“Banging at the Gates of American Literature”: I’m an Idiot, But Please Take Me Seriously

On Monday I wrote an essay about writing and acted as if I knew what I was doing. I don’t. But I wrote a book. That’s the good news. I wrote a book, but I’m not sure that necessarily means I know anything about writing books. Maybe ask me after the sixth book comes out. Maybe ask me in ten years, and I’ll have adopted a more seraphic ability to disperse writerly wisdom. Until then, I’m an idiot. I’m a very serious idiot who takes writing very seriously, if not many other things in life.

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Imagine I’m the proverbial monkey at the typewriter, and I’ve written enough that something I’ve written is rather good. Perhaps this is an accident, perhaps not. If you do anything for long enough, you get good at it. That’s old wisdom, isn’t it? Isn’t it? I would not know. I’m an idiot who got really lucky.

This afternoon (morning in my mind) I sat in my fiction writing professor’s office and listened to his criticisms of a new story I gave over to him. Too long, he said– he compared the plot to a dog escaping the yard and running into traffic. Keep the dog in the yard, he advised. And then he asked me to cut the story (over 8,000 words) almost in half (he is allowing me only 5,000 words). I nod, I nod. I am in this moment terribly inadequate at expressing what I want to say about the story. Or mention what the story’s about.

On paper, I can write sentences clean as a disinterred dinosaur bone. But I open my mouth, and the slugs of incomprehensible babble spill forth.

What I mean to say is this: I am a writer, but that does not necessarily mean I’m someone worth listening to. I’ve got a few stories to tell, and I hope you think they’re good. God, please like me. Please, just give me a chance.

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People keep asking, “Hey Derek, how do you feel now that the book is coming out?”

“It’s terrifying,” I tell them.

Of course I’m excited, practically electric with anticipation. But also I am struck with the terror that other people will finally read my work. And no, I cannot take back and book and rewrite it. I cannot, as I did this morning the office of my fiction writing professor, get back the story with comments. It’s done, cement, finito.

But no worries. I am proud of what I’ve produced. I’ve put several years of thought into the book. It reminds me of this idea I’ve been playing with lately. Whenever I speak to creative people, particularly those educated in universities, they tend to look upon “normal people” as boring. As robots pressing on and on, shackled by their pointless labor. These people are un-human, incapable of the higher thought available to those set free by the creative spirit. And that, to me, is such a stupid thought. So I claim not to be an intellectual, not to be interesting at the sake of others. I am an idiot. Just like you. We’re in this together, this trying to be better, this learning to be human. Our communal idiocy in the pursuit of meaning gives our lives meaning.

I think we too often dismiss the possibility that the inner lives of strangers are as fascinating and multi-faceted as our own. Often, I fall into the trap when writing of assuming that readers won’t get it. But I get it, and I’m an idiot! So please take me seriously. The plea falls from my mouth, limp and strange, isn’t it?

Isn’t it?

Richard Brautigan once wrote a story called ⅓ ⅓ ⅓ about three idiots attempting to write a shoddy novel. The last lines remain with me because they remind artists of the silly truth. And the silly truth is that no one cares what we do. I don’t mean that as a criticism, necessarily. I mean that the writer, the artist, the sculptor, he or she must care very deeply for the art he or she makes. Brautigan’s story ends like this…


“Howdi ther Rins said Maybell blushed like a flower flouar while we were all sitting there in that rainy trailer, pounding at the gates of American literature.”


And that’s what I’m doing, who I am. Another idiot, drunk on words and muse-juice, “pounding at the gates of American literature.”


On How To Become a Writer

Lecturing in a middle-school classroom two months ago on the finer points of poetry explication—in laymen’s terms, explaining that not all lines in poems are, in fact, literal—I fielded questions from the crowd of seventh-grade would-be writers, half of whom actually liked me (because I was young, the teacher insisted) and half of whom squirmed to be released into the wild frontiers of winter break. Hand shot up, “How do you become a writer?”

The question stumped me because—

1.) Am I writer? Do I get to call myself a writer now that my first book will be coming out soon or do I have to wait until I can pay the rent writing? Writers are mythical creatures, like unicorns, and I’m unsure whether I might call myself a unicorn just because I’ve strapped a spiraled horn to my forehead.

2.) I don’t know.

