Thursday, September 24, 2009

101 Best Websites For Writers

Writer's Digest has been the bible of freelance writing for a long time. I started reading it in college, and I devoured every article in every issue. I also sent away for some of the books put out by their publishing company, and I thought they were useful, to varying degrees.

Art Spikol, an ex-boss of mine, wrote a column for Writer's Digest for years. Art's column, like the magazine, was full of practical advice for freelance writers.

I don't subscribe to the Writer's Digest magazine anymore, but I do visit their Web site. And this particular page, The 101 Best Websites For Writers, is one I have bookmarked. It's got some very useful resources in categories like Agents, Jobs & Markets, Writing Communities, and Fun for Writers (every writer needs to have some fun!). It's worth checking out this site.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

100 Best First Lines of Novels

The editors of the American Book Review have published a list of what they say are the 100 Best First Lines of Novels. I love first lines of novels almost as much as I love first lines of short stories. The first line of a good short story hits you like a slap across the face, and then pulls you along to the conclusion. The novel is a longer form, of course, and the first line is more like an invitation to enter the world of the novel, something that piques your interest enough to make you want to spend some time in this new world.

The list from American Book Review has some classic first lines in it, and some that left me baffled. Some of the first lines are as long as a short story, and that's not my personal taste. I like the short ones, like "Call me Ishmael". Now, that's a great first line!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Writing The Old-Fashioned Way

I heard crime novelist James Ellroy interviewed on NPR this morning, and he said he doesn't own a cell phone or computer, and he's never been on the Internet. Plus, he does all his writing in longhand. He's not the first fiction writer I've heard of who spurns technology. Elmore Leonard, a pretty successful novelist himself, writes his novels in longhand. And William Gibson, author of Neuromancer, the first great cyberpunk novel, claimed for years that he didn't own a computer and even when he did finally get one, he didn't use the Internet.

Is this possible? Isn't every writer obligated to be plugged in these days? How can you write whole novels in longhand, with that most ancient of writing instruments, the pencil? Isn't that a really slow way of writing?

Well, yes. But it's actually a very satisfying one. When you write with a pencil, you have to slow your thoughts down to the pace of the scratching of the pencil on paper. It allows you to examine each individual thought, hold it up to the light and see what it's really made of. You're not in this mad rush to get your thoughts on the computer screen, your fingers flying across the keyboard almost faster than your mind can think.

And writing, good writing, is all about thinking. Gibson once said in an interview that he composed much of his first novel while sitting in a rocking chair looking out a window at his house. He worked it all out in his mind first, then wrote it down. Maybe that's why his vision of the future, written in the early 1980s, has been so eerily prescient. Gibson predicted networked computers, the Internet, virtual reality, and many other technological innovations that have since come true. He took a look around at his world and then thought deeply about it, and came up with a vision of the future that has been amazingly true.

I remember reading a story about the novelist John O'Hara, where late in his career he went on a vacation to Bermuda. He wanted to get away from writing, so he didn't bring his typewriter, or even a notepad. However, he got an idea for a short story, and it wouldn't leave him. He began to work it out in his mind while at the beach, and on the last day of his vacation he asked the hotel he was staying at if they could provide him with a typewriter. When he got the typewriter he sat down and wrote the story, word for word, from the mental work he had done all week. He typed rapidly, as if he was just taking dictation, and when he was finished he didn't change a word. He had written and edited it in his head, and there was no need to change a thing. It was published shortly thereafter.

A well-trained mind is still a writer's best tool. It beats a computer any day.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Sleepy Thoughts

I’m going to sleep like a baby tonight.

That’s because today I got my CPAP machine. CPAP stands for “continuous positive airway pressure”, and this little machine helps people like me with sleep apnea. What it does is pump a stream of air up my nose, so that I don’t have to wake up many times a night like a fish gasping for air on a boat deck.

I was tested for sleep apnea, and the good doctors at my local sleep center hooked me up to an array of monitors and other equipment that showed I was waking up on average 45 times an hour because I couldn’t get my breath. Apnea occurs because of muscle tissue that relaxes and blocks the airway during sleep. This interrupted breathing can occur many times a night, and in effect a sleep apnea sufferer is waking up all night long, gasping for air. You’re not conscious of most of these episodes, but they’re still disturbing your sleep patterns.

