On Daily Writing and Book Buying

A strange thing happens when you start to write every single day.

For the first few days, you are hesitant.

You follow the prompts. You set your timer to force yourself to write.

Even though you are attempting to just let the words flow, you are picky. You want to sound smart. You want your words to mean something.

After a week, you just want to get the damn words on the page and get this over with so you can move on to other things, or if you have waited until the end of the day, so you can go to bed.

So, you will write down anything that comes to mind—information about your day, conversations you overheard, thoughts, dreams, hopes, even to-do lists.

I am now going strong at 16 days—just over two weeks—and I am starting to experience anxiety if I DON’T write.

I’d heard about this before.

I just didn’t expect it to happen so quickly.

I honestly didn’t expect to last past a week in the first place.

But I did something different this time.

I made myself accountable.

I posted about it on my blog and my Facebook writer page.

I posted about it in a couple of closed writing groups I am in on Facebook.

If I’m being honest, I recognize that the only people who really read my Facebook writer page are family and friends, and it’s probably only cursory at best.

But the writing groups did it.

These people don’t know me from Adam…or Eve, as it were.

But I quickly noticed that a core group of people in each group started liking my posts, and maybe they just like everybody’s posts, but it made me want to keep writing and keep posting, because what if they look forward to seeing who wrote that day?

What if they are judging me if I don’t?

Now, okay, I realize that sounds paranoid and probably even a little egotistical.

But, really, what if?

Maybe, though, at the end of the day, it is just that I am truly being accountable to myself for once.

I’ll be honest again and say that I enjoy posting every day that I’ve written.

I get satisfaction from seeing these perfect strangers like my posts, as though they are sending me a virtual pat on the back with a “Well done!” thrown in for good measure.

Social media has its flaws. It makes it easier to be rude and unfeeling towards others. It makes us crave attention. It makes us compare ourselves to others—our day-to-day to someone else’s highlight-of-the-day.

But if it can help a struggling writer like myself find her people, her supporters, her fellow strugglers, is it really all that bad? Or is just that I’m finally finding a way to use it for good, a way that’s been there all along, but that I didn’t see as bogged down as I was in political posts and negative posts and frustrating posts?

I won’t lie. I am an avid social media user, though mostly in the form of Facebook.

But until now, I kind of hated myself for it, made myself feel guilty for it.

Maybe I just needed to find that positive use, the one apart from keeping in contact with family and sharing cute cat memes and videos or book-related links.

Now that I have found it, though, I’m going to be spending a lot more time…on…

Shit.

What have I done?

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Hope you enjoyed my post today, y’all! If you like it, don’t forget to subscribe! You can also keep up with me over on Facebook, and soon, I will be adding posts on Medium.

Before I go, let me share a funny story with you from tonight.

I decided earlier that I am the worst book lover ever.

I was in the mood to read Orwell’s 1984 as it has gotten so much press recently. I went to my shelves to find my copy…only to find I have no copy.

Okay, so I’ll read Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, then, I decided and went searching…only to find I have no copy.

I immediately set out to rectify this by going to the local thrift bookstore because I didn’t want to spend that much money.

They had Bradbury’s book but not Orwell’s.

In conversation with the clerk, I found, much to my delight, that my local Barnes & Noble has Orwell’s in stock, so I checked out (with three short story collections and a craft book in addition to Bradbury’s book) and headed that direction.

One hour later…

I am now the proud new owner of three short story collections, The Faith of a Writer by Joyce Carol Oates, Fahrenheit 451, 1984, The Illustrated Man (also by Bradbury), and a collection of Bradbury’s short stories.

book-haul

Upon reflection, I realized that, perhaps I am not, after all, the worst book lover ever.

Much love,

R

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My 500 Words

Hey all,

So I promised that this week would be about what I’ve been writing and reading the last month or so that I’ve been away from here, and I mean to follow through on that!

However, I also would like to share some of the things I’m currently working on, so let’s get that first bit out of the way, shall we?

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I found several great books at my local library and at a local secondhand bookshop. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg was, by far, my favorite, and I’m hoping to get to the sequel, Thunder and Lightning, over my break from work. Writing Down the Bones is a lot about establishing a daily writing habit and just WRITING, even if  it is about nothing in particular, because it can help you find ideas.I particularly like her suggestion to fill a notebook a month with any scribblings that come to mind. She also had two ideas that I really want to try: taking an improv class to loosen up and work on dialogue and setting up a booth to write a poem at a craft fair or church bazaar.

