Defacing Books

Today we’re taking a break from talking about writing to talk about my NEXT favorite topic: reading.  I’m about to open a can of worms with this subject, so let me go ahead say it: I deface books.

Yep.  I underline, circle, write in, draw in, and occasionally dog-ear my books.

Some Disclaimers.

First off, let me say this: I only write in books that I own.  Second, I always leave them readable.  My defacing efforts never hide the words on the page; I want to be able to re-read the books I mark up.

My Story About Defacing Books.

I grew up as a book purist; books were to be treated with respect – partially because I got most of my books from the library.  Occasionally I would underline something in a novel I owned, but JUST IN PENCIL, and I’d be super careful.  You didn’t break spines, you didn’t let books get dog-eared.

Then last year, two things happened:

  1. I was high school student without a ton of money to spare, so I started buying used books.  This meant that now my selves were filled with pre-loved editions, so “shiny covers all in a row” stopped being a reality.  I made my peace with used books, and never looked back.
  2. I watched this video of a BookTuber, and was blown away:

 

I watched that video, and my jaw fell open.  She hadn’t RUINED her book – she had made it into a work of art.  Around this time, I was starting to read the Hamilton Biography by Ron Chernov (you know, the gigantic book that inspired Hamilton, the Broadway musical).  And I decided… that I wanted to write in this book.

I’m not done with it yet, but I’m about half way through and I’ve been having the time of my life getting to doodle all over those wide margins.  Also, Chernov has a way with words that makes it really fun to write out some of his phrases.

Soon I started on other books.  Now I’ve written in a handful, but so far I’m only writing in certain books – ones that mean a lot to me.  Ones that I want to turn into works of art, ones with humor I want to underline for future reference, ones that have touched my soul. For example, I’ve tabbed my favorite parts of The Fault in Our Stars, because it’s a book I quote a lot and I want to be able to find my favorite quotes more easily.

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The other book I started to deface is my edition of the Narnia Books.  (It’s a 7-in-1 hardback edition that is really nice.)  Here’s some of what I’ve done:

Dispelling Some Haters.

I can hear the Book Purists.  NOOOOO, you can’t abuse your books like that!

But what is the purpose of books?  Is it for them to look pretty on our shelves, or is it for them to fill our soul with hope and happiness?  Now, there’s nothing wrong per say about having shiny bookshelves, but in the age of BookTube and Bookstagram – where we follow people with hundreds of books in pristine rows on their dark shelves, almost like a mini Barnes and Nobel – I think we as an online Bookreading Community have put too much value on the appearance of books.

What I’ve Learned.

The first thing that I’ve learned is that it’s okay to “abuse” my books.  I now crack spines for easier reading.  I drink coffee and eat snacks around my books.  I take them places, and don’t care if the cover gets a little bent.  Every bent page, or tear stain, or crack in the spine, is a reminder of where that book has been.  It picks up a history of its own, and I think that’s beautiful.

I’ve also learned that I absolutely love this.  I love getting to combine reading with creating.  I love getting to make these books my own, and getting to turn them into works of art.  Sometimes I make mistakes, but that’s okay and I keep telling myself that it’s okay because it is.  It’s a learning process.  Also, I often date the pages that I mark up, so Future Beth can see how long it took to read a book, or when I drew that picture.  I really like getting to do that to capture my experience.

I’ve really enjoyed getting to play around with different pens and pencils and figure out what I like best.  I’ve tried black pens, blue pens, pencils, colored pencils, etc, and I love getting to discover what I like best or what works best for that book.  Right now I’m using a silver pen to mark up the Mortal Instruments series, and I adore the shiny, non-intrusive nature of the silver ink.

If you’re still reading all the way down here, then congrats!  Extremely long blog post is over.  I have one picture left to leave you, and it’s the cover of my Narnia hardback, which I drew with a silver marker and pen.  I’m really pleased with how it turned out.

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So let me know your thoughts on defacing books.  Are you a Purist, who can’t even stand to crack the spines of their books?  Are you someone who takes their books on airplanes and to dinner and gets coffee stains on the pages?