I tell the young girl the only answer that dings at the front of mind, like a mallet against a carnival strength-test. I say, “Write. Just write.”

Seems simplistic, sure, maybe a cop-out answer. I could hear already a collective groan as writers-block-guythe students perhaps anticipated an oncoming lecture on the virtues of hard work. But I could not lie: there’s only one way to become a writer, and that’s to write. Ever since beginning education at university, I have flagellated my ego for deciding not to enroll as an English major with a creative writing concentration. Makes sense, to study writing if you’re a writer.

In some sense, however, I have studied writers for years: I read books, essays, magazines, and poetry. Read, read, read, consume knowledge; write, write, write, spit that knowledge back out in a practical context. I mean not to demean the value of a good writing program, though, because if that’s what works, it works. In my experience, writing programs offer both an incentive and time to write. Studying at university as well as back in high school, I had both incentive and time: I wanted to write books and I made time to write books, stories, and poetry.

There are several paths that might help you become a better writer: taking classes, engaging in writing critique groups, or reading “On Writing” by Stephen King. Or you could read blogs like this. But none of that will matter if you never sit down to put in actual work. Morris L. West, author of The Devil’s Advocate and many other books, once said, “In a longish life as a professional writer, I have heard a thousand masterpieces talked out over bars, restaurant tables and love seats. I have never seen one of them in print. Books must be written, not talked.” (http://www.advicetowriters.com/home/2015/2/6/books-must-be-written-not-talked.html)

There ain’t no hocus pocus, no special pill, and no inspiring book: just write. All the rest’s just background noise. You could be a best-selling author or an amateur middle-school scribbler, but writing makes the writer. So you wanna be a writer? Then pick up a pen or place fingertips to keyboard and begin.

Library Fines

The book-mobile came to our elementary school every Thursday afternoon, beginning my love affair with books– especially the free variety from libraries. We waited, my brothers and I, until 3 when it rolled into the parking lot, and we climbed on books, scouring the few shelves that the bus held. This, I believed– this rolling-meth-lab-turned-book-van– constituted the entire library. Many years would pass before I realized the library had more than four shelves, stocked with copies of Goosebumps and the Magic Tree House Series.

My mother perhaps did not fully understand the concept of libraries or checking out books from them. I really do not know why she continued for months to check out fifteen books at a time, returning maybe only two of that number. She collected fines like most people collect state quarters or Beanie Babies or the teeth from their enemies (if they happen to be ancient war lords). She continued until the library rejected her when next she tried to check out the latest offering from James Patterson.

She resorted to creating library cards for her three sons and using those instead to continue this open theft of library books. I am sure there is a copy of Dinosaurs Before Dark with a library sticker crammed into my bookcase; despite our accessory to this large-scale heist, she was the mastermind. At one point, I believe the librarians posted a wanted poster with her image, demanding several hundreds of dollars in fines lest she be caught on the premises.

The true Wild West character of the County Library. She still avoids the library, as far as I know. Years later, I re-applied for a new card so I could check out books uninhibited by her dark reputation. And it’s not that she amassed fines in malice, like a rebel against the library system. She simply loved books so much, she needed to keep them.

Perhaps she believed stories were permanent, and if she relinquished a book, the characters and tales would somehow dissipate. She kept the books as if to check that the words never faded. I too, at times, feel the need to hold onto stories, hoping their contents never fade from my mind or from existence.

We tell stories to explain who we are, just as I tell this one to better make sense of my mother’s book-related criminality. My mother probably never nurtured such absurd notions about books, that they were semi-permanent. And she never really stole the books, but she did take an awfully long time to return them. But in a story, it helps to link actions to causes. We need reasons for doing things. We tell stories to make points, whether they be true or not.

We need stories to make some sort of sense because people rarely do.

Guest Post: The Beauty of Stories

{Guest Poster Kendall Driscoll is a fellow writer and poet. Aside from kicking literary ass, she enjoys mastering every single instrument known to man, most notably the violin, flute, and piccolo. But seriously– you should see her play the Pic solo in “You Can Call Me Al.” It’s awesome. She will be attending Furman University in the Fall to study Music Education.

