Writing Self-Help Series: 500 Ways to Write Harder

January. JANUARY. A month of new gym memberships and weather patterns in the South where it can be 60F on Wednesday and 20F on Thursday because we don’t understand how Winter works!

I am typically very fond of New Year’s Resolutions but I’m giving them a bit of a miss for 2015. Instead of making myself some semi-achievable goals I did the following:

1. Got a big ol’ calendar (like this one but cooler looking) that shows the whole year at once. It’s nice because it helps you see your time better when you can see the next month and realize “Oh, I don’t have March plus whatever infinite time lays beyond it, I’ve got three and a half weeks” when planning things out.

2. I’ve adopted Victoria Schwab’s calendar method for checking off daily achievements and keeping track of what I’ve done and when I’ve done it.

3. I cleaned out my closets which, uh, doesn’t really have a lot to do with writing? But it was fun and it felt good?

And most importantly, I’m reading and writing and at the moment I’m reading about writing. That is the worst possible segue I could manged to move into a review of 500 Ways to Write Harder by Chuck Wendig.

First things first:  if you’re not reading Chuck Wendig’s blog YOU REALLY SHOULD. IT’S THE BEST. Okay, yeah, I mean some other blogs have their insight into the craft of writing and offer wise advice that can be applied to life at large but do they swear in their posts? Do they invoke such imagery as the following thoughts on the new year:

The ideal state would be that we change when we need to, not when the calendar suggests it, but let’s also remember that the holidays and the transition from one year to another are vital times to reflect. We build up to the orgiastic rush to Christmas, and then are left with a startling, almost shocking void — all that’s left is cleaning up the wrapping paper and throwing the Christmas Hobo on the bonfire. Ha ha ha, I didn’t say Christmas Hobo, you said Christmas Hobo. I said tree. Christmas tree.

Well, I think he’s funny.

Anyways, on to 500 Ways to Write Harder. All of the advice and self-help books that I’ve read have a feel to them. Some make me feel like I’m sitting at a desk in a lecture hall, worksheets spread out before me. On Writing by Stephen King feels like a long walk down an Autumnal, leaf-littered nature trail while King quietly relates the stories of his life and the wisdom garnered throughout his career. Wendig’s Writer Harder is a night at the bar spent playing poor and heckling the karaoke singers and a friend turning to you and, with a sloshing gesture of their drink, saying “Let me tell you a thing.”

500 Ways to Write Harder is broken into collections of 25-ish points about subjects such as Bad Writer Behaviors, Things to do Before You Start Your Novel, 25 Steps to Edit the Unmerciful Suck Out of Your Story, 25 Ways to be a Happy Writer, and 25 Ways to Get Your Authorial Groove back among many others. This format works out because you can read it section by section intermittently or, if you want a refresher, go back to a specific area and re-read with ease.

Just as there is no single way to approach writing a story, Wendig offers occasionally opposing pieces of advice to let you find your own path. He also advocates that all writers need to care for their mental health which I super-appreciate because I loath the romanticized notion of artists being inherently broken.

[ASIDE:  If you feel that you are suffering from anxiety, depression, whatever, please seek help. Treatment will not steal your muse or wreck-up your creative nature. Athletes aren’t expected to “suffer for their craft” by running on broken ankles; artists don’t need to endure mental torment to do their artist thing.]

500 Ways to Write Harder is sharp and wickedly funny. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself laughing at Wendig’s advice as much as I was silently nodding along at all the sage wisdom he was dishing out. Here’s one of my favorite excerpts:

Seek consistency and clarity in point-of-view, lest you confound and bewilder, lest you seem like the king of amateur-hour karaoke. Hell, seek consistency and clarity in all of your writing. Also, in your take-out orders. because you think you ordered a “ham and cheese sandwich” but then you open the bag and suddenly your face is on fire from a thousand stingers and you’re like OMG THEY MUST’VE THOUGHT I SAID HAM AND BEES.

Like I said, sage wisdom.

The advice is advisory, the humor is humorous, and he make two Avatar: the Last Airbender references which makes Wendig one of my new best friends. Get the book, read the book, then get back to writing.

RECOMMENDED FOR SURE.

Book Review: The Drowned Forest by Kristopher Reisz

[Editor’s Note: a version of this review is also on my GoodReads page. It is my hope to begin reviewing more books in this blog, as I review podcasts, in an attempt to bring attention to the things I think others should check out.]

The Drowned Forest

The Drowned Forest by Kristopher Reisz is a book that has stuck with me over the last few days. I highly enjoyed it and hope that many others will as well.

The story follows Jane, a teenage girl who is trying and failing to deal with the loss of her best friend, Holly. Jane is in the center of a very religious community and holds God in every aspect of her life. However, the faith that she so heavily relies on offers little comfort in light of the fact that Holly’s spirit remains trapped in the waters she drowned in.

I was following the story along willingly until I reached a scene that caused me to put the book down, ponder what the hell just happened, then immediately pick the book back up to see what would happen next. The story is quick-paced, spanning a week’s time, and as soon as the action kicks in it does not lag.

The characters are believable and feel real. The details of the world are engaging (damned if Reisz cannot convey the awful, sticky heat of an Alabama summer) and are woven into Jane’s thoughts. We are spared any spoon-fed explanations and are simply offered the world of The Drowned Forest as it is.

There folklore in this story is some of the best this side of the Mississippi. There are root workers, circles drawn to ward off spirits, and the power of mojo. Reisz brings a haunting, hungry force into Jane’s world through the history that surrounds the titular drowned forest and I am so sorry that people ditched on the incredible mythos he is laying down in this story.

The protagonist begins the story as a sheltered, heavily-religious teenager who is trapped in her grief over the loss of her friend Holly. The religious aspect of Jane’s life is intentionally suffocating. It reflects the way that, although perhaps Jane cannot yet see for herself, those around her see their own struggling or non-existent faith. But a protagonist is built to change, to alter their own perspective and see the world in a different way. Regardless of your own personal religious views (or lack thereof, that’s cool too), I hope that you give The Drowned Forest the chance it so richly deserves.

Bonus fact: As a role-playing nerd I can totally see this as a viable setting for a campaign.

Fungi Anthology

I recently ordered an anthology that I am really looking forward to and want to share with you.  Let me tell you about Fungi.
First things first, look at this cover art:

Fungiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii
Gorgeous, right?  The cover art alone sells this book for me.  I love how it evokes something eerie and inhuman while it is also graceful and oddly appealing.  If something like this creature showed up sitting on one of your deck chairs one summer evening, would you reach for the weed killer or see if it wanted a glass of sun tea?  If you are a mycologist I guess you would probably try and put it in a jar or something but hey, whatever floats your boat.

Fungi is an anthology themed around, surprise, fungi.  Who knew, right?  From the official website’s description:

Fungi is an eclectic anthology with stories that run the gamut from horror to dark fantasy. A mushroom submarine, anthropomorphic cats, hallucinogenic fungi, mushroom people, private investigators, and mercenaries make for a very different kind of anthology.

I am looking forward to seeing each author’s take on the theme and want to see how on earth you make a story featuring fungi.  The press website is full of neat tidbits and facts about fungi and related things and look at the cover art!  This would be a good Christmas present for the avid reader who has everything, anyone who enjoys the odd or the eldritch, or that weird guy you got in the office Secret Santa who does not stop talking about Omphalotus nidiformis.  We get it, Kevin, it glow in the dark!  Yeesh.

Anyways, cool looking anthology, I think you should check it out.  Ta-da!