Inspiration


I read a lot of queries this week–about one hundred. I sent a lot of rejections this week–about ninety-something (I requested four manuscripts).

Getting rejections is never easy (remember: I get them, too!). Sending rejections isn’t easy, either. But when I pass on your project and tell you to keep writing, I mean it. The passage below explains why. So even if you think I’m a jerk with no taste for passing on your project, you should listen to Ira Glass, because he’s a really smart guy.

Keep writing.

[Dear All— Reposting this note from last December because, well, it says it all. Why remake the wheel? Enjoy your holidays and we'll see you back here in January. —MS & CR & DC & TM]

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I am a huge fan of good design, and also a great fan of pithy expression. So it probably makes sense that Stefan Sagmeister would be a hero of mine. He has a firm in New York that has designed packaging for many things you’ve likely seen but not known came from his team, and he is also a creator of winningly temporary public art installations. For a few years now, he’s been orchestrating a series of strange and stunning artworks that deliver aphoristic bits of wisdom (such as “Assuming is stifling,” or “Helping other people helps me,” or “Complaining is silly; either act or forget”), many of which have been collected in a truly gorgeous Abrams book entitled Things I Have Learned In My Life So Far. Want to give it a gander? Click on the video above. Abrams, who have never forgotten the impact of beautiful book production, show us just how beautiful a book can be—it’s a series of pamphlets in a die-cut cardboard sleeve.

But that’s not the reason for this post. No, I’m writing because of the video I’ve linked to below, (more…)

BannedBooksAs many of you clever writers out there already know, it’s ALA’s Banned Books Week, a yearly celebration in support of reading in general and the First Amendment.

As you also probably know, the four of us here at Upstart Crow are huge readers and have been heavily influenced by a great number of titles on the banned list over the years. And then I discovered, by way of a lovely blog post by my client Josephine Cameron about her struggles with banned books as a child, that young adult writer Jo Knowles has started a fun meme on her blog as a way of celebrating Banned Books Week.  Here’s how it works:

  1. Go find your favorite banned book. 
  2. Take a picture of yourself with said book.
  3. Give that book some love by explaining why you think it is an important book.
  4. Post it to your blog.
  5. Spread the word! (more…)

As we zoom into another week, I thought it might be fun to start out with a light post, a little game of sorts, to see what you’re reading these days.

old-stack-of-books

As a devoted lover of books, it’s not unusual for me to have many books and magazines stacked haphazardly on my bedside table, some of which I’m in the process of reading, some of which I’m hoping I’ll be in the mood to read soon, and some I’ve already read (multiple times) and love so much that I just can’t stand to put them back on the bookshelf just yet.

The books on my bedside stand are a reflection of my mood, of inspiration, and my goals. Books are my greatest pleasure, my stolen moments, and my meditation. I simply cannot fall asleep without reading at least a few pages of a book. And oftentimes, I like to wake up in the very early morning before the day gets too crazy, grab a book from my bedside table, and tiptoe into the living room (so as not to wake The Husband or The Daughter), and spend a delicious, silent hour curled up on the couch, reading.

And so, dear readers, I present to you, my list:

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Book I by Maryrose Wood
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The American Woman in the Chinese Hat by Carole Maso
Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child

And on the floor next to the bed: Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems, which my daughter flung to the floor this morning in a joyous fit of giggles once we finished reading it.

What about you? What’s in your reading pile (or, for those of you techie folks out there, on your Kindle/iPad/e-reader thingy) at the moment?

Kurt Cyrus’s fabulous Big Rig Bugs was published this past spring. It’s a near-perfect model of how to do a lot with a little: In seventy-six words, it tells the story of a bunch of bugs clearing away some litter from a construction site. And, because that’s not near enough, it also a slew of great parallels between how some construction devices mimic what bugs do in the natural world. Kurt is a poet and an artist, and he excels in both realms here—this book is a crackerjack read-aloud that should please the youngest fans of big rigs or bugs.

But that’s not what this post is about. No, this post is merely to present this nifty book trailer Kurt made for the picture book, just as a side project while he finishes up something else. For all the bug-obsessed kids out there, no matter their age.

