you’re stuck on the opening, chapter ending, character creation or even plot technicalities, this book will give you the push in the right direction towards taking your work from blocked to finished.

For nonfiction writers too, there are a variety of ideas. Write about your family, your interests, your desires, the things you never thought you knew and so much more. The prompts in each chapter will guide you towards better understanding of the events around you, and you’ll be able to include all that and more in your writing.

The value of The Writer’s Idea Book is not in the prompts or the guidance, but in the way it prepares you to find your own ideas. Even when you’re finished with the book, you’ll be able to generate more ideas, better characters, vivid scenarios and much better writing. The lessons will be imbibed long after the book is dusty and forgotten.

Prompts are scattered throughout the book like candy on your bed. Just as you put your head to the pillow, you find the little treat waiting to be discovered.

The Writer’s Idea Book is an all-in-one idea generator, guidebook, reference and workbook. Heffron neatly puts together everything you need in one package. The prompts make sure that you’ll do more writing than reading and without knowing it, you’ll have done a lot of work, most of which you’ll be able to get published. The author makes you think you’re practicing, but in effect, you’re actually writing. And published or not, you’ll certainly learn a lot and emerge a much better writer.

Mridu Khullar is a freelance journalist, author, and entrepreneur. I’ve lived and worked from four different continents and several different countries. She currently divides her time between London and New Delhi. Mridu Khullar has a Website, and can be found on Twitter as @mridukhullar.

The Writer’s Block: 786 Ideas To Jump-Start Your Imagination, Jason Rekulak

Review by J. Kristin Dreyer

The Writer’s Block: 786 Ideas To Jump-Start Your Imagination
by Jason Rekulak
Running Press
March, 2001
672 pages

8 AM — You sit down in front of your computer, eager to get to work on The Great American Novel (or even The Decent American Novel, for that matter). You open up a new document on your computer.

11 AM — Two loads of laundry, one talk show, and one phone conversation with your best friend later, your document is still blank. You know the ideas are up there somewhere, but you’re not quite sure how to pull them out through your fingers and onto the screen.

Cover of Jason Rekulak's The Writers_block

Sometimes, we all need a little push in the right direction. That’s what The Writer’s Block is for — this amusingly-cube-shaped book is full of creative nudges. Just open it up to a random page, and you’ll find the inspiration you need. Whether you open to a Spark Word (like “marathon” or “vanity”), a motivational thought about writing, or a writing prompt, your keyboard will be back in business in a matter of minutes.

The Writer’s Block is a necessity for any writer’s bookshelf. Or — better yet — keep it on your desk in case of emergencies. It’s like the bag of candy you keep hidden in your desk drawer — just what you need to keep yourself going.

Kristin Dreyer Kramer is a refugee from the Real World (no, not the TV show). he escaped (barely!) from advertising agency life and is now a freelance writer (starving artist). You can find her at KristinDreyerKramer.com.

Review: The Art of Assessment: How to Review Anything by Magdalena Ball

Review by Betty Winslow
Let me say right off the bat that I prefer my writing books in hardcopy, so that I can red them in bed, in the car, or in the bathtub (not a good place for an e-reader). However, Magdalena Ball’s e-book, The Art of Assessment: How to Review Anything, made sitting in front of my computer worth the crick in my neck I ended up with.

I’ve been doing book reviews for about five years now, and I more or less fell into it one day, when (at my second job as school librarian) I read a professional librarian review magazine, thought to myself, “Hey, maybe I can do this, too!” and sent in my first review. A bit to my surprise, the editor liked my work, and I’ve been doing reviews for her ever since.

Cover of Magdalena Ball’s The Art Of AssessmentMore recently, I’ve sent a few clips from that magazine to other publications and have made a place for my work at several other magazines (some of which even pay!). Along the way, I’ve learned a lot about doing reviews, but I had to do it pretty much on my own, since no matter where I looked, I couldn’t seem to find a book about this field. When someone in one of the on-line writer’s groups I belong to mentioned Maggie’s book, I sent off for it right away. Now, after reading it, I only have one thing to say– Maggie, where were you five years ago?

If reviewing interests you, don’t mess around like I did; buy this book and read it cover to cover (uh . . . screen to screen? Whatever. . .). Maggie not only tells it like it is, in chapters like “How to Write Reviews” and “How To Review Anything” (in which she discusses books, concerts, CDs, and other products you might not have thought about reviewing), she includes plenty of useful resources, too. Some of them may not be useful to you unless you’re also Australian, as she is, but all in all this is one of most valuable niche marketing books I’ve read in a long time.

