Miscellaneous Monday Morning: Khalid Warsame’s “A Writer’s Guide To Keeping Sane”

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Happy Monday dear readers! For many of you, this is the last Monday at work before the winter holidays, which, if you’re like me, makes it even harder to feel motivated to be productive today. So close and yet so far, right? I feel you, dear readers, I really do!

This is going to be a very busy writing week for me, full of large chapter overhauls and heavy duty revisions. Reading and revising my first drafts is my least favorite part of the writing process, mostly because I find lines like “They buzzed around like jet fighters” and I’m left wondering why on earth my past self could have possibly thought that that was a good simile to include as a narrative description (Fun fact: the “they” in that sentence was a pair of hummingbirds. Yeah. Writing fail.). These are the times when I’m most likely to give up on projects, and so I’m even more in need of a reminder that I’m not the only one who thinks writing is hard than I usually am (which, admittedly, is all the time).

This is why I couldn’t have been happier when I stumbled across Khalid Warsame’s piece “A Writer’s Guide to Keeping Sane” over at Medium. The piece is a quirky, quick read that I at least could relate to and glean some advice from, and I think some of you, dear readers, might as well. I’ve copied it out here for your convenience, but be sure to check out the original piece over at Medium and their other great stories as well. Happy Monday, dear readers!

Sanity is a cozy lie. ~Susan Sontag

  1. I’m staring at a blank page right now. I have a title but little else. My cat is looking at me funny; I can’t handle this. I think I’ll clean my room.
  2. A good way to avoid the terror of the blank page is to never start a new document. Simply pick up where you left off, and if it’s a different story, separate it with a new page or line. I had one word document that was three hundred pages long, full of dead novels, fragmented bits of prose, and aborted articles. Going through it was like going through an ancient battlefield.
  3. Nobody follows their own advice.
  4. I once heard that writing is mostly an exercise in self flagellation. There’s a lot of aphorisms like this about writing. I think I’ve spent more time thinking about writing and reading about writing than actually writing. 
  5. Thomas Mann was my age when he started Buddenbrooks. How old was Bret Easton Ellis, the bastard? I hear some eighteen year old got a book deal. They gave that kid a million dollars. What am I doing? I hate them all.
  6. Think about it this way: if you weren’t worrying about writing, you’d probably be worrying about serious things that actually matter. So maybe writing is keeping you sane by distracting you from worse things.
  7. Because, let’s face it, you sure as hell ain’t gonna feed yourself with words.
  8. I buy pens compulsively. I hoard them. Some are on my desk, some are in my bag, but most end up in the nooks and crannies of my apartment; behind the sofa, under the bed, inside picture frames. I don’t know why I keep on buying/stealing them. I barely ever write by hand anymore, and when I do, it comes out baffling and asemic. I think having a pen nearby gives me a sense of control over my life.
  9. Don’t delete anything, even the three pages of the letter “D” you wrote when you were drunk alone at home that one time. Nobody runs out of hard drive space anymore, you have no excuse.
  10. Love and hate occupy the same space in my head when it comes to other writers. I love Nabokov with my entire soul, but hate him for writing so perfectly.
  11. Doubt is everything. Doubt is always there. If my fingernails aren’t horribly mangled with worried nibbling then I’m probably not writing that much.
  12. Writing is mostly not letting your doubts overwhelm you; that’s why you should leave editing till last.
  13. Jonathan Franzen says that no interesting fiction was ever written on a computer with internet access. I’m inclined to dismiss this, in principle if nothing else, as more of his usual bouts of mouth turbulence, but I think he has a point. The internet is a Great Enemy of the writer. It’s as implacable as Napoleon at his height and as demanding of your attention as a baby in peril. There’s this program you can buy that blocks your computer’s internet for a predetermined set of time, but in my experience, you’ll just end up rebooting the computer so that you can read a Wikipedia article about LGBT rights in The Gambia. Try it though, it’s called Freedom, and see if it helps. Zadie Smith swears by it, and Zadie Smith is a perfect human being and everything she says is true.
  14. I thought I had found a solution to this problem when I bought a note book. But I spilled coffee all over it and now I have a three hundred pens and one stained and deformed note book.
  15. Don’t ever tell people about the novel you’re working on. They won’t care enough to pay attention, but remember enough to always bring it up. “So… how’s the novel going?” is the worst combination of words in the English language.
  16. Whenever I try write something funny, I set the font to Comic Sans. That way, I figure, if anything can overcome it’s inherent Comic Sans-iness to make me laugh, I know that it’s pretty damn funny. It’s not a foolproof method. In fact, it’s not an effective method at all. I just like doing it. 
  17. I subscribed, once, to Neil Gaiman’s tumblr blog. It seemed like a good idea at first; but after doing so I quickly unsubscribed. It was too real, hearing bout his day and his lovely interactions with his lovely fans. I prefer the relationship between a writer and his audience to be distant, preferably separated by a buttressed wall and miles of inhospitable terrain. Even the prospect of seeing him seems almost obscene.
  18. Death, for a writer, is just another way to ignore critics. Interestingly, it is also the only way that actually works.
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More Best Opening Lines in Literature

