A must read for anyone who wants to write a novel

Please read Whl Menmuir’s story behind the story that became The Many, his first novel.

How to finish a novel: tracking a book’s progress from idea to completion

The article reveals what you should realistically expect to experience during the long months of writing your first novel.

I promise the journey will be worth it.

Wrought-Iron Words: How to read like a writer

Wrought iron words are carefully selected, soft but tough, malleable, forged to the scalding point in the writer’s mind, then poured onto the page. With tong and hammer he rolls, stretches, shapes, and orders the words into snippets, sentences, and paragraphs. Meaning fused into life, just waiting to be discovered.

Richard L. Fricks

This morning’s reading session was fruitful. In the following article, author Jessica Lourey asks us to read written words and life like a writer. This is great advice and I encourage you to read it through, take good notes, and feed your narrative detective some PIE.

“Learning to read like a writer is a practice in self-awareness and critical analysis. You need to be mindful when you really like a book/ movie/ song, or, even more telling, when you are actively turned off by one. Reading like a writer requires you to get in touch with that self-awareness and hone it by asking questions. I’m going to call that piece your narrative detective—its job is to solve the mystery of the narrative, looking at the ways it is and isn’t succeeding—and I’m going to encourage you to feed it PIE every time you read anything: a menu, a short story, the interpretive plaque next to the world’s biggest redwood tree. A book.

Here are the ingredients to the PIE:

Prepare with pen and paper. Always have your notebook and something to write with nearby when you read. Your goal is to be prepared for insight. In addition to reading for pleasure, you will now use words as research and write down what you learn. If you prefer, you can dictate into a recorder or type into the Notes section of your phone.

Get inside the words, the sentences, the story arc. Don’t simply stay on the surface of what you’re reading, no matter how shallow it seems. Go deep.

Examine. If that cereal box makes you excited to eat the sugar doodles, ask yourself what it is about the words and their formatting is doing that for you. If you read that redwood plaque and walk away feeling smart, ask yourself how it pierced your busy mind.

If—especially if—you’re reading a novel, and you connect with a character, or you find yourself yanked out of the story, or you read a sentence twice to savor the citrus taste of it, or anything else of note happens, study that situation like a lover’s face. Write down what you think is happening (“main character makes stupid choices,” “too many adverbs,” “lots of smells make me feel like I’m right there,” “each chapter ends with a hook,” etc.) because transcribing information flips a switch in our brain, waking up the records guy who then goes over to pick up what you wrote and file it somewhere so you can access it later.

When you feed your narrative detective PIE, she begins to internalize the language and rhythm of story. This level of observation is how most novelists learned to craft their stories. They didn’t go to college to learn to be writers. They read to learn to be writers. In fact, the first MFA in Creative Writing wasn’t offered until 1936, five years after the New York Times Bestseller List premiered. Agatha Christie, Mark Twain, and Jane Austen wrote their masterpieces well before that. And most of the current New York Times best-selling authors didn’t go to college for creative writing. J. K. Rowling’s degree is in French. Robert Ludlum studied acting. Ray Bradbury barely graduated high school. The amazing Maya Angelou earned fifty honorary degrees in her lifetime, but she gave birth three weeks after graduating high school and never attended college.

When it came to writing books, all of these writers learned by reading. You read like a writer to notice how good writing happens so you can emulate it and how bad writing happens so you can avoid it. You learn to understand how a story is strung together, how one particular scene leads to another, to observe how characters are built. I particularly encourage reading in the genre you wish to write in because those stories will have their own unique seasonings. Also, if you have the time and interest, I encourage you to check out Francine Prose’s exquisite Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them for a deeper guided practice on the art of reading like a writer.

It’s not only words that you need to pay more attention to on this healing odyssey. You should also start to read life like a writer. This is a little bit of a cheat, conflating reading words with reading people, but only a little because when it comes to writing well, inviting your narrative detective to real-life situations and feeding her PIE is just as important as bringing her to written words.

You can’t take a person you know, whole cloth, and shove them into a story. One, they’ll struggle. Two, real people are too big and clumsy for stories. They’re inconsistent and often dull if rendered whole. You can—and must—instead take pieces of people, settings, situations and transform them into a story.

So walk this world with a pen and notebook in hand, immerse yourself in life, examine why people make the choices they make. Consider what parts work, and which don’t, and what you can take away from that to write a compelling novel. Eavesdrop. Hang out with people who think differently than you do. Seek art, particularly art that makes you uncomfortable. Ask yourself “why” a lot, and then ask yourself “what if.” Start answering both questions.
And most importantly, read as if your life depends on it.”

Rewrite Your Life: Discover Your Truth through the Healing Power of Fiction by Jessica Lourey

Wrought-Iron Words: The Benefits of Reading Fiction

Wrought iron words are carefully selected, soft but tough, malleable, forged to the scalding point in the writer’s mind, then poured onto the page. With tong and hammer, he rolls, stretches, shapes, and orders the words into snippets, sentences, and paragraphs. Meaning fused into life, just waiting to be discovered.

Richard L. Fricks

We all need to be more empathetic, more open-minded and accepting (aka, less judgmental), more creative, and more courageous.

The good thing is, we can accomplish all this without a brain (or heart) transplant.

Look at what I discovered during this morning’s reading session:

“Researchers have found tangible benefits to reading fiction…

Immersing yourself in a good novel increases your understanding of self and others. Studies suggest this is due to something called embodied cognition, in which your brain thinks your body is doing something it isn’t.… Specific to reading fiction, your brain drops you into the body of the protagonist, experiencing what they experience, which expands your capacity to put yourself in another’s shoes.

In addition to increasing empathy, neurobiological research proves that reading fiction changes the biology of the brain, making it more receptive and connected.