Let me close with one last thought.  Say that someday, I’m a published author, and I’m doing Book Signings somewhere.  And amid the crowd, the noise, the people, someone brings me their well-loved and maybe even marked up edition of the book that I wrote?  WOW.  That would mean the world to me.

Between Reading and Writing

I’ve often tried to explain the Creative Writing Process by saying, “I can lose myself while writing the same way that I can while reading.”  And this is so true; it’s part of the reason that I am a writer.  I love that escape from reality.

But here’s a dilemma that I sometimes find myself facing as a writer – specifically, as a college student studying for exams, a person with not enough free time: my reading and writing steal time from each other.

I’ve always liked books.  My dad would read me Narnia before bed when I was little, and my mom would pick out audiobooks for long carrides.  So I blame them for making me a bookworm.  But in middle school or early high school, I fell head-over-heels in love with books.  Other girls my age were going on their first dates; I was buying my first copy of Lord of the Rings.  I distinctively remember spending hours and hours reading when I was supposed to be doing schoolwork.  (I was homeschooled, so I would literally spend the day in bed, reading Eldest or The Fault in Our Stars.  Then I’d stay up late finishing neglected homework.  Don’t tell my mom.)

And then in 10th grade, I started writing.

Once more, I fell in love.  I didn’t know what I was doing; it was just a thing I could do where I could sit down with a laptop and spin worlds from my mind onto the screen.

And the back-and-forth has continued, generally fine.  But this semester has been busy a lot, and between homework and friends and everything else, I haven’t had a ton of free time.  That was okay, though, I was making time for writing.  I was squeezing in my noveling time between class and sleep.

But then, last week, I picked up this beautiful book:

city-of-bones

And suddenly, I wasn’t writing anymore.

And the book was so good that halfway through, I ordered the next two in the series from Amazon.  I’m now in the middle of City of Ashes (book two), and I absolutely love it.  But I’m a little worried about my own story – there are a total of SIX BOOKS in the City of Bones series, and then there’s a spin-off series (or two?) and an extra book and AHHHHHHHHHHH.

As writers, we often talk about learning to shove aside mundane duties and making time for our writing.  In fact, one of my favorite writerly people on the internet, @inspiredtowrite on Instagram, uses #MuggleResponsibilities to talk about things that get in the way of her writing time.  And I get it, sometimes we need to skip doing laundry for a week to focus on our story.

But what about reading?  Something I love, something that makes me a better writer?  How do I say no to that?

I’d love to hear your advice.  Because I’m the dive-headfirst-into-a-book-series type of person, and I’m missing my own story now.  But not quite enough to put down City of Ashes.  So I’m not sure what the answer is.

pizza-is-always-the-answer

Okay then.  John Green has spoken.

Something I Wrote for Class

This semester, I’m taking Intro to Creative Writing, and over the course of the semester we will be covering poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction.

We’re almost finished with our Poetry section.  I’ve loved it so much.  It’s so much fun to create something and get feedback the very next week.  I love getting to discuss our work in class, and seeing reactions and actually hearing the voices of people who have read my work.  At first, it was nerve-wracking; sharing the first poem was like cutting out a piece of my soul and distributing it to the class, saying, “I hope you like it?”

But now these strangers have become a family, and we joke and laugh and help each other grow, and I’ve already seen us mature as writers in the short time we’ve had together.

I’m discovering that I really like poetry, and while I don’t see myself ever becoming a famous poet someday, I think it’s teaching me a lot about writing.

Anyways, without further ado, I’d like to share some of my work with you.  Hope you enjoy it as much I as did writing it.

Ode to Reading

 

Eyes closed, mind gone.

In a land far away, though not for long.

“One more chapter,” I plead, eyes wide,

“I’ll read more tomorrow night,” Dad replies.

 

Flip the page, the next chapter starts.

I’m reading on my own, filling my heart.

A Magic Tree House whisks me away,

And I live in a Little House on the Prairie.

Snow days with dragons and mugs of hot cocoa,

Summer nights up late; quiet so parents won’t know.

Fictional friends and fantastic worlds

Never knowing what the sequel will hold.

 

Now I’ve traded stories for textbooks and cocoa for coffee

But not even college homework can stop me.