There are so many fantastic opening lines out there, dear readers. Writers know that the first sentence in any story is one of if not the most important sentence, because the first sentence is the one that gets you curious and makes you want to know what happens in the rest of the book. And so they slave away at them to make them as close to perfect as they possibly can, and we the readers get to reap the rewards of their hard labor.

A few weeks back, I made up a list of twenty of the very best opening lines in literature, but as I was working on it I realized that there were *far* more than twenty great opening lines out there, and that it would just be plain wrong to stop there. This is why I’ve put together not one but *two* follow-up lists of twenty great opening lines for you, dear readers, because I want to make sure that you get to read these awesome first sentences.

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Best Closing Lines in Literature

Last week, I posted a list of some of the best opening lines in literature. In that post, I said that the first sentence in a novel is arguably the most important component to any work. While I still think that that is true, I also think that the final lines in novels are a *very* close second. How disappointing is it to open up a book and read the entire story only to come to the last page and see that the final line is lame? It’s a huge letdown, am I right? The last thing a writer wants to do is have disappointed readers, and that’s why good writers slave away over their closing lines just as much as they do their opening lines. The payoff for their efforts, however, can sometimes be absolutely astounding, which’s why I’ve put together a list of some the best closing lines in literature to inspire you to do the same with your stories, dear readers.

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Best Opening Lines in Literature

The first sentence is arguably the most important component of any literary work, be it a short story, an essay, or a novel (or even a blog post!). The opening line gives readers insight into the writer’s voice and style while simultaneously drawing them into the story, piquing their interest and making them wonder what is going on, and, more importantly, what is going to happen next. A good opening line can make a story, just like a bad one can break it; after all, if the first sentence isn’t all that great, how likely are you to keep reading the book? Probably not all that likely.

So what are some of the best opening lines in literature, the ones that send shivers down our spines, get us excited to read? Well, I’ll tell you.

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Your Favorite Writers’ Favorite Books

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One of the most common questions asked of writers is “what is your favorite book?” Sometimes this is because we’re just trying to get a good book recommendation for our own shelves, but more often than not this is our not-so-subtle way of trying to figure out where their stories and ideas come from—do Stephen King’s stories stem from a childhood fascination with horror that’s continued into adulthood, or did J. K. Rowling read Dickens’ bildungsromans? What books writers like can say a lot about them, and not always just about why they write about what they write about, but they also allow us a little peak behind the writer mask and give us insight into who they are as human beings. Continue reading

What I’m Reading 8/21/13

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A writing professor once told me that sometimes writers needed to put down their pens, step away from their laptops,  and get their butts in some comfy chairs and start reading. She argued that reading is the best way for writers to keep at their A-Game, because reading lets you see how others are telling their stories and handling the writing craft, both in the past and in the present. As a writer, reading can be a love-hate relationship. Sometimes I find a writer who I’m absolutely blown away by, because he/she is writing about content similar to mine and doing it in a way that I’ve a.) never thought of and b.) could never possibly do myself. Bret Easton Ellis is like that for me. And while I am awed and inspired during these experiences, I’m also disheartened because it makes me feel inadequate as a writer because I know that I could never write a story in the way that this other writer did (hence the love-hate relationship). Fortunately, I eventually remember that I’m not actually trying to be like these other writers, I’m trying to be my own writer, and so these thoughts of inadequacy quickly fade into thoughts of “yeah, you did a good job with that story, now I’m going to write my own story in my own way and you know what? It’s going to be good too.”

So, long story short, I make sure I spend a good amount of my free time reading in order to get the creative juices flowing and keep myself motivated towards that ultimate goal of the completed novel. Alright, enough babbling, time to get to What I’m Reading this week!

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