The final round! This is the third installment of my DIY MFA Book Club responses, containing Prompts 10 and 11, plus 12 (which is more of a celebratory note than a prompt, but whatevs.) As I mentioned last time, there was a Prompt #9, but I skipped it because it depends on reading Gabriela Pereira‘s book DIY MFA. While I have posted answers to these prompts in DIY MFA’s Facebook group “Word Nerds Unite,” I’m also posting this last set of prompts and slightly more in-depth answers here on The Cat’s Cradle:
January 29, 2018
DIY MFA Book Club
GP: “We know we need to ‘read like a writer’ but no one ever tells is what that actually looks like or how to do it. Plus, if you’re anything like me, you likely own more books than you could ever reasonably finish and reading can sometimes feel like ‘homework.’ At some point you have to get choosy about which books you read or add to your home library. This is where the “Essentials” come in handy. If you could only choose three books to keep by your side as you write, these would be it. To remember what these essential books are, just think of your ABC’s. A is for an anthology of short-form literature. B is for a book of prompts, and C is for a craft reference book… At any given moment I might be reading 10-15 books at a time and I love having them all on my Kindle so I can have something to read wherever I go. Now I want to know, what books are at the top of your TBR (to be read) list? Also, how do you keep track of what you read and if you read multiple books at a time, how do you manage it all?”
Goodreads is really the only way for me to keep track of my “books read” and “books to read,” since each of those lists are easily over 1000 books. Since I work in a library, I am constantly bringing home fresh books, despite having ten over-stuffed bookcases to go through. I read very quickly, but my retention level is low, so I end up reading or rereading a lot on various topics. Optimally, I have an audiobook of nonfiction in the car, a book of short stories to read on break at work, a book of longer fiction for home, and a book of poetry to read aloud before bed. I’m currently reading a historical fiction about Richard III called The Sunne in Splendor by Sharon Kay Penman, a collection of poems by Walt Whitman, a nonfiction book called Why Poetry by Matthew Zapruder, and various Star Wars and Marvel TPBs (trade paperbacks/omnibuses.) As of the posting of this entry, I also just finished a memoir called Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi and a YA fantasy Shadowsong by S. Jae-Jones. Generally, straight-up science fiction and fantasy are my bread and butter, but I do branch out from time to time.
I don’t really follow the recommended ABCs suggested by DIY MFA, but there are plenty of books that, as a writer, I find useful. I recommend The Stories of Ray Bradbury for writing short stories, Brassey’s Encyclopedia of Land Forces and Warfare plus The Discourses by Machiavelli for reference, and anything involving Mercedes Lackey for my writing role model. My reading habits do shift around, depending on what I’m in the mood for and also what project I’m working on. If I’m writing a YA fantasy, I’ll read more of that. If I’m writing a nautical fantasy, I’ll read books relating to that. My best advice is that you read widely and read often, but don’t feel obligated to read stuff that you have no interest in. For example, I don’t care for realistic fiction or inspirationals, and I’m really picky about my romances. But I have read a few of each, just to try it out and see if maybe there’s a hidden facet to it I can learn from rather than dismissing them completely out of hand. It’s okay to specialize, but be sure to try other flavors once in a while.
January 31, 2018
DIY MFA Book Club
GP: “As writers, we straddle many different worlds. We live in the real world—at least some of the time… We also live in the world of our stories… And then there’s that in-between world, that space where we traverse from the real world to the story. Muggles might look at a writer’s space and see only a desk, a chair, a notebook and pen or computer. But we know better. We know that the writer’s workspace is so much for than the extrenal trappings. It’s a portal that shuttles us from the real world to the realm of imagination. So now I want to know: What does your writing space look like? A picture is worth 1,000 words, so snap a photo and share!”
Here you go:
I don’t think that a writer should be chained to a single space, lest we start relying on it too much and use not being there as an excuse to not write. But it is always nice to have a special place that is set aside regularly for writing. There are a couple of places I can write in my house, including the kitchen, living room, and porch, but this is my primary workroom: The NaNo Sanctum (a.k.a. my library). It has the tools of the trade (AlienQueen the desktop, Dana the word processor, & Saffron the Chromebook), writing magazines, comic books, a lava lamp for ambiance, one of my many NaNoWriMo mugs, pretty artwork from various conventions, a filing cabinet, and (of course) books. Tons of books. All alphabetized by author’s last name. (What? I’m a librarian; it comes with the territory.) You can see three of my 10+ bookcases scattered throughout the house. You can’t see in this picture, but I also have a comfy high-backed rolling chair to sit at. While in the middle of working, I’ll also have reference books, pens, pencils, and papers scattered across the desk, plus one cat in my lap, another on the back of my chair, and a third on the filing cabinet. The other two vacillate between the window seat and my second desk. For the final touch, I have Vincent Valentine standing on the computer with a gun to my head to make sure I keep writing!
February 6, 2018
DIY MFA Book Club
GP: “High five, word nerd! We did it! We’ve reached the end of our book club. I don’t know about you but I’m both exhilarated and exhausted. At final count, the book club had 1,800+ participants, which is pretty freaking amazing! It has been such a joy seeing everyone’s answers to the prompts and getting a little more of a window into your writing process. Now it’s time to celebrate! Please share one victory (large or small) you achieved in doing the book club. Whether you’ve answered each and every prompt, or you’ve chosen a couple to jump into, I want to take a moment to honor this accomplishment. All the introspection is hard work, and it’s not easy to dig deep and share the answers to some of these exercises. I want to thank you for being part of this book club journey with me.”
While I wasn’t actually reading DIY MFA during the book club, I still enjoyed the prompts and really sitting down to think about what it is to be a writer. Plus it was neat to see how so many of us face similar challenges, and yet the ways we handle them and keep writing are myriad. So thanks to everyone who participated, sharing their stories, and thank you, Gabriela, for hosting! It’s been a pleasure.
How would you answer these prompts? What books are on your reading list and how do you keep track of them? What does your writing space look like? And what did you learn from reading or doing these prompts? I’d love to see your stories in the comments, or you can join us over at the DIY MFA Book Club where Word Nerds Unite!