5 Sites for Writers to Geek Out On

1) outofprintclothing.com — A clothing store for the literature fan club, OutOfPrintClothing offers a wide variety of clothing and accessories emblazoned with famous literary logos. With everything from a basic “Pride and Prejudice” t-shirt to the “Poe-ka Dot” Edgar Allen Poe iPhone case, this site has an item for every book buff. They even have a section designated for photos of people showing off their book-love swag.

Even Emma Watson’s a fan.

2) blablameter.com  — Similar in design to the website that tells you how much your writing is like a famous author’s, the BlaBlaMeter will indicate how much of your writing is absolute crap. All you have to do is copy and paste a bit of your work into the BlaBlaMeter box and it will show you how much of your writing you threw in there just because. Apparently, everything previous to this sentence rates a .19 on the scale. That’s good, right?

3) telescopictext.com — Created by Joe Davis in 2008, TelescopicText starts off with a very simple sentence: “I made tea.” Users can then click any of the three words and the sentence will change. For example, clicking on “made” elicits “I made myself tea.” Each click of a word or phrase produces another bit of information in the sentence until it becomes a long descriptive paragraph of the character making tea. This game-like experience is fun for us nerdy writers who enjoy seeing a visual depiction of the importance and meaning of details.

4) bookshelfporn.com — Though claiming a slightly intimidating title, don’t be afraid to Google this site, book-lovers. BookshelfPorn is a massive collection of photos of beautiful bookshelves all over the world. An image gallery set up similarly to Pinterest, BookshelfPorn provides that fix all writers crave: staring at a well-crafted and well-designed bookshelf. It’s okay, not everyone understands…

It’s just…so beautiful…

5) This isn’t even a site. But this is hilarious.

Know of other great sites that I’ve left out? Share them in the comments below.

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Quote #14

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.” – Henry David Thoreau

The Mind of a Wavering Future Author

How is that every time I think I know what I want,
I don’t?
How can half my life be devoted to one thing

Books

And one thought can upset an entire dream?

I want to write

yes

But what to write about? What for?

I could be a screenwriter,
A writer of films.

I’ve always loved movies. Why not?

I could write children’s books,
the next J.K. Rowling.

I like kids. Kids like me. Why not?

I could write textbooks,
The How-To of life.

I hate textbooks. Better job security. Why not?

I could write reviews for a magazine or paper,
Ebert for a new age.

Maybe they’ll give me free things. Opinions are nice. Why not?

I could be a film director, photographer, artist,
But just maybe on the side.

I don’t know enough about those things to do them for a life.

I could work in a bookstore,
Just to get me on my feet.

What if I end up liking it? Owner of a bookstore. Why not?

I could be an editor,
Of a magazine or for publishing.

But really that’s not writing at all.
And what I love is that I love to write.
And despite all these questions, that’s what I want to do.
But how do I know if what I’ll write is right?
Will it make me happy
Forever?

And if I finally do decide on a job, where will I be jobbing from?
Probably in the same place
Where all the jobbers go.

What about books? That’s what I’d always planned to do,
Is it bad to have these thoughts,
To feel like I’m cheating
on my dreams?

And what is it about college,
where you’re supposed to

Find yourself,

that makes you question

Everything.

Movie Review: The Words

As if Inception wasn’t confusing enough, newbie directors Lee Sternthal and Brian Klugman bring us The Words, a narrative within a narrative within a narrative.

A nice enough movie about the repercussions of stealing another writer’s work and publishing it under one’s own name, The Words left me wanting more…words. Not only is this film quite vague about the identity of its main (?) character, it cries for a bigger conflict and ends with unanswered questions and a confusing ending. Is it ironic that a movie titled The Words should be lacking in just that?

The movie starts with Dennis Quaid’s character, an author giving a reading of his new book at a library. This scene is short-lived, because when he starts reading, his words fade out and we are then thrust into the world of his creation and Bradley Cooper’s character, Rory. Rory is also an author, though a struggling one. He lives a typical writer’s life in the city: living in a small, cramped apartment with his soon-to-be wife, finally breaking down and getting a real job as the mail guy in a publishing house, writing til all hours of the night, procrastinating, and battling with his own worth in the world as he struggles to fulfill his dream.