[Editors’ note: Since Betty published this article, Magdalena Ball has republished The Art of Assessment; it is now available as both a printed book and an ebook.]

Review: You Can Market Your Book: All the Tools You Need to Sell Your Published Book

Review by Betty Winslow

You Can Market Your Book: All the Tools You Need to Sell Your Published Book
By Carmen Leal
ACW Press
2003
250 pages
Amazon.com price: $10.50

If there were an election for the position of Queen of Book Promotion, Carmen Leal would win it, hands down. Her latest book, You Can Market Your Book: All the Tools You Need to Sell Your Published Book, is chock full of ideas she and others have used to generate a buzz about their books, self-published or published through a royalty publisher. “Through a royalty publisher?” you ask? Yep. Even going that route doesn’t mean you can sit back on your laurels and let the publishing house do all the work—unless you don’t care if your book sells or not. You do, don’t you? Ms. Leal says, “Make sure that you understand the 80/20 rule: Writing takes only 20 percent of your effort, marketing and promotion takes up the other 80 percent.”

You Can Market Your Book will show you many ways to make good use of the 80 percent. With it in hand, you can pull off all kinds of marketing: press kits, book signings, on-camera interviews, giveaways, public speaking, and more. The book is divided into four sections, Project and Site Preparation, Choosing the Right Tools and Materials, Finding the Right Subcontractors, and Executing Your Plan, and it has a detailed table of contents, making it easy to find the section you want to concentrate on next.

She doesn’t use only her own ideas, either. She also presents ideas that have been used by other successful authors, as well as articles on various promotion topics by over a dozen other professionals. No matter how much you know about promoting a book, I’d be surprised if you weren’t able to learn at least a few new angles by the end of the book. One interesting side note: Be sure to notice how she uses quotations (a particular passion of hers) and dialogue from the movie Lilies of the Field to illustrate various points.

To add to the book’s value, Ms. Leal has included at the end of each chapter a list of authors and resources featured in that particular section, to make finding them again easier. She also offers the URL to a companion web site that features every link in the book and a tip archive as well as several worksheets and forms that can be printed out for use by her readers. In the very back of the book is a list of recommended books that Leal considers to be valuable. (I already own or have read several of them and I’ll be investigating the rest.)

If you plan on writing a book and you want it to sell, You Can Market Your Book should be #1 on your shopping list.

Betty Winslow is the author of The Lady and the Lawman.

Book Review: 52 Projects: Random Acts of Everyday Creativity

52 Projects: Random Acts of Everyday Creativity.
By Jeffrey Yamaguchi
Perigee
2005
192 pp.
Nonfiction

Review by Amy Brozio-Andrews

There’s something about the thrill of creativity—seeing something through from idea to execution. The feeling of purpose that comes from having a project to work on, that you’ve got something worthwhile to spend your time and energy on, beyond the normal nine-to-five and day to day routine. In that vein, Jeffrey Yamaguchi’s 52 Projects is packed with enough ideas and inspiration to last a long long time.

The genesis of the book began with Yamaguchi’s own quest to compile 52 projects that he either completed or intended to complete on his website, 52projects.com, natch. The intense personal nature of his readers’ feedback inspired whatsyourproject.com, and later this book, 52 Projects: Random Acts of Everyday Creativity.

Opening with the author’s thoughts and commentary on the importance and purpose of projects in his life, and by extension, what benefits working on a project can bring to your life, the majority of the book is taken up by his suggested projects. These aren’t highly technical plans, with lists of necessary tools and materials— they’re surprisingly low-tech; the most you’ll probably need is to dust off the camera, tape recorder, or video camera. Many of these projects are appropriate for groups, families, or gift-giving ideas. With a warm and easy-going tone, it’s clear that Yamaguchi has fun with his projects, and he wants you to have fun, too.

A couple of my favorites include making a key lime pie, inviting friends over, and photographing everyone enjoying it. Then take the photos, a few limes, and your pie recipe, box it all up and mail it to a friend. If your friends aren’t into pie, try the “Shotgun a Beer” one— buy a 12-pack of the stuff you used to drink in college and mail a can to all your old college friends, with instructions to drink it on the same day at the same time. (Unfortunately—or fortunately?—I think most of my friends probably fall into the pie-eating category more than the beer-drinking category.)