She wrote this post on her own blog not long ago, and I am re-posting it here with different pictures. Enjoy her words and check out her new blog at http://kendalldriscoll.weebly.com/}

Once upon a time, society valued the skill of storytelling. Mothers and fathers read to their young children every night before bedtime. Friends would boast to one another about who could tell the tale of the day’s road trip better. Writers were seen as the heroes of the era for they brought adventure to our boring afternoons and created an escape from our troubled lives.

Source: http://newauthors.wordpress.com/2011/07/12/little-book-of-magic/

Once upon a time, storytelling wasn’t a dying art.

Sometimes, it’s sad to see what society deems as “worth it” these days. Today’s society seems to value technology to the extreme. Every day we’re surrounded by iPhones, kindles, and ever-evolutionizing gaming systems. We love the sleek look of today’s technology, the hours of entertainment obtainable from these devices, and the compact nature of these devices that allow the user to take it wherever he or she wants. But whatever happened to entertainment that didn’t involve plugging yourself into a machine?

Once upon a time, people told stories for entertainment. People read these stories, thought up their own stories, and even wrote them down to create a storybook. Stories take a reader to another world and while that world may be realistic or just pure fantasy, stories have purpose and meaning. As readers, we all can learn something new and even something deeply profound if only we continue to keep these stories alive by reading.

Sure, I enjoy having a kindle that has a library of books I can easily access any time I want, but surely it never will replace the love I have for reading an actual “book book.” I mean, isn’t it a beautiful thing to pull your favorite book from the shelf and just enjoy the aesthetic value of a real book–its dog-earred pages, its papery feel as you turn the page, its bookish smell that’s no longer the “new book smell” but now it has acclimated and acquired the familiar scent of home.

Have you ever missed being read to? You know the time when a teacher would pull out his highlighted and written-in copy of Flannery

Source: http://www.thedctraveler.com/2006/10/books-on-the-hilland-what-seems-like-everywhere-else/

O’Connor’s short stories and he would read aloud to the class? It’s a beautiful sight to see a class of wild and crazy high school English students settle down and listen intently to the story being told. The reader of the story is not monotone, but rather he enjoys making every voice in the dialogue different and unique. It’s entertaining and dramatic with every pause, every crescendo and decrescendo in the reader’s voice, and every staccato syllable added in for the effect of a good performance.

Once upon a time, writers were acknowledged by people with utmost respect, not as people without “real jobs.” By no means is writing an easy job. Mark Twain once said that the difference between the right word and the almost right word was “the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” Think of some of the great writers in history: Jane Austen, Homer, Edgar Allen Poe, Charles Dickens…the list can go on forever! Writers influence people’s views of the world by telling a story of some sort.

Stories are everywhere! A story serves as an excuse for the kid who forgot to do his homework the night before. A story serves as the ice breaker for a girl on her very first date as she drives off in a car with the shy boy who sat next to her in English class. A story keeps memories alive and the dead alive in our hearts as we remember with reverence who they were. Stories touch our hearts, our minds, and our souls. They can distract us, inform us, entertain us, liberate us, berate us, comfort us, and save us. Stories make a difference in the world in which we live.

Once upon a time, I realized how important stories are to the world around us. Keep stories alive. Always.

Review: Divergent

Remember when I vowed to read more YA books from now on when I wrote The Percy Jackson Experiment?  Well, I took that seriously and have been searching for other decent YA novels. This lead me to another much talked-about Dystopian novel which both has been praised as highly original and dejected as a Hunger Games rip-off. The book is Veronica Roth’s Divergent, the first book in a new trilogy.

Divergent serves as a fast summer read brimming with action and suspense, but very little substance– the themes Roth tries to translate come out forced. What she’s trying to say isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but we’ll touch more on that in a second. Where the book shines is in its plot, which though not exactly tightly woven, twinkles with moments of action.

In a dilapidated future-version of Chicago, Beatrice Prior lives with her family and faction Abnegation. In this city surrounded by a fence beyond which there are apparently terrors, there are five factions who cooperate but live by different ideologies. Each holds one trait above all else: for Abnegation, this is selflessness, for Erudite knowledge, for Amity love and acceptance, for Candor honesty, and for Dauntless bravery. At the age of sixteen, each teen must complete an examination to determine the correct faction and then decide whether or not to leave their families and factions or stay.

Beatrice (or Tris as she is later known) makes a choice which might shatter the status quo and uncover a conspiracy.