This conflict was introduced early on, and I had high hopes for the rest of the storyline. However, when he and his wife honeymoon in Paris and he finds an old manuscript in a briefcase in some Ernest Hemingway exhibit, and then he later decides to publish this manuscript under his own name, the conflict kind of just falls apart. The guy who actually wrote that manuscript just so happens to be living in the same city as Rory, and approaches him with his story about how he actually came to write the book. So we’re launched into the life of this new guy, the real author, which takes up a good chunk of the movie. Like I said, a narrative within a narrative within a narrative. But other than making the real-author upset, we really don’t see any repercussions for Cooper’s actions and the high point we were all hoping for never really comes. And just like Inception, we go back through the different levels now and again and eventually we learn (or at least we are led to believe) that Bradley Cooper is actually Dennis Quaid (or is he?) and the whole movie ends with Olivia Wilde asking if Quaid wants to live life or fiction. So…okay, so what happened?

What it lacks in stimulating and sense-making story structure, it makes up for in everything else. ‘A’ list cast members like Dennis Quaid, Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Olivia Wilde, etc., really live up to their reputation in this wonderfully acted film. The sets and cinematography were gorgeous, and I must applaud Marcelo Zarvos for creating such a fitting and beautiful accompanying soundtrack. I do appreciate the artistic vibe to this movie (I’m all about films that make you question), but I think it could have benefited from focusing on one character (or two characters, depending on if you think Bradley Cooper is Dennis Quaid) instead of three.

Also, I suppose there’s a lot more Ernest Hemingway references in this movie than I had first realized. But upon some research, I found that in addition to one of the characters reading The Sun Also Rises and Cooper visiting a Hemingway exhibit, the real-author-of-the-manuscript character’s wife lost his book on a train, which apparently is how Hemingway lost a lot of his early work. Be Hemingway knowledgeable if you’re going to watch this movie.

Ultimately, I think this movie was well-shot and a joy to watch. The questions it poses are extremely relevant to writers and resonated with me quite deeply. After watching this movie, all I could ask myself was, “If I found a work of genius manuscript with no name and no one to claim it, and I had been struggling to live and struggling to be heard in the literary world, would I publish it under my name?”

Would you?

(See the trailer below)

DIY Old Bookshelf Facelift

Having just sat through an hour and a half long class with no air conditioning and a blistering 100 degree, high humidity heat, I can really appreciate the perks of the colder months. Yes, I’ll probably be complaining about nose-cicles once winter finally does come around, but right now I’m seriously craving the relaxing ease a good book and a blanket will bring.

And what better way to display those books than on a beautiful bookshelf? Though it’s a simple piece of furniture, a good bookshelf is a writer’s secret pleasure. Bookshelves are built to hold what we writers hold most dear, and we often take great pride in owning one of these structures.

(And they’re just so pretty to look at. Ask us why we drool over libraries…)

All images from Buzzfeed’s “49 Breathtaking Libraries From All Over the World”

Unfortunately, bookshelves of this magnitude tend to be a little (a lot) out of the typical writer’s budget. Fortunately, I have a solution!

DIY Old Bookshelf Facelift!

I recently collaborated with my dad on a little summer project — something to contain my growing collection of books — and I thought what better project to share with my readers than this? (However, I apologize for no pictures of the process. I didn’t realize I was going to be blogging about it!) So here it goes:

Bookcase Before

Bookcase After

Step 1: Buy the bookcases.

I found mine (I bought two) in the warehouse of a company that was getting rid of some old office furniture. They were a nice solid wood and had very few scratches or chips, which are very important to avoid if you’re not looking to do a complete refinish of the surface. They were a steal at $25 a piece. If you’re lost for places to look, I suggest thrift stores, garage sales, and flea markets.