My friends will wait while I finish my essays

They’ll lay wait in their pages, waiting for calmer days.

A shelf full of books, whispering quietly

Soon I whisper back, smiling thoughtfully.

Isn’t it crazy how these friends seem real?

I can see what they see, and feel what they feel.

 

There’s so much more I could say with this poem, but –

I’m reading a book.

My friends court Death.

I’m dying to see if they live.

Perhaps I’ll write more when they’re safe at home.

If you’d like me to share more of my work, let me know and I will!  Hope you all are having an awesome week of writing.

P.S. The “book” mentioned in the last stanza was Empire of Storms by Sarah J Mass.  It’s a phenomenal 5th book of the Throne of Glass series.  So much laughter, and tears, and holding my breath, and screaming, and squealing in delight.  Review coming?  Maybe?  Maybe.

Company, College, and “Cursed Child”

Hello my beautiful people!  My fellow writers!

I just wanted to write you guys a quick letter letting you know that I probably won’t be blogging a ton in the next few weeks.  I have out of town guests arriving soon, and life’s always hectic when we have company.

Then shortly after that, I leave for school!  I’M GOING TO UNIVERSITY!

Or as we lame Americans call it, “college.”  (University sounds way cooler, right?)

So with all this transition and stuff happening, I don’t foresee having a lot of time for writing or for creating blog posts.  I’ll miss you all in my time off, but hopefully I’ll be back some time in mid or late August.  Enjoy the last bits of summer, go easy on yourself, sleep in, enjoy cold coffee, and read a book you’ve been meaning to for a while.

And, if you’re a Harry Potter fan, read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

harry-potter-and-the-cursed-child

It’s brilliant and wonderful and delightful.

So many feelings…

This story made me laugh and almost cry and laugh some more. It brought back old characters that I loved seeing again, and introduced new characters that were just as endearing.  I loved being back in the wonderful wizarding world.

It felt a little different from the 7-book series, but that was to be expected. So I wouldn’t consider this to be “Book 8,” but rather an extra addition of some other sort. The story-telling is very different from the rest of the books.

But it was really good. The play-format didn’t bother me at all; I got used to it after a couple scenes. The dialogue was witty and fun.  And sometimes the stage directions made me feel like I was actually watching the play unfold on a stage before my eyes.

Overall it was amazing and beautiful. If you’ve read it, let me know what you thought!

Progress in Unexpected Sizes

Remember that post two weeks ago where I promised I was going to write faithfully for the rest of the summer?

Pretend it doesn’t exist.

You see, I’m finding it really hard to write this story.  Maybe it’s because it’s summer and my mind is elsewhere.  Maybe it’s because I’ve been re-reading Harry Potter and I care more about Rowling’s characters than my own right now .  Maybe it’s because I still don’t know what the main story arc is going to be in this novel.

I really like the character and the world I’ve developed, but I just don’t know what happens next.

It’s very frustrating, and I have a feeling I just need to write anyways to break through this block… but I don’t feel like writing.  Humph.

But writing is a tricky sport.

Pretend you play football and you want to improve.  Of course, to get better, you have to actually practice the game.  But in order to perform your best, you also need to sleep, and eat right, and do sit ups and push ups and go running and drink lots of Gatorade.

Writing is the same way.  Of course, you need to practice it to get better.  But you also need to get sleep, and go on walks, and get feedback, and eat right, and hang out with friends, and most importantly, read.

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And I have been reading a ton (blog post soon about summer reads).  So I’m going to choose to view these past few weeks not as a failure, but rather as a refresh.  I’ve been filling up my “words tank” so that I can empty it into my own novel.

The other thing I’ve been doing is working on my querying.  I’ve re-written chapter one.  (Okay, actually re-re-re-re-re-re-re-written, but same thing.)  I’ve re-written my query letter, too!  (Actually re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re written or something – I’m on version 24 right now.)

Annnnnnd I’ve sent these two new-and-improved things out to another handful of agents.

This sounds like nothing.  But it’s actually hours of typing and fine-tuning and checking websites and stalking agents on twitter and nervously hitting “send” on emails that are going to real live agents.

ahhhhhh!