And you can’t wake up all night long without paying for it the next day. Sleep apnea sufferers are chronically tired, even fatigued. When I was diagnosed recently, it made me realize that I’ve been feeling tired for years now, and there are many times during the day when I get sleepy sitting at my desk.

On top of that, I wonder if it’s affected my mental sharpness. Have you ever read about those studies where people are kept awake for 24 or more hours, and tested periodically to see how the lack of sleep is affecting them? The first things to go are your creativity and your higher mental function. Miss a night’s sleep and you’ll have a harder time doing algebra problems or writing a coherent essay. When I think of all the disturbed sleep I’ve had over the last 10 years, it makes me wonder if I could have written the Great American Novel by now if not for that danged apnea.

Well, we’ll see -- if I have a sudden burst of creativity and write three novels, a collection of poems, and a screenplay in the next year, it’ll be due to the fact that I’m finally getting a good night’s sleep.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

10 Ugly Truths About Modern (American) Journalism

Some of these points are hardly new or earth-shattering, but 10 Ugly Truths About Modern (American) Journalism is worth reading to see how journalism has changed, much of it due to the Internet.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

13 Writing Tips

I haven't read anything by Chuck Palahniuk, but he has some good advice here, at 13 Writing Tips.

Lessons From John Updike

Here's an article I wrote when one of my favorite writers, John Updike, passed away this year. I took some lessons from his long and productive career, and offered them to readers. Here it is:

How to Write Like John Updike

Friday, September 11, 2009

Complete Your First Book with these 9 Simple Writing Habits - Dumb Little Man

Here's a post from another blog that has some great tips about writing. Writing habits are highly personal, so these tips may not work for everyone, but there's enough good advice in here that it should benefit just about every writer:

Complete Your First Book with these 9 Simple Writing Habits - Dumb Little Man

How To Exercise Without Moving

By John McDonnell

Did you know there are exercise classes where people simply stand and do nothing for ten, twenty, or even thirty minutes? And then leave feeling refreshed, as if they just had a vigorous workout?

It may seem strange, but it’s true. There really are classes with people standing motionless, and they do feel refreshed afterwards, and they are in better health.

This form of exercise is called Zhan Zhuang. It’s a Chinese form of fitness that grew out of martial arts and Taoism. In its basic form, Zhan Zhuang involves simply standing for a period of time, usually with arms held as if they are wrapped around a pole, which is where the name Zhan Zhuang comes from (“pole” or “post” standing).

The way it’s done is to bend your knees slightly, relax your shoulders, hollow your chest, and pretend you’re holding a large inflated ball. You breathe through your stomach, and simply try to relax the tension out of various parts of your body. Most people can’t hold the posture for more than a minute in the beginning, because their muscles tense up and may even start to tremble. Gradually, however, your body can handle longer sessions, as your muscles learn to relax.

This type of “standing meditation” has been used for hundreds of years in Chinese martial arts practice, and it offers many benefits. Martial artists say it helps them to gain awareness of their body’s “qi”, or energy, and to control it. They also say it helps to strengthen their body and give it stamina, as well as increase mental clarity, patience, and balance.

There are scientific explanations for what happens when you do Zhan Zhuang, involving the strengthening of the deeper, postural muscles in your body, and there are books and Web sites you can explore to learn more about this. What most people like about Zhan Zhuang is that it is exercise that doesn’t hurt, makes them feel stronger, and gets rid of their stress effectively.
And those are pretty good results for any exercise program.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

There has never been a better time for writing than right now. Never before in history has it been so easy for writers to get their words in front of so many people. The power of the Internet means that thousands of people can read your work within seconds of you publishing it.

I love this!!!! There are so many opportunities now, and more are showing up every day. I want this blog to be a celebration of Internet writing, a road map for you to find out where the opportunities are, and a tutorial to show you how to get your writing in front of the largest amount of people.

I don't care what type of writing you do, there are historic opportunities to get it published RIGHT NOW. So, let's make this a blog that celebrates and promotes online writing! I welcome your input, and look forward to all the new developments that are coming online for writers each day.

ALSO. . . this blog will be a place where I can post some of my latest articles, poems, thoughts, and whatever else comes to mind.