Words Fail Me by Patricia T. O’Conner was also good, though it’s more about grammar and usage than the act of writing. It is witty and clever, and I’d recommend it for anyone who struggles with whether to use “I” or “me” or “lay” or “lie.”

I finally went out and purchased a copy of Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott, but I haven’t yet read it. I’ll let y’all know what I think when I’m done with it.

I didn’t just read craft books, though.

One that really stuck with me was The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar. I initially set out to read it to study the dialogue of Indian speakers so I could prepare to write my own for my NaNoWriMo project, but I quickly learned to appreciate it for so much more. It’s not just a novel about the space between people–the differences–so much as it’s a novel about how much we are alike and how we let such subjective things as class and birth divide us. I LOVED this novel and this author, and I cannot wait to read more. Her The Weight of Heaven is on top of my TBR pile.

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Speaking, or writing as it were, of my NaNo project, this year I began a women’s fiction draft, and as I mentioned before, I came in at just under 10,000 words. It tells the story of a woman who had some pretty tragic things happen to her, and she moves across the world to India to take up a teaching position and, mostly, to run away. There, she must learn to love again, to let people in again.

I’m really pleased with the amount of work I did accomplish, but I will continue to work on this over the next few months.

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And now we get to what I will be doing!

I signed up for Ninja Writer’s A Novel Idea course, which is a year-long course meant to help you finish your novel. I’m really excited about it, and I’ll let y’all know how it goes, but keep me accountable, guys! Ask me about it every now and then!

I’ve also started participating in Jeff GoinsMy 500 Words 31-day challenge.

I’m hoping that between the two, I will improve my craft and, to be honest, get my very first novel finished. Like Toni Morrison said, “If there’s a book you want to read, and it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it,” and I REALLY want to read this book I have in mind.

So today is my announcement and declaration that I will write 500 words a day for the next 31 days. Hold me to it, and I’ll do my best not to let y’all down.

And with this post, I’ve completed my first 500 words!

Thanks for sticking around, y’all!

Much love,

R

Five Books on Writing That Have Helped Me Tremendously

Two weeks ago, I shared with y’all my struggle with writing, and despite my renewed efforts, writing remains that—a struggle, a day-to-day, hour-by-hour struggle.

I am working on it, though, and I make new foot- and handholds in that wall every single day.  Some take more work than others, but every little bit is progress.

Baby steps, remember?

That said, today I’d like to share with you five writing-related books that have helped me tremendously through the years, and I hope they’ll help you, too.

Let’s dive right in!

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  1. The Young Writer’s Handbook by Susan and Stephen Tchudi

I have had this book since I was very young, probably around 9 or 10. It was the first such book I’d ever been given on the subject of writing, and I poured over it obsessively, highlighting entire paragraphs and making lists of things I’d need or need to do based on the Tchudis’ recommendations. This book is broken into ten chapters and covers everything from why people write to letter writing, fiction writing, writing for school, and editing and publishing one’s writing. It’s an easy read for beginner writers of all ages, and when I’m feeling particularly blocked, I like to go pull out this book that started my obsession with books about writing. You should definitely check it out for yourself or your own young writer.

  1. Pen on Fire by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett

This book is based on the premise that one simply needs to find fifteen minutes a day to work on her writing craft. Everyone can find at least fifteen minutes, right? Right! Demarco-Barrett takes the reader through small exercises aimed at different aspects of writing—research, character development, finding the right tools, finding inspiration, and much more. The book is broken into eight sections with smaller “chapters” in each section, and each of those “chapters” has a few-pages-long explanation followed by an activity to get the creative juices flowing or work on a certain aspect of the writing life and craft. The book is worth it simply for the prompts, though the information and inspiration is just as wonderful.

  1. The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White

Strunk and White’s timeless writing guide is a must for a writer or student of any sort. I use it myself all the time, and I recommend it to my students as well. Its five sections provide a refresher on the most basic and important parts of the English language’s grammar, composition principles, choices about form, commonly confused/misused words, and stylistic recommendations, hence the title. It’s less than 100 pages (not including the glossary and index), so you could most likely read it in one sitting, depending on your time constraints. You can even use it as a simple reference guide for specific questions. It is an enjoyable and entirely readable work either way, and I cannot recommend it more highly.

  1. No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty

This gem from the founder of National Novel Writing Month is the punster/procrastinator’s dream. It puts forth the idea that you can write a novel in just one month, and it gives helpful hints on how. Now, this is not to say that you should write a novel in one month and immediately expect to have it published, but you can write the manuscript so that you have the meat to work with, something to go back and edit. I have never completed a novel, let alone one in a month, though I do try every November. However, if you’re looking for a positive, inspirational kick in the butt to go sit down and write, give Mr. Baty’s book a read.

