Happy Birthday Author Nayantara Sahgal

Nayantara Sahgal, on Passion

Novelist and photojournalist Nayantara Sahgal celebrates her birthday today, May 10th. She was born in 1927 into one of India’s prominent political families. Her novel Rich Like Us won the Sinclair prize for fiction. She is known as a writer with feminist concerns, delving into conventional Indian society’s gender roles. These days she serves as a political journalist for Indian, British, and American newspapers.

Nayantara Sahgal quote

Quirky Writing Habits

Today’s birthday quote brought to mind some writers’ behaviors that some others may find bewildering.

Have you ever encountered sidelong looks when explaining your yawns were caused by that wouldn’t-wait 3:00am idea? Or found yourself trying to explain why your antagonist has their own playlist? Or what exactly a series bible is?  Have you ever tried to clarify why your character has a twenty-page biography that readers will never see? Or why you drink coffee when writing dialog but scotch when outlining?

Writers Life – Yes, Maybe We’re Odd

Face it, some of the things we writers do seem weird to the rest of the world.

Some of those folks may even consider you to be a bit odd.  Acknowledge them politely. After all, they’re just baffled. So go ahead and try to explain the whys of your writing process.  Smile at their blank looks.

And then get back to following your passion and write those words!

Happy Birthday Nayantara Sahgal, born today in 1927.

Happy Birthday Emperor, and Thanks for the Good Advice

Marcus Aurelius Was Multi-Talented

2019 0426 Marcus Aurelius Lit Quote

Today marks what would have been Roman Emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius’ 1898th birthday. That’s after some minor adjustment for a little Julian calendar anomaly hundreds of years ago. Adjusted or not, he lived a really long time ago. Apparently Marcus had a bit of influence back then.

Did you know he wrote a book?  Not surprising, given his philosophical bent. He entitled his work “To Himself”, it is now known as Meditations. I suspect how-to-be-a-good-writer books weren’t so common back then. I’ll even suggest that self-help books were relatively unknown in the Roman Empire.

Timeless Advice from the Emperor

Despite that, Aurelius offers sound advice for would-be authors.

If you’re like me, you’ve got little notebooks and random scraps of paper, and maybe index cards with flashes of brilliance on them.  If you’re like me, they may be populating your glovebox, crinkling in your handbag, nestled in between bills and magazines. Great little gems, scenes, starting points, mental pictures, scattered amidst regular life and that paying job.

What good are they doing you?  Well, other than helping kick in that declutter urge.  You’ve jotted down that great bit of inspiration, but it won’t gain much traction scribbled on the back of a Walgreens receipt.

Just Do It

More recently, some Nike marketers paraphrased the great philosopher and (snicker) ran with it. Apologies, sometimes I just can’t help myself. But you cannot deny that this advice works. It worked for selling ridiculous quantities of casual footwear. And it’ll work for you, too.

That novel or poem, short story, memoir or even flash piece will never see the light of day if you just think about it.  Get pen in hand or fingers on keyboard and start saving those words rattling around in you head. Sit down and do so regularly, and if you do, as Marcus reminds us, “thou wilt have finished”.

Well done!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reality vs. Fiction, According to Tom Clancy

tom Clancy Fiction Reality Quote

Today, April 12th, is the birth anniversary of Tom Clancy.

Tom Clancy was once a Maryland insurance broker with a passion for naval history.

Then he wrote The Hunt for Red October, which catapulted onto the New York Times bestseller list after President Reagan pronounced it “the perfect yarn”. Clancy was known for  weaving realism and intricate plotting into can’t-put-it-down suspense novels.

I can readily recall more than a few real-life situations that I’ve transferred to the page, only to find that they were unbelievable.  How can that be? It makes no sense that actual events or conversations don’t translate to fiction. Sense or not, the reality is that reality sometimes bends or tests or even shatters the suspended disbelief of our readers.  Why is that?

Have you ever written real life situations that were just too unbelievable to be included in your work?

Perhaps the entertaining conversation you overheard on the train doesn’t fit into your story. Or maybe your character wouldn’t be caught dead doing that crazy thing you saw the tourist do at the national park. It could be that what you observed was so jarring that it yanks your readers right out of the story.  Speaking of story, did that real-life tidbit actually further your plot or develop a character?  Did it serve a purpose?

The possibility exists that, sometimes, truth actually is stranger than fiction, and should be left alone. 

For now.

Keep it in your idea arsenal for another time.  You never know when your fiction could use that dose of actual real-life.