You already know what I liked about the book, that it keeps you engaged with action. Leaping on and off trains, fighting, shoot-outs, zip-lining from skyscrapers. When Tris joins Dauntless, she embraces their lifestyle by acting out dangerous missions which really aren’t so brave as they are stupid. But I love stupidity and reading about a community of people devoted to risking their lives for no reason to do stupid things– count me in!

The political overtones about coming together rather than driving each other apart because of ideologies felt a little heavy-handed and strangely ineffectual. From the very beginning, the system of factions seemed rather strange and though the system begins falling apart, it probably should have fell apart a long time ago.

All this turned out completely fine. I really enjoyed the book, in fact, and would suggest it for those rainy summer days you may spend all hours indoors reading. You will finish it fast and likely want to continue the series because the story ends with a dramatic cliffhanger. If there’s one thing Roth does right, it is to entice you to buy the next book. And yeah, sure, I’ll probably buy the sequel at some point, but there are plenty of other books to read at the moment.

The only real problem I had with the book was the forced romance with the characters Tris and Four. Before they even build a real relationship (which they do, fair enough), she already has “feelings” and freaks out when he is around. I’m sorry, but as a “strong” female protagonist, Tris gets much too “shaky in the knees” around Four. What starts out as a school-girl-type crush blossoms into a full-fledged romance and though toward the end, this romance becomes more believable, her initial queasy feelings toward him rubbed me the wrong way.

I think also most reviewers find too easy of a connection with The Hunger Games or Harry Potter, though besides the genre Dystopian, I think Divergent differs great from Collins’s novel. There is, at least, something fresh and fun about the read. Roth’s tale is not exactly like those, but that’s a good thing– reading the same book again would make me snore.

If you’re looking for something fun and fantastical and action-packed and teen-friendly, pick up Divergent by Veronica Roth. And maybe even the sequel Insurgent.

Game of Thrones, Season 2: Why I’m Stoked

Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until this episode ends. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. Except for the dying part, because I doubt I’ll die in the hour it takes to watch Game of Thrones on HBO. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns against cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the most intense show ever, for this Sunday night and all the Sunday nights to come.

Why am I stoked for Game of Thrones?

If you have reading this blog for any length of time, you have probably noticed that George R.R. Martin’s series Song of Ice and Fire has caused me to develop a quick love of fantasy, specifically his fantasy. After watching the first season of Game of Thrones on HBO, I tore through the series like a Dothraki arakh through a man’s gut. At the moment, I am beginning the fifth book. So far, it is vying for favorite status.

My current favorite of his series is book 2 entitled Clash of Kings. With five different kings in Westeros, war ensues, Lannister against Stark, brother against brother, ward against lord. The story line is far more engaging for this reason, not that series one was uninteresting. Only that season two will include more fighting and wars. Particularly exciting is the Battle of Blackwater. I am quite ready to see Tyrion Lannister in battle again, though not be bumped on the head during the first minute.

Speaking of Tyrion, viewers will see much more of him this coming season. While his adventures on the Wall and as Catelyn’s captive are certainly interesting, he begins controlling much more in the second book because he has become Hand of the King. His movements during this book become very important to the final outcome.

Also, a key player in the upcoming series is Theon Greyjoy, a minor character in the first series. He will travel to the Iron Islands of his birth to confront his fearsome father Balon, his rash sister Asha, and his devoted uncle Aeron. Except that Asha will be named Yara in the upcoming season and played by Gemma Whelan.

There are many new key players to watch including Brienne of Tarth, Melisandre, Stannis and Renly Baratheon, and Ygritte the wilding. But who these characters are and their significance will be explained soon, quite soon, come April 1st. Look at pictures here!

Another new character I’m excited to see portrayed is Davos Seaworth, who turned out to be one of my favorite characters. His origin and general dedication really touch me, somehow. He will be played by Liam Cunningham who I’ve heard is quite a skilled actor.

Concerning casting, there is one aspect that excited me much. Two veterans from the British drama Skins have been cast. One we’ve seen in Season One as Robert Baratheon’s bastard Gendry, who also plays a much larger role in Season Two. Joe Dempsie plays Chris, a directionless screwup, on Skins, while anorexic, half-psycho Cassie (Hannah Murray) will be playing Gilly, a pregnant wilding who has sex with a crow (metaphorically!) and her own father (unfortunately, not so metaphorically).