Oftentimes, Yamaguchi’s projects are annotated with a brief recollection of his own experience with this project. There are also ample suggestions for variations on many projects, plus more ideas scattered throughout the margins of the book. With additional advice on projects as gifts, and the importance of writing things down, plus how to make time for doing projects, and a list of 52 resources for inspiration, Yamaguchi’s book is a well-rounded and useful tool for people who are creative types, or who want to be. What’s especially nice is that with far-flung family and friends so common, many of these projects that involve mailing packages, photos, or letters to others are a fun and memorable way to bridge that gap.

There’s a lot of inspiration here—for creative people in general, and writers in particular. One of Yamaguchi’s suggestions, to write a letter, leave it unsigned and place it in the leaves of a library book stirred my imagination and spawned a short story. Many of the projects make excellent writing prompts: Write a one-minute autobiography; List the years you’ve been alive and write down a memory from each year.

The easy-to-browse organization of the book makes every project accessible, and wide margins leave lots of room for scribbling your own notes and ideas. The slim, pocket-sized paperback has certainly earned a place on my desk, whether for rainy day activities for the kids or a solution to writer’s block.

Amy Brozio-Andrews is a freelance writer and book reviewer. She brings more than five years’ experience as a readers’ advisory librarian to her work, which is regularly published by Library Journal, The Imperfect Parent, and Absolute Write. Her reviews have also been published by The Absinthe Literary Review, ForeWord Magazine, January Magazine, and Melt Magazine. You can find her at www.amyba.com.

Book Review: An Agent’s Point of View By Sheri Williams

Reviewed by Amy Brozio-Andrews

In her new book An Agent’s Point of View, Sheri Williams shares her insight and advice with writers who are either looking for an agent, or seeking a positive working relationship with their agent. In a short 73 pages, Williams gives tips and examples on writing queries and book proposals. She gives us a peek at real emails and letters she’s received at an agent at Williams Agency, and points out what each of these writers did right and wrong.

An Agent’s Point of View also includes a chapter on etiquette (otherwise known as how to prevent your letter or proposal from immediately being sent to the circular file) as well a comprehensive look at what editors expect of writers, and what writers can expect from their editors, addressing common concerns and problems on both sides of the editor/writer relationship. Williams’ book also offers a glossary of terms that will help new writers find their footing before sending their work to editors, as well as a list of helpful online resources including writing websites, grammar help and market information for poets, novelists, screenwriters and more.

Williams writing style is straightforward yet friendly. Readers will feel like they’re really getting an behind-the-scenes look at the world of editors — what they like to see in queries and proposals, how they like editors to approach them, and what happens after the editor agrees to represent the writer. She pulls no punches, and makes it clear exactly what works for editors, and what could cause them to pass over a query or proposal without a second glance.

The book is especially helpful to aspiring writers because she includes a complete query and book proposal for readers to use as examples in developing their own. Williams lays out all the parts of each piece, and explains all the components of a successful writer’s pitch. With a copy of An Agent’s Point of View, it’s like having your own personal agent looking over your shoulder, pointing out all the things you’re doing right (and wrong).

Amy Brozio-Andrews is a freelance writer and book reviewer. She brings more than five years’ experience as a readers’ advisory librarian to her work, which is regularly published by Library Journal and The Imperfect Parent. Her reviews have also been published by The Absinthe Literary Review, ForeWord Magazine, January Magazine, and Melt Magazine.

Writing Mysteries, 2nd Ed. A Handbook by the Mystery Writers of America

Cover of Writing Mysteries

Review by Ellen Zuckerman

Writing Mysteries 2nd Ed.
Sue Grafton, Ed. with Jan Burke and Barry Zeman
Writer’s Digest Books
April, 2002

“Writing a novel is a long distance run of the imagination…Writers need all the help they can get, wherever they can get it . . . ” (George C. Chesbro, p. 91)

So you want to write a mystery? There are a few things you’ll need for your journey; among them a healthy dose of curiosity and imagination, but nothing so important and helpful as a well-worn copy of Writing Mysteries (2nd Ed.), written by members of the Mystery Writers of America. Everything you’ll need is here, organized into just under 300 pages of collective wisdom, from well-known and not-so-well-known mystery authors.