  1. Writing the Breakout Novel (and Workbook) by Donald Mass

Writing the Breakout Novel is an excellent book from an insider’s perspective on what constitutes a breakout novel and how to write your own. In eleven chapters, Mr. Maas explains how to fine-tune your plot, characters, theme, and structure, amongst other things, and he teaches you how to identify the premise and raise the stakes in your novel. He provides examples from past breakout novels, and he does so without leaving you bored. His workbook offers practical and easy-to-follow activities to develop the principles put forth in the book into your own novel. You can definitely read the book and get a ton of helpful information, but the workbook really drives his lessons home. I would very strongly recommend getting your hands on a copy of both.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the post and that you find these books as helpful for yourself as they have been for me.

What about you? Are there any books that you’ve read that have helped you with your writing or inspired you when you’ve been suffering from writer’s block? Let me know in the comments below!

Next week, I’ll share with you a list of resources that have helped me navigate social media as a writer, so stay tuned for that.

Until next time,

R

Oh Atlanta, Both Sweet and Serious

Hello, dear readers!

This past week, I had the opportunity to make a trip to Atlanta with my mom on business.

(We were delivering a harp and picking up two others. Those things are heavy, if you’ve ever wondered.)

As previously discussed, I LOVE road trips and traveling in general, and I was feeling a little nostalgic, as right around this time last year, I made a life-changing trip to Scotland and northern England. This trip to Atlanta was the perfect pick-me-up to relieve my back-from-heaven-on-earth-blues.

I had grand plans for reading and being productive in the car and at the hotel at night, but those plans didn’t really pan out. I did read a little more of Diana Gabaldon’s Dragonfly in Amber, which is excellent so far, but other than that, my plans went out the window as soon as we got in the car, as plans tend to do on road trips.

However, that is not to say I did not have fun or did not do exciting or productive things. In fact, I was able to take lots of pictures (that I then went crazy with filters on) to share with you all. Hope you enjoy!

(Seriously, filters abound in this post. Forgive me ahead of time.)

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Once the harp was delivered and the other two were acquired, the very first thing I did was go to a bookstore.

After combing through internet searches for the best bookstores in the Atlanta area (and those closest to the area of Atlanta my mom and I were in), I settled on Atlanta Vintage Books, a seemingly small shop in the northern part of Atlanta.

Once inside, I quickly realized the outside was not an indication on what lay within.

Walking through the door, I was immediately met with the scent of air freshener and cats. For some this might be off-putting, but I fervently believe cats and books go together like peanut butter and jelly or eggs and toast or tea and scones…

In any event, you grow used to the smell and quickly move to other important matters: the books.

Rows and rows of books. Some piled on carts. Some behind glass. Some rare. Some simply used.

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I told my mom I would only spend 10 or so minutes browsing, but at least 30 minutes later, I was still in there.

The thing I love most about used bookstores is that they give you a sense of the area in which they are located and of the people who donated, traded, or sold their books to the store.

My favorite place in AVB was The History Room (pictured in the background above). The books here were divided into your typical categories: WWI, WWII, American, Civil War, European, etc. There was a wonderful section on the Medieval period from which I had to tear myself away.

I made my way through the rest of the sections (Fiction and Literature, Philosophy, Religion, etc.) fairly easily, but I did spend some time downstairs—yes, there are two floors!—where I discovered the source of the smell in the form of two adorable black cats, both of with whom I  attempted to make friends and only one of whom I was able to do so.

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Upon checking out with the one (only ONE!) book I decided to purchase, I discovered my two new acquaintances had other friends.

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I cannot tell you all how much I enjoyed my brief (ish) visit to Atlanta Vintage Books, but let me sum it up for you in one picture:

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Another aspect of this trip I really enjoyed was spending time with my mom. She is my inspiration and my hero, so any time spent with her is a joy. On this trip, we were able to do something she’s wanted to do for a while, which is to visit an old courthouse to find out more about our family history.

Upon arrival at the Old Campbell County Courthouse, we discovered they were closed for construction, but my mom being the brave and bold lady she is decided to knock on the door, as there were cars outside.

The members of the Old Campbell County Historical Society, who are behind the preservation of this abandoned courthouse, were very friendly and helpful. They let us in, took down the information my mom had on the relative she is trying to locate, and promised to see what they could find. They provided helpful information, and they made my mom happy, so they’re good people in my book.

One of the members even showed my mom a creek that may or may not have been named after relations of my mother’s paternal family. How cool is that!