And you know what?  Progress is progress.  Progress is progress is progress is progress.  I will choose to feel proud of myself for the things I have accomplished instead of beating myself up about the things I haven’t.

Tomorrow’s a new day, a new chance to jump back in and work harder and be the brilliant writer that I can be.  Today I’ll go to bed thankful for the work I’ve already put in.

Writing Hiatus – It’s Okay to Take a Break

I have a confession to make: I really haven’t written anything in the past month.  I’ve sent out a handful of query letters and received a few rejections so far, but I haven’t worked on any creative writing.  And you know what?  That’s okay.

A lot of new writers are told they need to write every day.  Like if they miss a single day of writing, they forever forfeit their chances of being successful.  And that’s just not true.

Yes, if you want to be a writer, you have to write.  But no, you don’t have to write 365 days of the year!  It’s okay to take a break.  To focus on other things.  To read.

Because writing is hard.

writing is hard

Often times, when I’m on writing hiatus, I read extensively.  I need that freedom, that refreshing journey.  And that’s okay too!

harry on buckbeak

Reading is valid and important part of the writing process!  I often feel like it takes reading fifty good books in order to write a single book, kinda like how it takes forty gallons of sap from maple trees to make a single gallon of syrup.

Sometimes my brain just needs a break, a reminder that of oh yes, this is how a good story is told.  This is what a plot twist feels like.  This is how characters are written well.

Or sometimes the opposite.  Sometimes it’s this love story feels shallow.  I don’t want my love story to feel like this.  I want my characters to be deeply connected, not lovey-dovey.

So, my encouragement to all of you out there who don’t feel like you’ve had a productive week – or month – or year:  It’s okay.  Don’t beat yourself up.  Read deeply.  Read books that excite you.  Read books that make you want to write.  Read books that inspire you.  And don’t stress if you miss a day or a month of writing.

But then once you’re rested, jump back into it.  That’s what I’m doing.  I’m ending my hiatus by signing up to write 20,000 words for Camp NaNoWriMo this April.  I’d love to have you join me!  Being with a community of creative people is a great way to start writing again.

So here’s to resting, and good books, and starting up again.

happy Matt Smith

Pet Peeves of a Writer/Reader

Generally, I adore reading and writing.  But sometimes, things just happen that rub me the wrong way.  For example:

1) Spoilers in the Book’s Summary.

We’ve all been there.  Halfway through the book, enjoying the story and the characters and the suspense, and we can tell that something big is coming soon, and the story is building, building – but we already know what’s coming because we read the back of the book!  Oh my goodness.  Please.  The back of the book (or the summary on goodreads) should only tell me the MAIN premise of the book.  It shouldn’t take away from the big plot points!  ARG!

2) Newest Book in a Series Only in Hardcover

I’m a broke high school student, soon to become a broke college student.  I frequent my library a lot more than my local Barnes & Nobel.  When I do buy books, I rarely buy them full price.  (I love that Target takes 20% off regular price on all their books!)  Furthermore, if I have a choice between a paperback and a hardcover that costs three dollars more, I’ll always go with the paperback.  But when a new book in a series comes out, I SWEAR, IT’S ONLY AVAILABLE IN THAT SUPER-EXPENSIVE HARDCOVER!  FOR THREE. ENTIRE. MONTHS.  (I just made up that number, but it seems about right.)  Ironically, it’s never free at the library during this three month period either.  Because that would be too easy, right?

3) Typos in Handouts

I’m taking English 102 at my local community college this semester.  My professor is a professional.  A teacher.  An expert.  Yet could someone please explain to me why she doesn’t bother to proofread her handouts or assignments before she gives them to her students?!  There have been more typos and inconsistencies than I care to mention.  Every time I see one, I cringe inwardly (since I suffer from CSCS, remember?) and glare at my professor just a little bit.  Now, I recognize that everyone – myself unfortunately included – makes typos now and then.  But it seems like an English professor should hunt after them with everything in her.

4) Repeating the Character’s Name Needlessly

Ella walked down the street to where George sat feeding the birds.  He gave her a piece of bread.  With a smile, Ella took it and started breaking it up into little pieces.  He handed Ella another piece of bread, and they sat in happiness together, feeding the birds until Ella had to leave.

