Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘Monday Musings Meme

MusingMondaysWhat are you reading right now?
What do you think of it?
Why did you chose it?

My dad is one of the two men in my life who has positively influenced my writing aspirations. Besides having taken writing courses, created family newsletters, and contributed to specialized publications, my dad started to blog in the fall of 2012. As part of this latest writing venture, he read and shared a book with me called How to Blog a Book by Nina Amir.

This 168-page guide, published by Writer’s Digest Books, focuses on nonfiction. While my dream is to become a novelist, writing articles is a strength of mine, and so I still found it of interest. The chapters are fairly short, with subsections that were initially written as posts and thus run about 250-500 words, and at least half of them can still be found online at How to Blog a Book. Despite this brevity, the guide felt quite thorough to me. It covers everything from reasons to blog a book, how to prepare, where to post, how to drive traffic to your writing, what to do when you’re ready to convert your posts into a book, and finally success stories.

Foremost, I gained from How to Blog a Book an appreciation of how much work such a task requires. To start, just like you should for a print project, you’ll need to define your topic and mission, hone your subject with a pitch that’s focused enough to write in twenty-five words, map out your content, and decide on what your resources are. After that, you’ll also need to create a business plan. This involves determining page count, text features, and back matter. In addition, it requires that you consider who are your potential readers, where to promote, how to angle, and what material can complement your writings. All of these insights have given me ideas about how I might approach the creation of a second blog, even one that I don’t intend to turn into a book, and that excites me.

Just as importantly, How to Blog a Book also gave me a better awareness of how much promotion is involved in such a task. Amir states that one must wear many hats, that not only of a writer and blogger, but also that of a business person and social lite. Regards the latter, to drive traffic to your blog, you’ll need to create a fan base, increase the ease with which your blog can be found, develop an expert status, and even repurpose to e-zines after you have rewritten at least 20% of your content. If this sounds somewhat exhausting, Amir goes further by recommending that you spend EVERY day on multiple networks to promote your project. All of these insights gave me a reality check about how extroverted I’d need to become should I expect a blog-to-book project to gain recognition from publishers.

Amir offers a couple of statistic when trying to encourage ones to blog a book. First, Neilson Bookscan says that the average book now sells less than 250 in a year and 3000 in its lifespan. With such low odds, there seems good reason to focus on sharing content online instead of in print. Second, according to Publisher’s Marketplace, fifty blogs landed deals in 2009 out of over one million. While that number is low, Amir notes that there are still many reasons to blog, including that you can get published as you write, test your market idea, develop a platform, and get feedback on your manuscript. All of these reasons are worthy ones for an aspiring author to consider. And should you decide to try to blog a book, Amir’s guide will prove an invaluable help in this task.

MusingMondaysWhat are you reading right now?
What do you think of it?
Why did you chose it?

I grew up with writing being one of my favorite things to do. When I also start feeling a need to make more of a difference, I often turn to a book I discovered in my late thirties. Writing to Change the World by Mary Pipher contains both general advice on the writing process, as well as specific advice on how to use writing to make connections and transform society.

Divided into three sections, the first explores “What We Alone Can Say”. In it, Pipher both encourages readers to find their own voice, as well as explains how she found hers. Pipher writes that she grew up in a “big, complicated family”. Some were poor; some were not. Some were professionals; others were not. Some were religious; a few were atheists. From this opinionated group, Pipher got quite an education on point of view. She also heard lots of stories and was constantly asking the question, “Why?”  The first book to change Piphers’s life, read at age twelve, was The Diary of Anne Frank. When Pipher read it, she lost her innocence. Pipher’s unique past has given her something to say that no one else can say. Therefore, it also gives her a place at the writing table, just like all of us who write. What is your history? And what voice has it given you?

The second section explores “The Writing Process” and is probably my least favorite. One of my problems with this section is that much of the advice here can also be found in general writing guides, of which I have read plenty. Pipher talks about the blank page, finding time to write and writing groups, using clear and descriptive writing, how to organize and research, and even about revising and being grammatically correct.  Another problem I have is that the order in which Pipher presents her writing advice sometimes feels haphazard or unorganized. Criticisms aside, there are parts of section two that I liked. For example, Pipher offered advice on how writers can deal with darker issues, approach a topic from different perspectives, and frame writing to better connect with an audience. These are all concerns I have faced when tackling social problems.

The third section explores “Calls to Action” and is the most practical. Pipher talks about the place for letters, speeches, essays, blogs, music, and poems. (If you’re a fiction writer only, you’re either out of luck or might find yourself encouraged to experiment with new forms.) Sometimes Pipher offered recommendations based on personal experiences and her own writings; sometimes she shared advice and publications from others. Over all, her choices seemed to make an informative mix. Perhaps because of their local flavor, I most appreciated the letters written to persuade a Midwest county board to accept or reject the establishment of a motocross track next to a natural reserve.

Pipher has written only a few books. All of them explore pertinent social issues with research and reflection. Those that aren’t already part of my personal library will eventually find their way there. 🙂

MusingMondaysWhat are you reading right now?
What do you think of it?
Why did you chose it?

In the religious world, I’ve often felt like a misfit. Sometimes that has bothered me less than others. Whenever I do start to feel angst, I search for books written by other Christians who have also wrestled with their faith. This past year, when questions started once again to plague me, I checked the religious shelves of our local bookstores and libraries. Among them, I discovered Amazing Grace A Vocabulary of Faith by Kathleen Norris.

