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

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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

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