I want to thank you for reading my blog over the past year and I want to wish you the very best for a healthy, happy, productive 2015.
There have been many highlights of 2014, including the publication of my first two books: Conversations Among Ruins (All Things That Matter Press) and The Brothers’ Keepers (MuseItUp Publishing). I want to thank all of you who made that possible.
Another steady highlight has been a very healthy happy relationship with my significant other. I certainly could not have accomplished what I did without her loving support.
And I’ll have to say that one of the brightest points throughout has been meeting all the people I have met over social media.
I haven’t decided whether I’m going to make any New Year’s resolutions, but I am certainly interested in hearing yours, so please share.
All the best,
Last time we talked about writing exercises. While some writers (including yours truly) may not see the benefit of doing generic writing exercises found in books on writing, reading exercises seem to me an entirely different matter.
What are reading exercises and how can one benefit from them?
It’s often been said that the more widely you read the better. So if you write genre fiction, for example, reading literary fiction is a good idea. You also might want to consider reading plays and poetry as well as current events, and non-fiction essays.
What I want to stress here is that the level of difficulty of what you read makes a tremendous difference. In most cases, the more challenging the material, the better.
What is the point of reading difficult material?
It is like playing tennis with someone better than you. It strengthens you. It stretches you, and makes you grow. Reading difficult material stretches your mind, works out your brain, and makes your mind more nimble and agile when it comes to your own writing.
I suggest the following. Set aside a little time each day to read something you find challenging. For me, it’s often philosophy, poetry, Shakespeare, or just good old fashioned literary fiction. After finishing your difficult reading take a break. Then turn to your own writing project. I think you will be amazed at how much easier your own task seems.
Of course, there are so many other benefits to be derived from this practice. For example, your vocabulary becomes richer and the way you think and conceive of things may change as well, helping you to see things in a more creative way.
Do you do reading exercises as I’ve described them? Have they helped with your writing?
Several books on writing come complete with writing exercises. The thought is that doing such exercises will help strengthen your skills as a writer.
I’ll be honest—there’s a shocker, right? While I love to read books on writing, and own several, I’ve never done any of the exercises in any of the books.
I’m glad you asked.
I believe the best way to improve your writing is to write. Generic exercises on describing a piece of furniture or a particular character are all well and good, but until you really need to write about a piece of furniture or a particular character, spending time doing exercises is a waste of valuable energy.
Moreover, it seems to me that doing writing exercises makes you proficient in exactly one thing: doing writing exercises.
However, part of me feels bad for feeling this way. I’d really like to think that there are benefits to be derived from such practice. Who knows, maybe I’m just lazy.
What do you think of the merits of writing exercises? I want to hear from all of you, but I would especially like to hear from people who swear by such exercises, to help convince me of their potential rewards, and maybe help break my procrastinating ways.
I’m all ears.
These days it is easy to get discouraged when it comes to writing. The market seems saturated regardless of the genre you write. There is a glut of material, some of dubious quality, for readers of all ages, and we live in a day and age where it seems fewer and fewer people are buying books and reading.
Oftentimes, I allow myself to get dragged down by such negative thoughts, and engage in cognitive fallacies that are of little use in increasing my productivity or in raising my self-esteem, which more often than not, could stand a boost. These can take the form of all-or-nothing thinking, a case of the should -have’s, or simply a concentration on the negative to the exclusion of the positive.
Any of these sound familiar?
Regardless of how these thoughts manifest themselves there is a common denominator at work—namely, that I have lost sight of the purpose of writing.
What is the purpose of writing?
That is a question each of us must answer for ourselves.
I’ll give it a go here in the hope of starting a dialogue.
For me the purpose of writing is to get in touch with myself. Seldom do I truly know what I think about a subject until I put my thoughts on paper. Writing things down clarifies things for me and helps fill in the gaps in my own thinking, exposing the places in which there are lacunae in my reasoning or my emotional development.
I write to try to get people to think differently about something they might take for granted.
I also write because my writing is tied inextricably, for good or for ill, to my self-esteem. I am what I write, is a motto to which I subscribe whole-heartedly.
There is also some truth in the pat answer of writing to convey an emotional experience. But to me that is more the function of writing than the purpose of writing. Conveying an emotional experience is something writing does, and not the purpose of writing per se.
What is the purpose of writing for you?
I just finished reading a book called Mental Health in Literature, compiled by Glenn Rohrer. The subtitle, which I’m not crazy about (no pun intended), is Literary Lunacy and Lucidity.
Rather than taking the somewhat familiar tack of tracing the lives of writers who suffered mental illness, this book examines different mental conditions depicted in literature. It is organized by DSM standards that include substance-related disorders, as well as mood, anxiety, and personality disorders. For each illness covered there is an accompanying story that illustrates a character with the disorder. So, for example, we read a little blurb about Major Depressive Disorder, followed by an excerpt from Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.
I was surprised to find that stories I’ve known and loved include characters with distinct mental disorders. One of my favorite stories of all time, “The Overcoat,” by Nikolai Gogol, depicts a character with Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder. Also included in the book is a discussion of Oppositional Defiant Disorder, for which O. Henry’s character in“The Ransom of Red Chief” is used as an example.
In February I will be taking part on a blog talk radio show where the topic is “Mental Illness in Literature.” I read this book largely in preparation. But I would highly recommend it for anyone interested in the topic.
The reason I am taking part in this discussion is because the protagonist in Conversations Among Ruins, Daniel Stavros, is dual diagnosed, meaning he suffers from a mood disorder, along with chemical dependency. As many readers have pointed out, Daniel’s mental diagnosis is never made clear in the book, which was intentional on my part.
I’m interested in hearing what people think in terms of a mental diagnosis for Daniel Stavros.
Also, if anyone has additional reading to recommend on the topic of mental health/illness in literature, I am all ears.
We see lawsuits all the time in which smokers who have been harmed by tobacco sue cigarette companies. Some of these cases are settled favorably on behalf of the plaintiffs, often for several million dollars.
The issue, or question, rather, is why we don’t see a lot more alcohol drinkers, who have been harmed by their consumption, suing alcohol companies.
Both alcohol and nicotine are drugs, and both, under certain parameters, are legal.
So what accounts for the difference?
With the exception of 5 prisoners in Idaho who tried to sue a group of alcohol companies in 2013, one is hard pressed to come up with lawsuits against alcohol companies comparable to those filed against tobacco companies.
Maybe it has to do with the fact that people are encouraged to drink “responsibly,” so the onus is on them. But this raises the issue of just what drinking “responsibly” means and begs the question of what it would look like to smoke “responsibly.”
Maybe it’s because alcohol in small quantities has been shown by some to have modest health benefits. But given the financial power of tobacco companies it’s no wonder they haven’t funded some “genius” to “prove” the benefits of smoking in moderation.
But speaking of financial power, maybe that’s the real answer. Perhaps the lobbying power of alcohol companies is so superior to tobacco companies that legislation is written in such a way that it protects alcohol companies to a greater extent.
Personally, I think lawsuits against tobacco companies are silly. And I’m not sure lawsuits against alcohol companies make any more sense. But it is interesting to ponder the differences between the two.
What do you think? If the legal playing field is essentially even between these two types of litigation why don’t we hear more about alcoholics suing alcohol companies because of the dangerous effects of their products?