Photo taken by Gary Wayne Gilbert, 20 Nov 1989 at Burns Library, Boston College and is used under Creative Commons License.

How We Create Magic with Paper – Does It Matter?

How We Create Magic with Paper – Does It Matter?

Robert Sabuda illustrator and author, turns 54 today. He bucked convention and experimented with a variety of artistic approaches to book illustration, including batik, stained glass, and papyrus textures.  

Three time recipient of the Meggendorfer Prize (in honor of German illustrator Lothar Meggendorfer), Robert is a multiple No. 1 New York Times best-selling children’s book creator and has over five million books in print published in over 25 languages.

Robert focused on 3-D paper engineering during his studies at Pratt Institute in New York, and his enormously successful pop-up books, both for children and adults, showcase his mad skills.

 

Most Important Tool of All

Robert reminds us that the most important tool in our craft can’t be bought. Like Robert, we create magic with paper (okay, words, not necessarily on actual paper). He uses folds and engineering, we use language. We all use imagination – the magic emerges from inside our heads. The apps, the type of keyboard, the kind of pen or brand of paper, they don’t matter so much, do they?

Or perhaps they do.

How You Get the Words Down – Does it Matter?

Some of my most intriguing ideas seem to bloom with the flow of actual ink. I organize and plot primarily on a keyboard, making full use of assistive tech for word-processing, outlining, time-lining, world-building, formatting and whatever else I’m forgetting at this moment. If I didn’t have the convenience of online resources and cut-and-paste for my research, I’d probably never get past information gathering. I use all kinds of resources. But the bottom line is, I can use whatever medium is available to get that story out of my head and into the real world.  The magic comes from within.

How Does Your Magic Flow?

How about you?

  • Do you find that the mechanics of how you write has in impact on your creative process? 
  • Does the speed with which you get the words down impact your creative flow?
  • Does the ability to forego spelling worries in the latest app keep your mind focused on story? 
  • Does slowing down to write words out longhand help you think through the story?

I’ve spent a few paragraphs exploring how the mechanics of writing impacts the process of making a story. I have no doubt it varies from person to person. And now, having reflected, let’s get to writing. In any way you like.

 

Another Reminder – The First Sentence Matters

Today, January 25th, marks the birthdate of some highly regarded writers.

Gloria Naylor

Gloria Naylor (5 Jan 1950 – 28 Sep 2016) saw her  debut novel, The Women of Brewster Place, (1982) win critical acclaim and become an Emmy-nominated miniseries starring Oprah Winfrey.

Gloria’s parents were sharecroppers who migrated from Mississippi to Harlem to seek new opportunities. Her father became a transit worker and her mother a telephone operator. Despite their own limited education, Gloria’s parents encouraged her to read

Gloria  Naylor shares her birthday with Virginia Woolf  (1882 – 1941) and Robert Burns 1759-1796).

Gloria Naylor (5 Jan 1950 – 28 Sep 2016) saw her  debut novel, The Women of Brewster Place, (1982) win critical acclaim and become an Emmy-nominated miniseries starring Oprah Winfrey.

Gloria’s parents were sharecroppers who migrated from Mississippi to Harlem to seek new opportunities. Her father became a transit worker and her mother a telephone operator. Despite their own limited education, Gloria’s parents encouraged her to read and to keep a journal.  By the time she was a teenager, Gloria was a prolific writer of poems, short stories, and observations of the world around her.

Gloria’s family moved to Queens in 1963, and she was placed in advanced classes at her new high school. Gloria graduated from high school the year Martin Luther King Jr. was was murdered, and served as a Jehovah’s Witness missionary for seven years.  She then enrolled as a nursing student at Brooklyn college, but quickly changed her major to English.  Gloria worked her way through college, earning her bachelor’s degree and then a masters degree in African American studies at Yale.  Her thesis would become her second novel, Linden Hills.

Gloria’s first published novel, The Women of Brewster Place,  as her other novels, addressed social issues such as racism, homophobia, poverty and women’s rights with intensity and grace.  She became known for her vivid telling of what it meant to be a black woman in America.

Gloria’s work includes several more novels and inclusion in anthologies. She taught at Cornell, George Washington University, and Boston University.  Gloria received numerous awards, ranging from a Guggenheim Fellowship to several National Book Awards.

 

We’ve Heard it Before – Always That First Sentence!

“One should be able to return to the first sentence of a novel and find the resonances of the entire work.”  ~ Gloria Naylor.

We hear it at conferences, in classrooms, at critique groups, on podcasts and on “how to write” blogs. This is timeless advice, folks, and there’s a reason famous authors say it. Time for me to go reevaluate my first pages.