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All in all, the stop at the old court house was fun and informative, and it also showed me a valuable lesson in action: it never hurts to put yourself out there and ask. You never know what results you might get!

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Our next stop, one I was eagerly looking forward to, was at Sprayberry’s Barbecue in Newnan, GA, which was just up the road a ways and totally worth it.

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This family-owned, family-run business has been open for 90 years, and it was my grandfather’s favorite place to eat. From the old truck sitting out front to the red tables and rickety chairs inside, this place has a lot of character and old school charm. The staff are all friendly , and the food is delicious.

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Y’all, the last time I ate at this place was back in 2002 when I was in town attending a family member’s funeral, and I could still remember how good it was, 14 years later. On this trip, I wasn’t disappointed.

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The baked beans have a hint of honey and brown sugar, and while I’m not usually a fan of sweet pickles, their pickles added to their potato salad make for an excellent combination. The chopped beef is smoky and tender, and their Brunswick stew (which my mom ordered) is packed with flavor.

If you’re ever in the area, I highly recommend you check this place out. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

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The last part of our afternoon adventures was spent cemetery hopping to look for the graves of family members.

We went to three different cemeteries, and save for one, we were able to find what we were looking for in all.

I found a bit more, though.

As morbid as cemeteries can be, they are beautiful places, and the older ones (such as those we went to) have so much history. You could spend hours just walking around and reading the different headstones.

Each one provokes a little curiosity…what was this person like? How did he or she die? In what way did they live? What were the times they lived in like?

I was particularly interested in the memorial at Oak Hill Cemetery, also in Newnan, that honored soldiers from the Civil War, World War I, and even the Revolutionary War.

There are some who would gladly see these memorials removed because of what the majority of these men fought for, and, to be honest, I don’t blame them.

Slavery is a horrible, ugly thing. To subjugate people and think less of them simply for the color of their skin is beyond deplorable. I know I would rather be judged by my character and my actions than by the simple fact that I am Caucasian.

Though our country fought to end slavery and the African American people and their allies fought to end discrimination and won both, racism still lingers on, and it will never truly go away, human nature being what it is.

These memorials, these monuments, the Confederate flag—all are painful reminders for all of us of a dark time in US history, reminders of what we as humans have been capable of, reminders of what some of us have been subjected to. I do not and cannot deny that.

However, we cannot whitewash history. Taking down historical monuments does not erase what happened. We must study history in all its brutal detail. We must confront it. We must learn from it. We MUST NOT forget it.

Being able to go to this cemetery and see those rows of graves, those representations of lives wasted, reminds me to never forget. That monument marker and those white stones serve as motivation to never stand for something like that, to never allow something like that to happen again.

Kindness. Respect. Love. Those are the things I will stand for and live by.

Cold white grave markers and “Confederate Dead” monument markers are the things that remind me WHY.

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Much love,

R

State of the Book Review (and a mini-rant):

Hey all!

I’ve been casually following the news on Britain’s EU Referendum. I’m an American, of course, so it’s not like I had a say, but anything that affects one of our major allies is bound to affect the US in some way. Both sides, the Remainers and the Leavers, had some pretty convincing arguments. I have seen Brit friends (and friends of friends) who were passionately against it and friends just the opposite. If I were a Brit, I think I’d have been pretty torn on the issue.

However, the United Kingdom voted, and they will be leaving the European Union, for better or worse.

One thing that caught my eye in the news today, though, was an article from NPR about how Google searches in the UK for “what is the EU?” spiked after the vote.

Yes, you read that correctly. After. The. Vote.

People. 

The takeaway from this is to do your research before you cast your vote for anything this massively important.

Speaking of which. My dear, fellow Americans. This coming November, if you don’t know anything about the candidate you vote for except whether they are Republican or Democrat or what-have-you if you’re going third party, please–PLEASE–do not vote.

There is plenty of time left, y’all. Do your research. Ask yourself: why am I voting for this person? Do I truly believe this candidate is the best for the future of our country? If you can’t think of three-five good reasons off the top of your head that you are considering a certain candidate, maybe you should reconsider.

Your vote is your vote, of course, but please, for the love of all that is holy, make it an informed vote.

*mini-rant over*

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Moving on to, in my opinion, more exciting things, I’d like to share with y’all about a book I finished reading recently.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I absolutely love to read—anything I can get my hands on. Some things are harder for me to read than others, though.

I briefly mentioned that I had enjoyed Dave Ramsey’s Complete Guide to Money in my previous post, but I wanted to give you all a little more insight into why I read the book and into what it is about.