In the casting alone, there is much to be excited about. The stories we will see unfold are quite epic, I promise. Much blood, I promise. Much ringing steel, I promise. Some dragons, those too. Treachery and death and love, all those, they are coming. That this show will be fantastic, that is as sure as winter itself. Winter is coming, but perhaps it’s not such a bad thing for us.

Reading the By-line

The librarian here in Aiken lowered her glasses and pursed her lips (in typical draconian/librarian style) as I jigged through the lobby, hopping on one foot, leaping into the air to complete graceful ballet turns, and waltzing all by myself. I waved a magazine like a banner as I pranced outside. Why? Because my first feature article was published on December 1st. If you don’t live in the CSRA area, you can check it out here. Page 19, not that I memorized that or anything.

I will know be able to boast as a professional poet (since I’ve had poetry published) and a working journalist. Now, just to get that novel published. Speaking of which, I sent loads of query letters lately. Spoken to many, many agencies. Statistically, I’m sure that if I have sent my novel to over 200 people, one will be bound to like it. Just one is all I need.

The feature story I published for Verge concerned NaNoWriMo. I felt a certain elated pride in seeing my name on the byline. It gave me a peculiar feeling; there is an other-worldliness with having your work out there. While I know people read this blog, I don’t feel that it’s quite a same. Though I’m extremely obsessive about checking view counts, I think of  a feature article in a different way.

You see, there’s not me there. In a blog, I inject myself into each post so that it froths over with my personality. Like when you put Mentos in a diet coke bottle.

But a magazine type story, that breeds a different readability. You are being read by many, many people, most of whom you’ve never met. Not many of them will give you feedback on what they thought. There is no comment section for a newspaper. Not really. So instead you’re consumed by the anonymous masses. Unless it’s a column, it’s not you, either. You can’t convince people to like you based on personality. The writer needs to be able to write. Except for that byline, a newspaper article can’t really represent you. The reader can’t see the writer behind the work, as much as they can when they read a poem or memoir.

The best way to relay this is to give the explaining away to a higher authority. By that, I mean, Chuck Palahniuk. This is a story he tells in his essay (13 tips): http://litreactor.com/essays/chuck-palahniuk/stocking-stuffers-13-writing-tips-from-chuck-palahniuk

Almost every morning, I eat breakfast in the same diner, and this morning a man was painting the windows with Christmas designs.  Snowmen.  Snowflakes.  Bells.  Santa Claus.  He stood outside on the sidewalk, painting in the freezing cold, his breath steaming, alternating brushes and rollers with different colors of paint.  Inside the diner, the customers and servers watched as he layered red and white and blue paint on the outside of the big windows.  Behind him the rain changed to snow, falling sideways in the wind.

The painter’s hair was all different colors of gray, and his face was slack and wrinkled as the empty ass of his jeans.  Between colors, he’d stop to drink something out of a paper cup.

Watching him from inside, eating eggs and toast, somebody said it was sad.  This customer said the man was probably a failed artist.  It was probably whiskey in the cup.  He probably had a studio full of failed paintings and now made his living decorating cheesy restaurant and grocery store windows.  Just sad, sad, sad.

This painter guy kept putting up the colors.  All the white “snow,” first.  Then some fields of red and green.  Then some black outlines that made the color shapes into Xmas stockings and trees.

A server walked around, pouring coffee for people, and said, “That’s so neat.  I wish I could do that…”

And whether we envied or pitied this guy in the cold, he kept painting.  Adding details and layers of color.  And I’m not sure when it happened, but at some moment he wasn’t there.  The pictures themselves were so rich, they filled the windows so well, the colors so bright, that the painter had left.  Whether he was a failure or a hero.  He’d disappeared, gone off to wherever, and all we were seeing was his work.

I hope you can glean some perspective from that story. Blogs give us unrealistic expectation of reader feedback. One day, I’ll just open a newspaper to read a review and there would be any option to “accept” or “deny.” It shall just be.

When you’re writing a story for a magazine or newspaper, you have only that by-line to represent you. That’s you in three words:

By Derek Berry

Interviews are Fun, So are FIRES

Nothing was on fire... except maybe fingers on keyboards.