Step 2: Pick a Primer and Paint

I’m not going to pretend like I’m an expert on painting and wood, so that’s why I’m just going to tell you to do the exact same thing I did: ask someone else. I went to my paint store prepared with a picture of my bookshelves so that the clerk would know exactly what I was working on. I even took a shelf off the bookcase and brought it in for him to look at. Once he gave me his recommendations, I ended up purchasing one quart of Multi-Purpose Interior/Exterior Latex Primer for about $11 and four quarts of Interior/Exterior Acrylic Latex Paint with a satin finish in 7566 Westhighland White for $6 each. (Note: Had we known in the beginning that these shelves would require that much paint, we probably would have went ahead and bought a gallon, which would have been cheaper in the long run. Note for the future!) Also, we had paint rollers and brushes already stashed around the house, so buying extra wasn’t necessary; however, if you need those supplies, be sure to add that into the overall cost.

Step 3: Paint it. Duh.

The first thing to do is to wipe down your surface. We had these stored in the garage for a while, so they needed to be wiped off almost every day. Trust me, you don’t want a dried up bug painted into your bookshelf. After that, you can begin priming. Cut in the corners and edges of the bookshelf with a brush first. This will make it easier on you when you start rolling. After that, roll. Make sure you get a nice even coat over the surface or else you will see un-primed spots beneath your paint later on.

Once you’ve primed and let your bookshelf sit for at least a day, it’s time to paint. Using a clean roller and brush, follow the same cut-in-then-roll procedure you followed for priming. This may take several days and several coats. We ended up doing about three coats on the shelves and two coats on the outer frame of the bookcase itself. Be patient. You may end up spending more time painting than you had first planned, but you will ultimately be happier with your final result.

Step 4: Seal (optional)

This step is entirely up to you. I decided that I wanted to go over my bookcase one more time with a sealant in order to protect the surface when I slide books in and out of it. For sealing, we found that a foam  brush like this (can also be found at a craft store for very cheap, close to a dollar) did the best job (though it takes a little longer than a roller). Simply use the foam brush as you would a regular paintbrush, and smooth the seal over all surfaces of your bookcase, careful not to make any bubbles. We used one quart of Minwax Water Based Polycrylic Finish in a clear semi-gloss, which cost us about $12.

Step 5: Decorate!

I had a little fun with this part. As you can see, I’ve got a few knickknacks spread out among the many books I’ve collected since childhood. I didn’t use all of my trinkets, but I tried to use ones I thought would look the most aesthetically pleasing together. Feel free to rearrange as many times as you feel necessary. I went through a few configurations before I was really happy with the end result.

Tray KnickKnack

Other Bookcase

Bird KnickKnack

And there you have it. All in all, this project took us a good month to complete. Although we didn’t work on it every day, it took a lot more time than I originally expected. But now I have two beautiful bookcases that I’m very proud of and I learned a little bit about furniture renovation along the way. If you’ve been keeping track of the numbers as you’ve been reading, you’ll know already that this project cost us just under $100, which is around half of what I would have spent for one lower-quality wood bookcase. We all know you’re procrastinating writing anyway, so you might as well get painting!

If you have any writer-related DIY projects (or any DIY projects) that you’d like to share, post about it in the comments below.

Treating Your Creative Problem with John Cleese, M.D.

Have you been feeling uncreative lately? Lethargic? Bogged down by work, social life, and remembering to feed your cat?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be suffering from moderate to severe writer’s block.

And yes, I’m a sufferer too.

But don’t worry, I may have found the solution.

John Cleese’s five steps to unleashing your creativity may just be the cure you’re looking for. But first, let’s discuss what it is.

In this presentation on the difficulties people face with creativity, actor/writer/creative specialist John Cleese claims that by simply following five simple steps people can break down the dreaded writer’s block and harness their existing creative abilities. He states that no one person is necessarily more creative than the other, but is perhaps better at getting in the right mindset for creativity to flourish. Here’s how you do it:

1) Space – To get into the “open mode” (the frame of mind where creativity lies), one must create a separate physical space for thinking, one which is closed off from outside pressures. If your thinking-space is in the middle of the living room, the same room in which your children are playing and the phone is ringing off the hook, you won’t be placing yourself in an environment conducive to creativity. One must create a separate and quiet space for thought.

2) Time – You must be in your quiet space for a certain amount of time, starting and ending at a particular time. Be sure to allot this time for pure, distraction-free thinking. As a recommendation, an hour and a half is generally a sufficient amount of time to allow racing thoughts to cease and to facilitate creativity.