When Norris began attending her grandmother’s small-town church on the Great Plains, she was a transplanted poet with more doubt than faith. Even so, Norris felt pulled to return week after week to the Sunday morning services. She also developed ties with a nearby monastery. In her slow but steady conversion, Norris found one of her biggest struggles to be with the language of Christian religion. In her book of about seventy short chapters, Norris explores the meaning behind those words that many church-goers might take for granted such as incarnation, repentance, apostasy, trinity.

The first books that I recently checked out from the library had been written by those new to the faith. While I appreciated hearing their stories, I couldn’t readily connect to their experiences. I grew up in the church. Although I have at times drifted into apathy and/or rebellion, I’ve never completely relinquished that heritage. Thus, I found more of a kinship with Norris, who also had religious roots. Multiple moves have at times forced me to search out new churches, which is a rather daunting experience, and sometimes have left me feeling like an outsider. Thus, I also relate to how so many church terms can feel alien even to a person founded in the faith. In this way too then, I felt a connection to Norris.

She and I are not perfectly matched. Her background is that of Catholicism and the Benedict monks. Mine is that of Protestantism. We also at times differ in beliefs. I am not sure that she believes in a physical heaven and a physical hell, doctrines which are part of my faith. She might also have more openness to other religions being a way to God. Nonetheless, we do share a lot of common ground. Just as importantly, we’re both seeking a greater knowledge of Biblical truths and through them a deeper relationship with God.

MusingMondaysWhat are you reading right now?
What do you think of it?
Why did you chose it?

The preface to my version of A Grief Observed contains an introduction by the son of C. S. Lewis which explains the origins of this brief four-chapter book. C. S. Lewis was not a stranger to pain. He has lost his mother at age nine. Friends had been lost to him over the years, some in battle during World War I or due to sickness.

A Grief Observed focuses on his emotional angst after the death of his wife, whom he had spent the last weeks of her life constantly caring for. The notebooks he filled were never intended for the public. However, upon reading them later, Lewis felt they might serve of help of others in their time of mourning and so he published them.

Meanwhile where is God? … if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise you will be welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when you feel your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the other side. –C.S. Lewis

In Chapter One, Lewis describes what grief feels like. It can make one lazy, in that one loathes the slightest effort. Grief can also make one start questioning God, perhaps not His existence but his character instead. Lewis also shares how he feels indecent if he talks to the children about their mother. He even feels an embarrassment to people in general that he meets on the street, at work, and in the pub. No one knows how to approach him. Nor does Lewis know how to talk to others. Finally, he shares how he fears going to places that Helen and him had been happy.

It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you trust it? –C.S. Lewis

In Chapter Two, Lewis focuses on his wife. He talks about how time is causing his images and memories of her to fade. Lewis also talks about the finality of death. Even if he could onto the sensation of her presence, it would never actually make her alive again. Lewis also shares what others have said to comfort him such as “She is with God” or “She is in God’s hands.” None of these well-intended expressions bring him any relief for Lewis is in pain. He even wonders whether it is rational to believe in a bad or sadistic God.

It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you trust it? Something quite unexpected has happened. It came this morning early. For various reasons, not in themselves at all mysterious, my heart was lighter than it had been for many weeks. –C.S. Lewis

In Chapters Three and Four, Lewis starts to feel better. This does not mean Lewis is “getting over” the death of his wife. He provides an analogy of a man who gets his leg cut off. After the operation, the wound will heal and the pain will stop. The injured man will even find himself about to walk about again, but in a different fashion. While there will be moments that he will forget about his loss, he will never be without it. His whole way of life has been changed.  In parallel, Lewis finally finds himself about to revisit old haunts and even find happiness in them. He starts to consider why God might have allowed Helen to die and how Lewis should now react. Lewis still needs his wife with him, but he also still needs God, and so now he needs to figure out how to move forward.

Lewis doesn’t offer easy answers to grief or to faith. Rather, he recognizes that both are difficult to reconcile. For that reason, I appreciate A Grief Observed every time I read it.

After reading my third book by Kathryn Erskine, I decided it was time to read her earliest books. Erskine often writes about tolerance and understanding. Quaking is no exception.

In an interview with her, Erkskine states that the broad reason for exploring these themes if her belief that “the world would be a better place if we had greater acceptance of people’s differences and really listened to and understood each other.” Through a Quaker family and a militant teacher, Erksine explores attitudes both in favor of and against American participation in the war in the Middle East. On a smaller scale, through her main character Matt, Erskine shows the impact of bullying on children, students, and even adults. A victim of child abuse, Matt is afraid to allow anyone to get close to her, but must confront those fears when her new family’s life is in danger due to their pacifist beliefs.

I have to admit to taking longer to become comfortable with Quaking than Erskine’s later books. Matt seems to endlessly interject her opinions. After the first few chapters, I felt the way my husband must on those days when I babble about teaching, writing, and feelings. I also felt the antagonists were more stereotyped bullies than I have grown used to seeing portrayed by Erskine. The history teacher develops a vendetta against Matt after her responses to his first test, but doesn’t seem to target anyone else.  A classmate also develops a quick dislike for Matt, for reasons that never seemed clear, and again he seems to mostly target her.

One reason I elected to read Quaking is that Matt struck me as a potential anti-hero or troubled teen. As some of my regular visitors might recall, these type of characters interest me due to my featuring them in my own creative writings. Once Matt settled into her new life with a Quaker family, she developed soft edges. The Quaker family feels realistic, being both caring but also capable of being hurt and of making mistakes. Other friendships crop up too, which also seem natural. Over all, it seems as if writing about misfits is a tough task, but Erskine does a reasonable job, which means Quaking will one day become part of my own library.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

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