Surprises and advice from unlikely sources

Recently, I was talking with one of my coworkers about writing, and I mentioned that I always intend to write down the random ideas and descriptions that pop into my head when I’m out and about, but I never have any paper with me when I need it.

So today she brought me a tiny blank notebook with one of Monet’s water lily paintings on the cover. It has lined cream pages; the paper is a nice weight and the lines are exactly the right distance apart.

I now have it in the pocket of the messenger bag that I take almost everywhere with me, along with my headphones and various writing utensils and a copy of the Silmarillion which I have been in the midst of for a long time now.

It’s a small thing, yes, but I would never have expected it and it made my day.

I also encountered a piece of writing advice from an unlikely place today: Chaucer. Chaucer Doth Tweet, to be more precise. If you have a Twitter account, I highly recommend following him. (Her? Them? It? I know nothing about the identity of the author.)

This advice is from an NPR piece entitled “Advyce For The Sesoun Of Returninge To Scole,” which is written in the form of Middle English favored by Chaucer in these modern times:

Thynke of thy readeres and thyne audience, and crafte yower wordes for their comprehensioun. And make thy wordes rynge lyke belles wyth trouthe, or wit, or humour, or good lore, and bynde thy wordes yn good lettirs that carrye their magic. For al who wryte shoulde worrye nat overmuch about spellinge but yn stead shoulde stryve to cast a spelle.

I’m not sure if any of you will enjoy that as much as I did, but I think it’s actually pretty profound.


Literary Crushes

You know you’re a bookworm when your first crush is not a flesh and blood human being but one made of words.

I had a thing for Robin Hood as a child. Stealing from the rich, giving to the poor, evading capture with clever plans and derring-do: he was my ideal guy.

Then I read a biography of Alexander the Great and Robin Hood lost his place as number one in my heart. I don’t know if Alexander quite counts as a literary crush as he was an actual historical figure, but I learned about him from a book so I’m going to count him anyway.

Eventually I realized that a guy who drank himself to death might not be the best person to obsess over. That’s when I started reading the Father Brown mysteries written by G. K. Chesterton, and I found myself a new literary crush.

No, it was not Father Brown. As you might be able to tell from my previous infatuations, I had a bit of a thing for the “bad boy” type. One of the reoccurring characters in Chesterton’s stories is a sneak thief-turned private detective who goes by the alias “Flambeau” (French for “flaming torch”). He still holds a special place in my heart, in spite of the fact that by the end of the series he is married and living quietly with his large family in a castle in Spain.

I’m not the only person who loves a good literary bad boy (although I would never want to be with a guy like that in real life). Tall, dark, and handsome, mysterious and calculating,  characters with a fascinating dark side can really keep you interested.

That said, Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights just doesn’t do anything for me, even though he is the quintessential romantic bad boy. When it comes to classic lit, Captain Fredrick Wentworth (from Persuasion) will forever hold my heart. He’s not really the bad boy type, just full of high spirits and passionate about the things he cares for.

Who’s your literary crush? I sincerely hope that you have one, and that I am not  the only person who has had more crushes on literary characters than on flesh and blood people.

Reading Posture

This made me smile. I don’t think I have the greatest posture when I read, because I’m usually curled up on the couch with my head tilted to that the book 10 inches from my nose or else sprawled out on my stomach. I will have to try levitating.

I Didn’t Write This

Today I wanted to share one of my favorite literary adaptations on YouTube. It’s a series called “I Didn’t Write This” which takes different selections from poetry and prose and films dramatic vignettes.

Every time I watch one I am struck once again with how these videos explore the themes of the works so artistically and beautifully. They help me to approach old favorites with new eyes and discover brilliant pieces for the first time.

There are also cool YA pieces! (John Green, anyone?)

(There is an F-bomb in this one, if you care about those things)

I hope you guys enjoy these as much as I do!

The first book I ever loved

I recently encountered an article about several famous authors and the first books they loved (link here) which made me think about the first book I ever truly loved. My mom read to me all the time when I was little, and there were plenty of books that I made her read over and over again (Thanks, Mom!). Most of these books blend into each other in my memory until we reach The Book.

The first book I ever loved was How to Bake an Apple Pie and See the World. I was probably in preschool or kindergarten when my mom read this to me. I’m not completely sure, but I do know I was in the process of learning my letters and didn’t know how to read on my own yet. Mom read that book to me every day for a solid week, and by the end of it I had it completely memorized.

I could look at it and “read” the entire thing, except for the word “cinnamon,” which always tripped me up. I probably wasn’t actually making the connection between the letters and the words they represented, but I think I was right at the border of this discovery, so in a way you could say that How to Bake an Apple Pie and See the World was not only the first book I ever loved, but also the first book I ever read on my own.

The story goes something like this: A girl wants to bake an apple pie, but her local grocery store is closed and she can’t buy any of the ingredients she needs. What can she do to fulfill her craving for apple pie? Take a road trip, of course. The girl travels all over the world to collect the best ingredients for her pie, from Italy for the wheat to Madagascar for the cinnamon.

Think for a moment about how awesome that would be if someone did it in real life.



If you’re done being jealous of that girl (I’m not, even 15+ years later), tell me about the first book you ever loved!