I’ve been writing for the Hornet Herald for awhile, but I have been working on my first assignment for a magazine not associated with a school. For my first story, I’m writing about NANOWRIMO, which is apt and fairly fun to write about. A lot of writers have very strong feelings about it, so it’s good fun.

While having very engaging conversations with the writers, the fire alarms went off.

“Don’t worry,” I said, shrugging, “I’ve been here before when they malfunctioned.”

But then a librarian burst into the room, waving her arms. “Get out! Get out!”

We scrambled for our laptops, unplugged them from the walls. I shuffled up my interview papers, stuffing them into my bag, bunching wires and laptop in my arms as I trucked out of the meeting room. Down the creaking stairs because the elevators automatically locked down if the fire alarm sounded. I never knew the library even had an elevator.

Standing outside, the patrons began asking questions. The sun had just sunk beneath the horizon, setting blazes across the sky. And the library looked on fire. This old building that used to be the public school house looked as it spit dragon flames from its windows.

And I thought, “That’d be so cool.”

Fortunately, I wrote a story a few months ago about a library that blew up because of a bomb. I began to worry that if I published that and if the library in my hometown were actually burned down, I might attract some blame. But it still struck me as such a cool idea.

So, last night was fairly busy. Interviews, work, and a fire that never actually was. Turns out, some kid pulled the fire alarm switch. Which makes me sad that I never pulled one when I was young, because I always wanted to. And this kid who did got into absolutely no trouble. Kids can get away with all sorts of atrocities. I never abused that opportunity.

The experience made me realize, most of all that… if a fire ever actually broke out in a library, we’d be too worried about our laptops to not crisp black.

Thoughts About The Library

When I was in elementary school, the Book Mobile rolled into the parking lot every day around 2:30. Waiting outside in the gravel parking lot, we carried our old books in our dumpy book bags. Bags with vinyl depictions of Power Rangers and Harry Potter. The old bus was outfitted with shelves, a small, cramped desk placed behind the driver’s seat. It kicked up gravel when it pulled up, and we hustled inside, especially when it was raining.

Standing inside the Book Mobile, we stood in a single file line, pressing our bodies into the shelves every time someone needed to pass by. The books we checked out were kid’s books: The Magic Tree House, The Hardy Boys. My mom wouldn’t let me read Goosebumps, because it was too scary, too gruesome. I hated horror books at that age anyways, anything too real. I guess now that’s pretty ironic.

This was my first experience with the library, waiting every Tuesday for the Book Mobile to bumble into the gravel parking lot. They’ve paved over that parking lot now; the Book Mobile sits outside the library, and I don’t know if it visits the elementary school anymore.

When I’m running behind on writing an essay or a column for The Hornet Herald, I visit the library. First, I read. I read funny books by Steve Barry and Ian Michael Black and Lewis Grizzard. And then I take out my laptop, get down to work. It’s mostly quiet there in the library, especially upstairs in the Nonfiction section. Along with the essays on poetry and the biographies. There’s wifi too, which is more distracting than helpful.

Facebook has increased the percentage of turned-in-late essays in my grade by 76%. I made that statistic up—writing blog posts or writing columns, you’re allowed to do that. You’re allowed to make up stories and anecdotes and quotes, because all that matters is the story. And if a story seems true, then truth doesn’t really matter.

After spending so much time in the library, I’ve learned something: old books smell so good.

I love buying books, especially old books. Because there are some books you must own, really own. To share with friends and carry. And keep on shelves to show everyone what books you own. And unless a book I really want to read has just been released, I will buy the book used.

But if I ever get published and visit the library, I won’t say anything to anyone. I’ll sometimes visit my work, to flip through the pages. I hope it begins to smell musty, the cover get battered, and the pages yellow. Because to me, that sort of wear-and-tear is a distinction. Sometimes, I flip through the books I check out and wrench out receipts from past users, reading the foreign names of people who traveled this journey before me. I wonder whether or not the book made them feel quite the same way. I wonder if this book meant anything to them.

I love the library, because it is like a home I’ve yet to move into.

But mostly I love the library because it’s free. Without the library, I probably would not be writing. It’s not that my parents didn’t buy me books, but how can any parent have the expense to satiate a kid’s imagination. I didn’t just want one book, ever. I wanted to read them all. I wanted to sit all day and night and scour the shelves and discover and learn and excavate through the archives of storytelling pasts.