Okay, I totally just made up that horribly-written scene, but I’m trying to make a point.  It irks me so much when a character’s name is mentioned, then they are referred to by their pronoun (he/she) for the next two sentences, BUT THEN THE AUTHOR WORRIES THAT MAYBE WE FORGOT THIS CHARACTER’S BEAUTIFUL NAME SO THEY REMIND US.  Let me make myself clear: once you mention the character’s name, only mention it again if it’s confusing to simply use he/she.  (This is at least what I learned as a writer.  Someone correct me if I’m wrong.)

5)  Starting Sentences with Long Dependent Clauses

Phrases such as “While she ____” and “As he ___” at the beginning of the sentence SLOW ME DOWN AS I READ.  It’s so much easier to read “he ___ AND ___.”  Unless it’s absolutely necessary for the character to be doing these things at the same time, PLEASE don’t use “while” and “as” to start sentences.  It’s just as bad when too many sentences start with -ing phrases.  “Staring at herself in the mirror, Star blinked rapidly.”  “Looking for her brother, Emma hurried through town.”  NO. No. nooooo.  Please.  It’s so much easier to read “Emma looked for her brother as she hurried through town” and “Star blinked as she stared at herself in the mirror.”   (Please note that occasional use of these types of sentences don’t bother me.  But when two per paragraph use long dependant clauses to begin sentences, it drives me insane because it means I have to work harder as a reader.)

Okay.  I think that’s about it.  What about y’all?  What little things bother you as a reader or writer?  I hereby open the comment section up as a place for shameless ranting!

Let it demand to be read

There’s a great line in The Fault in Our Stars – “Pain demands to be felt.”

What if our writing was like that?  What if the novels we wrote demanded to be read?  If readers were unable to sleep at night until they read the last page?

I’m in the middle of reading four books right now.  FOUR.

The first three did not demand to be read.

I was simply bored with the first.  Twenty pages in, it was still the setup for the main plot.  The plot that I KNEW was going to take place because I’d READ THE BACK OF THE BOOK!  So it was 100% un-suspenseful.  You know what I did with that book?

I returned it to the library.

(It was due.)

But wouldn’t that BREAK YOUR HEART as an author if you went through all the trouble of getting a book written, polished, PUBLISHED… and then have someone RETURN IT TO THE LIBRARY after 20 pages?

It would break my heart!

The second book, I’m reading for book club – so I (probably) won’t return it until I’ve read the entire thing.  But let me tell you: the first 5 pages are about a boy going to a swamp.  LEGIT, that is ALL THAT HAPPENS!  The dog chases a squirrel, the boy yells at the dog, and then gets hit by a passer-by for using language.  But he’s basically just CHILLING AT A SWAMP.  Oh, and there’s some cleverly disguised info-dumps about the world.

The third is okay.  I’ll finish it, definitely, but there’s nothing PULLING ME TOWARDS IT.

When I write, I don’t want it to be “okay.”  I want it to DEMAND TO BE READ.  At this point, I have a solid beginning – no boring setup or disguised info-dumps.  And no swamps.  But now I’m at a part where one major suspense point has been resolved, and the MC has no major obstacles in front of her.  No suspense.  No conflict.

It’s so bad that I don’t even want to write it, because there’s no mystery for ME.  No raging emotions, nothing EXCITING.  If I’m bored writing, that equals the reader ready to return the book to the library.

WHAT DO I DO???

Ashley and Kathleen, two of my favorite authors on the blog CrackinTheWIP, frequently talk about blowing things up when they’re out of ideas.  Or just want some more excitement. ie, “Hm, and have you tried making something explode yet? Perhaps a person, or a place, or some sort of fruit cart?”

Maybe I should try that.

Either way, something’s gotta change.  Some suspense must be added, some character must turn evil, some fruit cart must explode… something to make the chapter I’m on DEMAND TO BE READ.

WIP, here I come.

The Captain

Summer Reading

This week.  This will be the week that I really get back into writing!

But then… THIS happened.

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I WENT TO THE LIBRARY.  And came home with:

1) Doctor Who Series 8.  Because every season of New Who deserves to be re-watched at least once.

2) Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour, by Morgan Matson.  Because her other book, Since You’ve Been Gone, was so brilliant.

3) Cinder, by Marissa Meyer, because Cinderella + Sci-Fi sounds too cool to resist, and I finally found a copy at my library.  I’ve been wanting to read it for a while, and it caught my eye today – just sitting on the shelf, looking all mysterious and wonderful.

4) Uncommon Criminals, by Ally Carter.  Because Ally Carter is awesome and I am almost finished with the previous book in the series.  (The notable thing about this book: it is the last book by Ally Carter that I have not read yet.  So after this… I have to wait for her to write another one.  NOOOooooo…. Sadness.)

Okay, I guess I’m not gonna get much writing done this week.  Especially ’cause that Doctor Who DVD is due in just 7 days.  OH WELL!  This is just turning out to be a reading summer instead of a writing one.

In fact, I’m surprised my brain hasn’t exploded with all the reading I’ve done this summer.

I’ve already read All Fall Down, Heist Society, and Perfect Scoundrels by Ally Carter.  (Reviews coming soon)

Plus, for my book club, I’ve read all these:

1) Since You’ve Been Gone, by Morgan Matson.  A charming story about a girl who finds herself when her best friend disappears for a summer.  Full review HERE.

WE-WERE-LIARS2) We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart.

A story about a perfect family.

With all the money in the world.

And a private island with huge, expensive summer homes.

And a girl whose accident one summer breaks the pattern of her perfect family.

Quite an interesting read.  It’s left me a little scarred, however.

CNV3) Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.

A story about a British spy in occupied France during WWII.  She’s been caught by the Germans, and she has two weeks to live.  Two weeks to tell the story of how she came to serve as a spy.  But the real story is about her friendship with the pilot Maddie and their adventures together.  But it turns out the adventures have just begun.

I admit that I had a rough time getting into this book at first. It was a bit slow, and didn’t seem to really be going anywhere. But as the pages went by, the pace increased and I found myself more and more engrossed in the lives of the two amazing characters. I nearly cried at the ending, but loved it nonetheless.

I also loved the characters and the tone of the book. “Verity” has a wonderful voice – she’s witty and funny and rebellious and grand. And Maddie – she’s just brilliant.

My poor WIP is feeling rather unloved.  I’m so sorry, dear WIP, but you’re just gonna have to wait another week.  Or maybe two.  Or as long as it takes for me to balance my reading and writing schedules.  I want to feel bad for you, but I’m too busy enjoying my books.  🙂

My Love / Hate Relationship With My Book Club

Most days, I love the fact that I’m a part of a summer book club.  It allows me to read books like Since You’ve Been Gone (review here) that are wonderfully charming, and which I would never have read on my own.

But some days, I want to kill the head of the book club.  (Not really – I love her to death.  HAHAHA, that’s funny.)  Why? Because the book we read this week took my heart out of my chest, dunked it into a bucket of acid, sliced it into thirty million pieces, and fed the remains to power-hungry vultures with sharp beaks.  Needless to say, it didn’t end well.  Or at least the way I wanted it to.  (I’m not mentioning the name of the book, because the fact that I didn’t like the ending is a huge spoiler for it.)

AND THE WORST PART?  I started out loving the book.  The voice was fresh, charming.  The setting added to the mood, as it is supposed to.  There was the perfect amount of suspense, the dialogue was done well.  “This is my favorite thing in the universe,” I said frequently as I tore through the pages.  The mystery was intriguing, pulling me onward faster and faster and faster, and then

the

truth

came out

and it hurt

in ways that I

was not ready for

.

It felt like I’d been cheated, because the entire book was a giant lie.  Half the characters had been dead for half the story without the MC knowing it.  She was hallucinating.  She was responsible for their death.  And that fact was so agonizing that her brain would delete it.

no matter how many times she was told

she couldn’t accept

that she’d killed them

until the end.

she remembered

we discovered

the truth.

and it hurt.

the end.

Epilogue: I love my book club.  I just didn’t like this book.  But I do love that we can discuss our emotions and anger and feelings, look for hidden clues in the mystery, and tell each other that the next book will be better.

Cause if it’s not, I quit.