The handbook is divided into three parts: Preparation, The Process, and Specialties. Part I includes chapters on “The Rules and How to Bend Them,” how and where writers get their ideas, the pros and cons of writing with a partner, and several chapters on research and background, all exploring different facets of these subjects.

Part II, The Process, dives right in to beginnings, middles, and endings, with specific sections focusing in-depth on characterization, creating a series character, using point of view, and developing one’s personal writing style. Discussions on dialogue, pacing, and “clues, red herrings, and other plot devices” lead into the beginning of the end — thoughts and recommendations on plot, revision, agents, and markets.

Part III, Specialties, contains separate and thorough chapters each detailing a particular type of mystery writing — writing short stories, for younger audiences, true crime, e-book mysteries, and even a list of additional recommended reading and references.

So there you have it — everything you’ll need to know to write a mystery — from the inkling of your first clue to the portrayal of the hero/sleuth your audiences will clamor to read about again and again. The best of the best are here — Jonathan and Faye Kellerman, Tony Hillerman, Michael Connelly, Stuart Kaminsky, Sara Paretsky, Joan Lowery Nixon, Lawrence Block, and a host of other unique voices to guide the beginning mystery writer on the journey from idea to publication. With humor and honesty, a varied assortment of very different writers share their thoughts and even some of their “trade secrets” in this excellent writer’s resource. Every aspiring mystery writer should have a copy of Writing Mysteries within arm’s reach.

Ellen Zuckerman is a writer and former special education teacher. Her recent writing credits include book reviews for FictionAddiction.NET and AbsoluteWrite.com. She enjoys writing about literature, education, disability advocacy and health issues and is available for various writing projects. You can find her on Twitter as @Runnergrrlie

Review: The Well-Fed Writer: Back for Seconds by Peter Bowerman

Peter Bowerman. The Well-Fed Writer: Back for Seconds.

Fanove Publishing, 2004.

For any writer interested in tailoring her freelance work to business clients, Peter Bowerman’s The Well-Fed Writer: Back for Seconds deserves prime shelf space on her desk. Packed with how-to information and tips from his personal experiences and those of other freelance professionals, Back for Seconds gives writers the blueprint they need to make a successful career of freelance business writing.

Back for Seconds has broad appeal for writers with a variety of backgrounds and circumstances—stay-at-home parents, career changers, part-timers, full-timers’—all are welcomed by Bowerman. Whether you live in the Big Apple or the Little Apple, there’s plenty of commercial writing to go around, from copywriting to annual reports, sales letters to brochures—Back for Seconds will guide writers building their businesses in large markets and small. Profiles of successful freelance corporate writers fill the book (complete with writers’ URLs so you don’t have to just take Bowerman’s word for it) representing a variety of backgrounds and experiences. In Bowerman’s experience, there’s room for everyone at the table; marketing your skills and finding your niche are key.

Cover of Peter Bowerman's Well-Fed Writer
In addition to pages and pages of strategies, examples, testimonials, and personal anecdotes, Back for Seconds includes several valuable appendices. The first is an abridgement of Bowerman’s first book, The Well-Fed Writer (which I found so informative and idea-generating, I went out and bought the first book). Others offer more in-depth interviews with working commercial writers, including how they started their businesses, their niches, and meeting challenges; a step-by-step case study on a business writing project; a quick overview of business structures, taxes, and insurance; writing resources, including books, Websites, newsletters, writers’ groups and organizations; and self-publishing.

Placing a heavy emphasis on sales and marketing of the business writer’s services, Bowerman does more than just tell writers how important it is; he shows readers how it’s done, shares others’ innovative ideas for reaching out to clients, and motivates writers every step of the way, even when it comes to tough tasks like cold-calling potential clients.

Bowerman’s conversational and encouraging writing style puts readers immediately at ease. He never loses sight of the reality of freelancing though, and doesn’t gloss over the hard work it takes to build a business. He’s honest—it may take more than 500 cold-calls before you start seeing a return on your time and effort, however if you keep doing it, it will get easier, and you will see results.

Bowerman’s real skill is motivation; after the cold-calling chapter, even I felt ready to tackle the Yellow Pages (and almost nothing scares me more than cold-calling—what if the person I’m calling thinks I don’t know what I’m talking about??). If you’re serious about being a commercial writer, Back for Seconds will motivate and inspire you to get started on making that dream a reality.

You can buy Peter Bowerman’s books here.

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