3) Time – Altogether a different step, this time refers to time allotted to pondering an idea. Cleese found that the longer a person plays with an idea, the more original that idea becomes. If a person were to simply take the first idea that came to them, that idea might not be original at all. It is those who can survive the anxiety of not having yet solved the problem, those who have taken the time to expand upon and play with their ideas, who have the most original and creative thoughts.

4) Confidence – Always remember that there is no wrong answer. People who believe that their ideas are wrong or not good will lose confidence and be less likely to be creative. Ideas are stimulated by environments which are free of negativity. If swapping ideas with others, never feel that you have to be defensive about your ideas. Encouragement and playing with ideas is a better and more appropriate way of fostering original thoughts. You cannot make mistakes. There are none.

5) Humor – Don’t forget to have fun with it. There’s no need to get so “serious” about trying to force creative thoughts out. Laugh at your ideas. Laugh at other things. But always laugh. Humor is the quickest way to get into the open mode and its the easiest way to stay there.

Keeping these five steps in mind, allow your brain to play with your subject or topic. Don’t force anything. Original thoughts have the oddest way of popping up in random places if one allows oneself to think.

John Cleese as a civil servant in the halls of...

We’d never have this hilarious bit if someone didn’t sit down to think about it.

Which of these five steps do you struggle with most? Space? Time? Time? Confidence? Humor? And if you have other tips or “medication” for solving writer’s block and boosting creativity, let me know in the comments.

Organized Writing is the Best Writing

Interestingly enough, the idea for this post came off a napkin.

 

Or rather, I wrote the idea down on a napkin.

 

I do that a lot. If you opened the drawer of my nightstand, you’d find a small notebook full of ripped paper, napkins, and sticky notes all covered with late-night scrawls of half-thought out ideas. Not all of them are good, but I generally find that my best story ideas come to me as I’m lying awake at night, unable to sleep. For this reason, I keep a pad of blank paper in the drawer next to the notebook.

 

Now, the idea for this post didn’t happen late at night (hopefully not indicating non-goodness), but it did come to me in the middle of work, which isn’t necessarily the most convenient time to have a thought. What’d I have available in a kitchen? A napkin. Works for me.

 

It’s pretty easy to write down ideas as they come to you on anything that you happen to have nearby (and honestly, I’d recommend it), but that also means those written thoughts are pretty easy to lose. Organization is the key to writing and writing well, because if your thoughts are a jumbled up mess, so is your writing.

 

Not so good at keeping organized? Don’t worry. I got you covered with a few tips for jumpstarting your organization.

 

1) Transfer your scribbles to one location. I’m not really the best at this (as you can tell by the description of my notebook), but I can attest to the fact that it’s very difficult to put together a story with all your ideas on random pieces of junk. Not only is it hard to store all these objects, but it can also be difficult to read the hurried writing, which means ideas could become skewed or even forgotten if left alone for too long. Rewriting or typing these thoughts onto regular paper in a timely fashion can save you the headache of writer’s block later on.

 

2) Store your rewrites in one spot. In addition to the messy notebook, I’ve also got various ideas typed out on several word documents, each with a similar title to the others (“story ideas,” “musings,” etc.). Why have I done this? I’m not sure. It would certainly be a lot easier to have all my ideas in one word document or on one pad of paper where I can easily read and see them. Don’t follow my example.

 

3) Categorize. Categorize. Categorize. Start by making headings for each novel or piece of writing you’re working on. Then, make subcategories for character descriptions, locations, plot, dialogue, etc. Write down any of your ideas under the appropriate category so that they’re easier to go back to and find. Writing made easy. If that sounds like too much work, there’s a lovely little app that organizes for you, which I highlighted in a post here.

 

Of course, these tips are just to help really unorganized writers like me start to create some order in their writing process. If organized writing makes for easy writing, and easy writing makes for good writing, then that must mean that organization leads to good writing (If O = E and E = G then O = G. Hey, look. Math.).

Got your own way of organizing your writing? Tell me in the comments. Or, click on the picture below to see how famous authors kept notes.

J.K. Rowling’s method