Here’s the thing: I’m in my late twenties, and I’ve never really learned a lot about money or cared to, really. They just don’t teach these things in school, and until the last couple of years, I never had to worry about it too much, I’m ashamed to admit, because of the generosity of my parents. But as I got older and less comfortable letting my parents take care of me, I began to worry about it more. I made attempts to read things on it here and there, but frankly, I found the subject intimidating and rather boring.

I was in Sam’s Club not too long ago, and I came across this Complete Guide to Money. Just from reading the back cover, I got the sense that this man was someone I could in some small way relate to. I had set a goal for myself to start taking this money thing seriously, so I picked the book up, bought it, took it home, and let it sit for a week or two.

I know.

Finally, though, I started reading, and I found to my surprise that I could understand what Mr. Ramsey was writing. Unlike books I’d read (or attempted to read) in the past, he gave simple, easy to follow steps to follow to achieve what he calls financial peace.

The steps involve putting $1000 in a beginner emergency fund, paying off all debt using the snowball method, putting 3-6 months of expenses aside for a full emergency fund, investing, creating a college fund for kids, paying off the mortgage, building wealth, and giving. Essentially, though, these steps fall into four categories.

  1. Debt is dumb, so get rid of it.

All of it. Mr. Ramsey does not believe in or support credit cards, loans, or borrowing of any kind. He advocates paying off debts as quickly as possible and saving/paying cash for anything you want to buy in the future.

Let’s me be honest and clear here: I don’t 100% support/agree with/fully understand EVERYTHING Mr. Ramsey says about debt, but it is a novel concept in today’s society to eschew all debt, and it is a practice worth considering.

  1. Life happens, so prepare for it.

Mr. Ramsey cites a pre-2008 Gallup poll that revealed that a little over 30% of Americans could not cover an emergency of more than $5000 without financial help of some sort, i.e., a loan (9). I didn’t know that before, but it doesn’t surprise me. This book also came out in 2011, so I imagine it has only gotten worse. What does he suggest we do about this? Build our emergency funds and pay off our existing debts. After that, don’t accrue any others!

  1. Investing is smart, so do it.

Once you’ve paid off your debts and gotten those emergency funds, well, funded, Mr. Ramsey advises that you should invest. He does not generally recommend CDs, single stocks, bonds, or rental real estate (unless you can pay cash for it). His advice is to invest 15% of household income into Roth IRAs and pretax retirement plans (8).

I don’t necessarily agree with everything Mr. Ramsey has to say about investing, and you might not either, but I think we can all agree that it’s a very wise idea to invest something in some way or another to help prepare yourself for retirement.

  1. We all have had need of a little charity, so give it.

One of the things I like a lot about what Mr. Ramsey has written is that he strongly urges his readers to give back. We all get in tight spots where we could use a little help, so when we’re successful, it makes a lot of sense to give to causes and charities we support that help others in tight spots. If you are a church-going person, he also advocates for tithing as part of your giving. No matter how you choose to spread your money around, though, it’s always a good idea to do so in the first place, so, as Mr. Ramsey says, don’t neglect this important step in attaining financial peace.

There is a ton of other helpful information in Complete Guide to Money, including an explanation of different types of insurance and which ones you should have and also a chapter on the importance of bargaining and how to go about it.

There’s a detailed table of contents, so you can go right to the sections you are most interested in, but it’s also worth it to read this book cover to cover. There’s a short notes section in the back, and there is also an appendix with all of his suggested financial management forms.

Two other valuable resources the book led me to are Dave Ramsey’s website and his EveryDollar website/app that helps you create and manage a budget. This was a huge help for me, as I’d never created an actual budget before I downloaded his app.

Financial literacy is a must in today’s economy. Choosing your financial plan, though, is a personal issue. There are some things you may agree with in Mr. Ramsey’s book and some you may not. Complete Guide to Money is not the be-all-end-all of financial knowledge, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction–the right direction being to come up with  a plan of action for managing your money.

Mr. Ramsey writes, “Personal finance is only 20 percent head knowledge. The other 80 percent—the bulk of the issue—is behavior” (6). This is so true! Thankfully, I’ve got a better handle on the knowledge part after reading Complete Guide to Money, and you can too. Now, I just have to keep working on that behavior part!

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I plan for book reviews to become a regular thing on here, so if you liked it, please let me know in the comments below. If there’s anything I can change, mention that as well! As always, if you want to see more, follow my blog, like my Facebook page, and share these posts on your social media platforms!

I appreciate every bit of support you all give me!

Until next time,

R