Even more web series to watch

Since I wrote the first installment of this series I have discovered several absolutely brilliant shows that I want to share with you. My friends are all tired of hearing me geek out about literary vlogs, but I love to talk about them, so I’m going to share more of my favorites with you. These aren’t in any particular order. I would have a really difficult time ranking them, so let’s just say they’re all awesome.

First, my newest discovery. I just found Nothing Much To Do earlier this week, and I stayed up until 1:30 last night marathoning all the episodes (there’s almost 50 at this point, on three different channels, but many of them are very short). There’s a lot to love in this series. It’s an adaptation of “Much Ado About Nothing,” one of my favorite William Shakespeare plays. There are three channels, which gives you the opportunity to see multiple characters’ points of view. Much Ado About Nothing actually transitions extremely well into a modern high school setting. Also, the actors are from New Zealand. Need I say more? I would like to mention that there is a bit of strong language, especially from the Benedick character, but nothing worse than you’d hear from real high school students filming a vlog.

Next comes Classic Alice, which is not an adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, although they do make some pretty great references to the book. The concept of this show is actually a bit different than the others on this list, as it doesn’t focus on adapting one classic book or story, but is structured in “books” or seasons which focus on different classic pieces of literature. The premise is that Alice is a smart and dedicated English major who freaks out after getting a bad grade on a paper and decides to prove she understands literature by reliving classic books in her own life. The first book is Crime and Punishment, which is probably the last book I ever thought I’d see adapted into the modern setting, but it works. They are currently filming and editing the second book, so I’m anxious for that to come out. The ending of the first season was a bit of a cliffhanger.

Next I’d like to talk about The Adventures of Peter and Wendy. This modern adaption of Peter Pan has really strong and engaging characters, plus it’s funny as heck. Sometimes I think John’s my favorite Darling brother, and sometimes I think it’s Michael. My love for Wendy and Peter knows no bounds, even when they make stupid or thoughtless choices. The characters are in the early 20’s “am I grown up yet?” stage of life, which is something I really identify with because that’s where I am to. This series has a great lens for discussing issues of responsibility and finding direction in your life, which is pretty cool. There are some drinking/partying references, but they’re pretty mild (at least in my opinion). The show just finished it’s first season and is currently raising funds for the second one on Indiegogo (you can click here to find out more about the campaign).

I’d also like to give a shout out to the March Family Letters, which I think is going to start full-swing in December but has been releasing teasers and Q and A videos. (In this adaptation of Little Women, Amy is a pretentious hipster, Meg a conscientious college student, and Jo an aspiring screenwriter. So good!).


Word Crimes

One of my friends from the Writing Center shared this video with me. It’s pretty perfect.

Now, I’m not a Grammar Nazi, but I do notice some of the “word crimes” committed by the people around me. One of my personal pet peeves is when people use “u” instead of “you” or “your” instead of “you’re.” Another is noun/pronoun disagreement. An example of this would be saying something like, “When a person commits a word crime, they seem careless” instead of “When a person commits a word crime, he or she seems careless.”

I know I’m not innocent when it comes to word crimes. I have a bad habit of saying “espresso” as “eXpresso” and “laptop” as “labtop.” I know this is wrong, but I can’t seem to stop. Typos also seem to creep up on me no matter how careful I try to be. (I’ve actually had to edit this post since I first published it to remove a particularly awful one).

These things happen. If I were to stop speaking or writing every time I committed a word crime, I’d never be able to communicate anything! My friends have a long-running joke that even though I’m an English major, I “can’t English.”

Trying to avoid word crimes is good; it helps people to take you more seriously. But don’t over-analyze everything you say or write. Everyone commits word crimes sometimes! Thankfully, most of them are just misdemeanors 🙂

Do you have any grammar/language pet peeves? Have you ever committed a really embarrassing word crime?

Writing, Coffee and Taxes

Query of the day: Can writers list coffee and tea as business expenses on their tax returns?

Okay, that’s not a completely serious question.

Embed from Getty Images

But can they? There’s this great bookstore/coffee shop near me, and I’m dying for a latte 🙂

Writing isn’t brain surgery

Several of my friends have been recommending Libba Bray’s books to me, and I finally finished reading my first Libba Bray book today, A Great and Terrible Beauty. It took me a few chapters to really get into it, but after that I couldn’t wait to keep reading. The book is set in the Victorian era and tells the story of a girl named Gemma Doyle who sees mysterious visions. (Of course it’s about much more than that, but that’s my one-sentence, spoiler-free plot summary.)

The relationships between the characters in the book are fascinating; people constantly surprise you in little ways, just as they do in real life. The plot is engaging, and the book asks some really interesting questions about women’s relationship with power.

In an interview, Libba Bray has shared some advice for people who want to “live a writerly life” (as one of my college English professors would say):

(1) Read everything. Read what interests and moves you. Read what challenges you. Read for pleasure. Read for craft. Read instead of watching reality TV. Just read. It might change your life. I know it has mine. (2) Live your life. Writing’s all about that, anyway. And no one’s living your life, seeing things the way you see them, but you. You are unique, and this is a beautiful, beautiful thing, grasshopper. (3) You can write about whatever you want, just don’t lie. (4) Have fun, for heaven’s sake! It’s not brain surgery. You won’t kill anyone if you choose the wrong words. You can just fix ’em later. Writing is power. You are in control of it. You are able to say whatever you need to say, long to say, must say. And that is an amazing feeling.

Thanks for reading this. Now go live your life! 🙂