Reading novels also makes you more creative and open-minded, gives you psychological courage, and keeps your brain active and healthy.

The therapeutic value of reading novels is so profound that it has birthed something called bibliotherapy, in which clients are matched with a literary fiction designed to address what is ailing them, from mild depression to a troubled intimate relationship to a desire to find a work/ family balance.

Anyone who belongs to a book club has likely experienced a version of fiction’s healing powers. The value of reading is even more significant if you’re a writer. Imagine being a chef who eats only chicken nuggets, a carpenter who refuses to look at buildings, or an orchestra conductor who doesn’t listen to anything but commercial jingles.

Such is the problem for a writer who doesn’t read regularly and widely. Books are the maps to your craft. According to Stephen King, ‘If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.’ I agree.”

From Rewrite Your Life: Discover Your Truth through the Healing Power of Fiction by Jessica Lourey.

Electrify your life: Secret yourself for eventful experiences

Today, are you weak and heavy-laden? If so, let me introduce you to the best friend you could hope for. One who can and will bear your griefs, trials, temptations, and troubles. One who can and will bring you joy and happiness, and provide a safe haven at your beck and call. Sorry, I’m not referencing an old gospel song. Gladly, I bring you something more powerful and enduring. It’s nothing more than the lowly pencil.

More particularly, the pencil is a bridge to life, one of meaning and purpose. As you know, The Pencil Driven Life is my blog. You’ve also figured out I use the word pencil symbolically, to represent all writing instruments, be it pencil, pen, stylus, or keyboard (physical or digital). Dictation via voice recorder along with smoke signals are included though transcription to paper or e-book form is required for both!

The instrument itself is of secondary importance. The point (ha) is to transport your thoughts, ideas, and words all the way from your brain to your notebook or hard-drive. This journey illustrates the pencil is a bridge to life, one of meaning and purpose. But, it doesn’t happen automatically. You have to walk across the bridge. Better still, grab your bike and peddle across the bridge. Take note, I didn’t promise the bridge was short. You have a lot of peddling to do.

Hopefully, I haven’t muddled things so much you’re not getting the idea. The pencil, the actual writing, is analogous to the walking or peddling across the bridge from where you are to the place you want to be. That place of joy and happiness, of meaning and purpose (I didn’t say a land absent trials and troubles), that place where you find that friend you’ve always wanted, one who will never leave or forsake you.

Think of writing as peddling. Do a little research. Peddling a bicycle can produce electricity. Of course, the setup has to be properly engineered. Thank goodness you don’t need to be an engineer or other type technical genius to produce the electricity that powers your life across the bridge to real life.

Let’s look at four benefits you’ll obtain if you’ll commit to peddling, uh, writing. You could think of these as way stations along your journey across that metaphorical bridge.

I’ll cover the first leg of our journey in this post, followed by the other three over the next couple of weeks.

By writing you’ll travel far and wide, gaining experiences you’ll never have in real life. Here’s my title for this phase. Electrify your life: Secret yourself for eventful experiences.

Before we proceed, let me clarify a couple of things. I’m speaking of creative writing, AKA, fiction writing. My ultimate aim is to convince you to write your own novel, but to start with short snippets count. Second, you’ll never become a writer unless you are a reader. Think about it. At a minimum, you’ll read and reread what you’ve written. But, you must read more broadly than that (again, I’m speaking of novel reading).

Here’s the point. Experiences change us. Your own personal experiences, like the one you had the other day out walking when your foot slipped off the rock and you got all wet when you fell into the creek.

Further, the experiences we have by reading about them are just as good. Research seems solid in concluding our brains make no difference in these two types. Whether we got all wet literally or figuratively, it’s the same.

So, what’s the importance of gaining experiences through reading. It puts us in the place of the character. Studies have shown readers become the protagonist or other key character in a novel. They hurt when he hurts. They laugh when he laughs. They’re afraid when he’s afraid. However, at little cost or threat to life or limb, the reader learns what he or she would do in a similar situation.

Want to know how Rachel feels as she rides the train into London and looks through the window at one particular house set back from the tracks and imagines the lives of Jessie and Jason (Rachel doesn’t know their real names) the current occupants? Want to know how you would feel and act if you were living Rachel’s life: divorced, dissatisfied, childless, virtually homeless (she rents a spare bedroom from former classmate Kathy), and mesmerized by Jessie and Jason who live a few houses from where she (Rachel) used to live when married to Tom? If you really want to know, then read The Girl on The Train by Paula Hawkins.

Of course, this is just one of a zillion novels you could read. Want to know how you’d act and feel in a certain situation? Then go find a novel that provides that or similar scenario.

The more you read, the more your brain will change. Why? Because you will have been more places. You will have had more experiences. Do you think you’d be the same person today as you are if you had gone to Yale Medical School, followed by a residency in neurosurgery at Stanford? Read When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi if you want a new experience. Note, I never said you cannot read nonfiction!

Now, back to your lowly pencil. Your own writing is a massive gateway to an unending line of wonderful and horrible experiences. You decide which type today, which type tomorrow. You have the power of the sword in your hand. With every alphabetic slash and jab you create or destroy lives and worlds, you bring sadness or happiness, you foreshadow events that ultimately connect Jess and Jason, a love affair like no other.

Wield your sword as you see fit. At 9:00 am you can be enjoying a mocha latte at the Caféothèque of Paris and by 10:00 you’ll be exiting your plane in Jackson Hole, Wyoming readying yourself to meet your father to discuss why he’s giving your sister his ranch in Dubois.

Never forget, experiences change us.

Photo by SenuScape on Pexels.com

Please provide your email address if you would like to receive The Pencil Driven Life blog posts.