"The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible." -Vladimir Nobokov

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Off to the Texas Book Festival!

Today really felt like a Friday. Do you ever have those days? Ever since I joined the live music ensemble for our school play, my life has been taken over by after school rehearsals and loads of homework. I have something to look forward to, though!  This weekend will be both a breath of fresh air and a subversive experience into my two loves: reading and writing. I'm off to the Texas Book Festival! Here are some of the things I'm looking forward to:

1. Doing something different. Ever since rehearsals started I sometimes feel like I've fallen into a monotonous daily routine. This will be a nice (and much needed) break!
2. Listening to some amazing writers: Kate Dicamillo and Thomas Mullen are two that I'm especially looking forward to seeing. All you have to do is read Kate Dicamillo's Journal of sorts  to see what an amazing writer she is (if you haven't read Because of Winn-Dixie or any of her other fabulous middle grade books, that is). I also just found out about Thomas Mullen, whose new book, like his others, sounds absolutely fascinating. (You can read my review of his book, The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers, here.)
3. Being in Austin, one of my favorite cities. It's also a great place to go for a fresh change of scenery.

Now, you didn't think I would go off and leave you without any information, did you? Here is the website for the event, and when I get back I will post pictures and stories! Hope you all have a great weekend, and as usual, thanks for reading :)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Merits of Eavesdropping

"It's not about the sandwich!" I was eating lunch on the patio of a local taqueria when I overheard a woman saying this into her cell phone. Instantly my inner writer started asking questions. Who is she talking to? What does she mean? What kind of sandwich is it? And, if it's not about the sandwich, then what is it about?

It's human nature to be curious about other people's lives, and as writers it's even more important that we pay attention and ask questions about the things around us. We want to be truthful in our writing, and to do that we must watch, smell, and listen. In her book, Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg writes:

"When you are not writing, you are a writer too. It doesn't leave you. Walk with an animal walk and take in everything around you as prey. Use your senses as an animal does. Watch a cat when he sees something moving in a room. He is perfectly still, and at the same time, his every sense is alive... This is how you should be when you are in the streets."

When you eavesdrop, you are using your animal senses. Listen to the way people talk. Do they have an accent? Does their tone of voice fit with what they are saying, or is there a deeper current of excitement, or irritation, or sadness behind their words? Eavesdropping is like taking a snapshot with a polaroid camera. You capture a moment, but you also get a glimpse of that person's personality, their past. It's not the whole picture. Not by a long shot. But it's better that way, because soon you'll have more snapshots then you know what to do with, and you can pick and choose, taking bits of personality here and there. By doing this, by learning from real life, you are closer than ever before to one of the things all writers strive for: the truth.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Making Time to Read

Reading is medicine. It is a way to loose yourself after a long day, or ground yourself when everything feels like it's up in the air. Readers know this, and so do writers. But sometimes, such a simple act can feel like a waste of time. When asked, "What did you do today?" I sometimes feel ashamed of saying that I read a book. How could I have not done anything productive? I could have worked on homework, or called a friend, or studied for the PSAT. Sometimes it's easy to forget just how valuable reading can be.

But I'm not going to lecture you on the merits of reading. With the speed at which our lives move, even those of us who realize its importance have a hard time finding a minute, much less an afternoon, to sit down with a good book. Always, I hear other writers say, "Make time to write every day." Well, I say, make time to read, too. 

Here are some ideas to help you do just that:

1. Keep your books in one place. Not all your books, of course. Just the ones you're reading at the moment. Try to make it a place that you go often, like on a table next to your favorite armchair, or on the floor by your bed. Few readers can resist a lonely book begging to be picked up and savored.
Tip: Don't keep your books near your workspace, or it will be too tempting to stop what you're doing and read all afternoon. That is one instance where reading is a time waster!

2. Pick one to carry with you. Some people find it hard to wait until evening, when they're at home in their favorite armchair, to read. Or maybe they get home late and can barely make it through a page before falling asleep. If thats the case, then try carrying your book with you. If you have a Kindle or other electronic reading device then you have it easy. I, personally, am a fan of the "real thing," but maybe I'm just old fashioned. Heck, I still write on a typewriter! Anyway, if you have a spare moment, pull out your book and indulge yourself. You'll be surprised by how much more you read when your book is readily accessible whenever you have a moment of down time.

3. Limit the number of books you read at once. I know, easier said than done. Still, if you have 12 books going at once, you may spend more time deciding which ones to read than actually reading them. I try to limit my number to two or three, which I've found to be a pretty good balance.

4. Keep a book journal. Like me! You can buy ones specifically for books, or you can simply choose a regular notebook, but the important thing is to keep a record of the books you read and what you thought of them. This, while slightly more time consuming, is a great way to make reading feel less like wasted time, and more like enrichment to your life and your writing (which it is). Not only will this make you want to make more time for reading, but the end result is a record of every book you've read. And who doesn't want to that?

5. Don't feel guilty! Don't feel bad about not finishing a book, or having to put it down because it's just not speaking to you. (Kristan Hoffman wrote a great post about this on Writer Unboxed.) Beating yourself up about your reading habits will just make the whole experience less enjoyable, hence defeating the purpose, which is to read more.

Well, I hope this was helpful! I'm going to go follow my own advice now and sit down with Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth. If you'd like you know what else I'm reading, you can always look in the side bar to the right. Enjoy!