 

A Good Day to be Born, if You’re a Writer

Gloria  Naylor shares her birthday with Virginia Woolf  (1882 – 1941) and Robert Burns 1759-1796).  My own birthday seems to be heavy with politicians. Perhaps I’ve missed my calling?

Confucius Statue

Go Slow and Don’t Stop

“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”   ~ Confucius

Confucius Statue

Today is the birth anniversary of Confucius, who would be 2,568 years old if he’d managed to stay alive for twenty or so extra centuries. 

Confucius was born on or about the equivalent of September 28, 551 B.C.E. He was a political figure, philosopher, educator, and founder of the Ru Chinese School of Thought. He was also an author and has been credited with writing or editing the Five Classics and other Chinese texts.*

We hear some version of his advice often these days, don’t we?

 

Just Keep Swimmin’

Persevere

One Step at at Time

Never Give Up!

Just Do It

 

The truth is, a hundred thousand words is daunting. I suspect it would be all the more so without my keyboard. Or a pen. Or paper. I’m pretty sure my chiseling skills are woefully inadequate.

Yes we’re pulled in umpteen directions and the clock never stops ticking. But we can carve out a few minutes most days, if we’re intentional about it.  And when I say we, I mean I. 

Because I’m great about talking about planning my writing. I acknowledge that a plan, a schedule, a timeline would be helpful.  And then I get distracted.

Sound familiar?

So, enough talk about writing. Time for me to write. How about you?

*Cunfucius peppered his writing quite generously with adverbs!

Elizabeth Winthrop Photo with Quote

I am a Perfectionist Scaredy-Cat Writer

 

“I am a perfectionist and a scaredy-cat.”

~Elizabeth Winthrop Alsop

 

 

 

Elizabeth Winthrop Photo with Quote

 

Today Elizabeth Winthrop Alsop celebrates her 70th birthday. Elizabeth has published children’s, young adult, picture books and historical fiction as well as memoir – more than sixty books since her first, Bunk Beds, in 1972. Elizabeth is best known for her middle grade fantasy classic, Castle in the Attic, and has received numerous awards. She’s recently done a Ted Talk about creativity and risking exposure as a writer. It can be viewed here.

 

In her Ted Talk, Elizabeth advises writers to follow where their creative urges take them. Wise words. Sometimes my characters seem to have a mind of their own. They insist on acting in ways I hadn’t planned. My stories have been known to fight me in an attempt to veer in unanticipated directions. 

I should loosen the reins.

Which is not always easy for me.

I have a plan, often an outline. I am detail oriented, definitely more plotter than pantser. And I may just lean a bit towards having control issues. But then my story twists in a burst of spontaneity I’d repressed with the weight of my detailed notes. Or a character decides to do or say something that I didn’t authorize.  

So I pause. And after a while, I can remind myself that my character is making their own decisions because they’re just that real. And that the unplanned variation may improve the story.

But only if it give it a chance.

So I try to turn off the orderly part of my brain and just get the words down.

And the result may be better than I’d anticipated. I like to think I’d planned the perfect novel, but I suppose the creative recesses of my mind have a better idea. If only I can fight off the resistance and follow those creative urges.

Elizabeth reminds us that as writers, we are perfectionists because we get to have our failures privately. I take this to heart when I find myself comparing the ugliness of my first draft with that finished novel on my bedside table. That little activity is one of my own personal private opportunities to see my work as a failure. All alone in the comfort of my own home. Then I shake it off and move forward. And not a soul knows. [Well, I suppose the cat is now out of the bag]. I love the idea of keeping my failures under cover and letting the world see that final polished bit of work.

I’m a scaredy-cat myself.  Elizabeth shares that hiding behind our characters allows us to avoid real-life confrontation. So maybe I’ll create a character that bears resemblance to some real-life people who’ve been on my mind. And then I’ll have them slip in a puddle and drop their coffee. Or have the perfect wedding. Or wreck their car. Or contract food poisoning. Or get upgraded to first class. So many possibilities, and limited only by my imagination and the depth of my emotion. How is that not fun?

Go and take 15 minutes and hear what Elizabeth has to say.


My late sister and grandmother shared a September 14th birthday. I’m pleased that I was able to learn a bit about an author who was born on that day as well. I hear each of their voices in parts of Elizabeth’s Ted Talk, and an involuntary little smile tugs. Ms. Alsop, I think you’d have liked the both of them. Thank you, Elizabeth.