7-habits-of-highly-effective-people-habit-oneSeptember—ah, September! The hot haze of summer has blown away, and along with it our laid-back summer ways. The publishing industry, which has been snoozing away these last few weeks, is back from its vacation, and editors are at their desks and ever-anxious to discover that One. Perfect. Novel.

There’s something so energizing about back to school time. It always makes me think of getting organized, setting new goals, and accomplishing them. And is there a better time than back-to-school to refresh your commitment to your craft, your creativity, and your goals as a writer? I think not.

With that in mind, I’ve cobbled together a list of advice about the act of writing. You’ve heard some of it before, no doubt, but if you try doing just one of the things on this list,  you’ll see an improvement in your productivity—and your writing. [Find the list after the break.]

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Well, Labor Day is past and so we here at the Crow hope you all are settling down to some serious work. We certainly are.

mametAmong the many helps we’ve found during our off time is this memo from the mighty David Mamet—the profane, too-often-too-thinky, shamelessly wordy (and so close to my heart) playwright, director, and essayist. His sage advice keeps us focused, our eyes on the prize and our noses to the grindstone and our shoulders to every cliché within shouting distance.

On the off chance his admonitions might help you, you can find them here. This is a note he sent to the writers of the now-defunct television show The Unit, which, despite its unfortunate name, has at least given us this kick in the ass.

Okay, summer’s over! Now put your butt in your chair and get to work!

marginaliaThere are two sorts of people in the world: Those who write in and mark up books; and those who view those of us who do write in books as sacrilegious pigs.

Okay, okay—maybe there are a few other sorts of people. (I’ve never been a fan of that whole “There are two kinds of people” routine, except where it is inarguable: women/men; living/dead; rational people/fans of Glenn Beck.)

Myself, I’ve gone from treating every book as a sancrosanct object (as a boy) to routinely scribbling in books (as an adult). Some I so love that I want to puzzle out how they work, and I buy multiple copies and mark them up (Moore, Munro, Cheever, Konigsburg, others). Some books I find so maddening that I have to immediately vent my hooting disdain (among them recent award-winners and bestsellers—don’t ask). Years later I’ll be flipping through an old copy of something and find an expletive in a margin and think, “Really? Was it that bad?”

But my marginalia is as nothing compared to the marginalia of the greats.

There is a wonderful little piece by Ian Frazier in this week’s New Yorker about the marginalia in books owned by famous writers, among them Nabokov, Coleridge, and Twain—who probably wrote the most entertaining marginalia: “At the end of an unusually exasperating chapter, [he wrote,] ‘A cat could do better literature than this.’”

So writing in books: Bad? Good? A necessary evil? A perversion that must be stamped out? Do you write in your books?

twentyI was fortunate enough last summer to speak with Bruce Coville at an SCBWI event in Orlando. (He’s an amazing speaker—truly amazing—and if you catch word that he is speaking somewhere, by all means go and see him.) Bruce mentioned something he called “The Rule of Twenty.” He doesn’t recall where he picked it up—a business article? a self-help book? a primer on original thinking?—but wherever it came from, I have since relied on it and relied on it often.

What is it? Put most simply, it is this: It is only when one reaches the twentieth or so idea that one starts entering the realm of the truly original idea.

The first five or ten? Those are the obvious ones that the brain goes to along its well-traveled paths. Most people’s heads will go that way and think of that thing. (Are you disappointed when you can see the plotline of a movie from a mile away? That’s thanks to the filmmakers working the shallows of the Rule of Twenty.) In the teens, you are starting to bushwhack into uncharted territory, where most people’s brains (more…)

tbd10If you’re a young adult writer, reader, librarian, or merely a fan of books, you should be paying attention to the folks at Readergirlz, Guys Lit Wire, and YALSA. For Operation Teen Book Drop, these three great organizations are working to get 10,000 new books for teens into the hands of kids who may not otherwise have a chance to read them. In previous years they’ve donated to books to hospitalized teens; this year, the 10,000 books will going straight to Native American teens living in tribal lands. (more…)

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