Every book in a library is a story and picking up that book, you’re sharing it with the hundreds of people who read the book before you. I love finding white check-out slips hidden between the pages as bookmarks. Names of people who shared these emotions with me, this story.

Sometimes, I go to visit others who call it home. Sometimes, I revisit my favorites, pulling them from the shelves, indulging in surreptitious sniffs. Sometimes, I come with a list and a sturdy face, tracking down books I’d like to read. Other times, I don’t have a list: no names. I just wander around, looking at the titles, bringing home books I’ve never heard of. I’m a biting, critical reader, so sometimes I’ll leave the book alone. Sometimes, I fall in love.

And I hope maybe I’ll be able to find a book with my name on it on those shelves. And I’ll hope someday, some kid will pick it up, flip through its pages and think, “Old books smell so good.”

The Benefits of Nanowrimo

Trying to decide whether or not to do Nanowrimo? Do it.
What? You need a bit more convincing? Fair enough—let’s get down to it. Why would anyone want to crank out 50,000 words in a month.

Check out their website here: http://www.nanowrimo.org/

Thirty one days of frenzy, plotting, building characters, worlds. There are a lot of myths floating around about Nanowrimo and here we’ll discuss it all.

1.) You Write a Novel

It’s the American dream to pen a novel that will keep us sitting pretty by maxing out on the bestseller list. That’s what’s great about Nanowrimo. You get to start on that memoir/ fantasy about dragons you’ve always wanted to write. Just keep in mind, 50,000 words is a lot, but is not considered a novel. Devastating, I know. But don’t despair yet. Once you get down those first 50,000 words, you’ll be well on your way to finishing your first draft.

How much more should you write after that? Well, that depends on what genre you’re writing in.
For a Romance novel, 85,000
For a YA, 70,000
For SF and Fantasy, the word count spans from 90,000 to 120,000, but if you keep it lower, it will be easier for the agent to say yes. Unless you’re Ray Bradbury or Stephen Gaimon, turning in a 200,000 word novel to agents will earn you a quick and polite, “No thanks.”
Thrillers, 80,000 to 100,000
Cozy mystery, 60,000 to 85,000
Very few publishers want to invest in a book that’s only 50,000 words, but that is what seems manageable in a single month. If anything, Nanowrimo will get you into gear with your writing habits. I tend to write either very early in the mornings or at night. Otherwise, I’ll work on essays and blog posts. But at 6 in the morn or at midnight, you can find me pounding out fiction. Past maybe 11, my family settles into slumber and I can get an hour or two to work in peace.
This month will help you figure out how to fit writing into your schedule. Now, mind, I don’t generally generate 2,000 words a day as you will need to do to complete the challenge, but it does form a habit for writing every day.

2.) You meet other writers

One of the best things about becoming involved in such a program is that you meet other budding writers and some professional writers. If you’re interested in writing, then to meet new people is essential. These are the people that will encourage you to keep going even when you think what you’re writing is crap.
As a poet, knowing other poets—both amateur and professional—has helped me grow in my craft. Other people push you to write better, because suddenly you’re not just writing for yourself. Your writer friends become the first audience you need to impress. Sure, if you’re only doing this for fun, write for fun. But if you’re interested in publication, relationships with other writers will vastly increase your skill.

3.) Getting Published
Don’t assume that if you crank out those 50,000 words, you’ll get published. Sure, Sara Gruen did it, but do you think she turned in a first draft. Definitely not. She worked and reworked that novel before ever sending her first query. Once you finish, go ahead and celebrate, but the party ain’t over yet.
Generally, when you finish the first draft, you’ll look away from your novel. Then go back. Write it again. That’s right. You shall probably end up writing it again. That’s what December, January, and February are for, though, right? November is the month that will jolt your writer self with ideas and then you’ll pump out those first 50,000 words.
After that? Edit, edit, edit.
But don’t worry about this quite yet. When you finish that first draft, then worry about editing. For now, worry about finger cramps and how strong your coffee is.

Nanowrimo is an adventure that takes a lot of hours, a lot of time. But that’s what it takes. Words, time, and blood. Well, mostly words, but some blood too if you happen to get a paper cut. Good luck!