Pontificating on Books and Writers including Bracegirdle, Tey, Penny, and Churchill, ROW80 Check In, and ForumFrag

Three different book and writer related topics came up this past week!

One was Nathan Bransford's recent blog post on bestselling novels vs classic novels. He found a list of bestselling novels by year for the past 100 years, and compared it to the Modern Library's list of classics according to publication date. Very few of the books on the classics list were bestsellers in the year of their publication (and based on sales alone, it seems everyone lost the 1990s to Grisham).

As usual, this sort of list is slightly misleading, because it doesn't count cumulative sales (I'm fairly certain Diana Gabaldon and Stephen King would wipe the floor if this list had been calculated that way), and it also compares only to one list of classics - lists based in the UK feature many different authors, for instance.

I always find classics lists frustrating because I never seem to have read the right books by the authors on the list. For instance, I've read Dostoyevsky's White Nights (loved it) and The Double, but still haven't read Crime and Punishment. I've read a lot of other Steinbeck, but The Grapes of Wrath is still in my TBR pile.

As for the bestsellers... I have to admit, I'm more interested in the older ones, especially for research purposes. Who was this other Winston Churchill, and would my characters have read - and enjoyed - his books?

Kait Nolan had a post recently about how writing eventually becomes like graduate school.
Here's a bit of it:
"I think this is something that often happens to writers. We go on for a long time, skating by on natural talent, fueled by the praise of people whose opinions (while appreciated) we give way more credit than we should. And that's fine, to a point, because it gets us over the hump of the early stuff, helps us FINISH STUFF. We feel brilliant because we just don't know any better. Ignorance is a blissful, lovely cocoon. Some people never push themselves beyond that. But some... some of them graduate to the next level.

"For some, that's like going out and getting their first real world job and finding out that you didn't really learn ANYTHING in college. For others, it's like going to grad school. In grad school, almost universally, the first year is designed to weed people out. It's designed to MAKE YOU FEEL DUMB by slapping you upside the head with exactly how much you don't know, how much you still have to learn."

Read the rest of writers' grad school here.

This really resonated with me because it's what finally happened about seven years ago, when I decided to push myself and my writing, and to strive for publication. It takes a long time to hone that talent and to add to one's craft.

Which brings me to the third thing - it's odd to hear some people say that they find writing difficult. Maybe it's because I'm a pantster, but I find it's never the writing or first drafting that takes work. Getting up early and staying up late and ignoring distractions is easy when you're all fired up by a shiny new idea and you feel like this:

But then... going back and typing it up and editing it more than once is the part that requires work and willpower and determination and butt in chair.

That's when it's easy to be distracted. Among the usual distractions in the past few weeks, I've rediscovered yet again my love of mystery stories. I've read (okay, devoured) all the Josephine Tey novels (I love her style. I wish she'd written at least twenty more books), and my first Louise Penny novel.

Penny's a local author whose books are set in a small town only an hour outside of Montreal. So much fun recognising the familiar! (free excerpts here!)

Here's the one I read, Still Life:

And I also read the last book in another local author's MG trilogy: Sinister Scenes by PJ Bracegirdle:

But I had to get back to work sometime... Still typing away, as part of my ROW80 goal, but I'm starting to be afraid that even 1000 words per day won't be enough to have the story typed by NaNo. Apparently I undercut my words while doing my Luddite count last November - according to that count I'd only done 10,000 but according to the official word count, I'm already at 14,000!

One thing that's helping keep the writing momentum is this month's writers' exercise on the forum: A Story in One Month!

Post 100 words each week, using the five prompt words given, following this general outline:
"Week One: Intro of setting and characters and inciting incident
Week Two: Act I - Rising action, development of conflict
Week Three: Act II - Twists and reversals
Week Four: Act III - Climax and resolution
Week Five: Denouement"
Here's my first week's story (tagged with a #ForumFrag on Twitter!), featuring Alice and George (and an aviary the ground floor of the house, home to nearly fifty budgies, parrots, etc.):
"Alice made a pact with herself that night. No matter how much George might drive her mad, deviling her, trying to incite an argument, she would not give in.

To be sure, it was a simple matter to make such vows in the privacy of her own room.

But when the night was over, she had to face him across the breakfast table once more. And the endless chirps and screeches of the birds could not drown out his barbed words. His voice rose over Polly's repeated cries of "nitwit! nitwit! cra - acker!" and her blood boiled."

Have you recently rediscovered any favourite genres?

What's the shortest story you've ever written?


I'm sure I have some stories under 5000 words in a notebook somewhere.
I'm the odd writer who struggles with ideas and getting that first draft written. (Or maybe I'm just lazy?) Give me a finished first draft and I'm a happy camper while editing it.
Editors At Work said…
I wrote one 1000 words for a challenge on a forum. And received very constructive feedback on it.

Lara Lacombe said…
Sounds like a fun exercise on the Forum!
Hi Deniz .. I have a lifetime of books to read ... and only about a third of it left to do it in - I really must get looking at the short versions of classics etc ...

I wrote one short story of 100 words using nine specific words .. and then promptly got asked 'who dunnit it' .. that was 1,000 or so ...

Not something I've thought about since! Cheers Hilary
Gloria Weber said…
I've written 150 (exactly) words stories. It's called microfiction, according to this one online zine I saw it mentioned on/accepting submissions of it. Never submitted them. Just did them as a writing exercise.

You maybe off on your goal, but plucking a way 1k on it is still great! Keep writing and luck with the rest of the round.
keysandopenmind said…
I totally hear you on the getting distracted while editing! It's just so easy to do!

I might have to check out this Joy of Spooking series; it sounds like something up my alley!
Misha Gericke said…
Mmm... I always get stuck in drafts. Maybe that means I went the grad school way. :-P

Damyanti said…
I'm happy doing first drafts. Now that I've had to chuck nearly half the 1st draft --

I'm happy writing the 2nd draft-- it is mostly like writing another first, only this time I know the characters and story better.

But it is true, if you keep writing sooner or later you get slapped with the knowledge of just how much you don't know. It depressed me for a while, but my take is I have to keep at it, and try to keep learning and bettering the craft, because that's all that's in my hands.
I never have really enjoyed the "classics" that much. I find the writing stiff and boring most of the time. And my TBR pile is way too big to read something I don't love. :)

I agree that the editing part is the hardest to make ourselves do. I'm a pantser, too, but I'm crossing over to plotting just a bit.

Do you write in longhand first, then type it up? That seems like an extra step that takes too much time. I've always wondered why some people write in longhand first. Can you shed some light on that, because I've never understood it. (My hands couldn't take that abuse, LOL.)
Revising/editing -- that's where the work really starts. Then receiving an editor's feedback and having to go back to the drawing board on a few scenes...But I enjoy all of it.
Deniz Bevan said…
I need to channel more of your spirit, Alex!

That's great, Nas!

Drop by, Lara!

Sounds like an intriguing story, Hilary! I wish I could take two weeks off from life just to read...

Microfiction sounds like an interesting challenge, Gloria!

Hope you enjoy, keys!

I've got way too many drafts, myself, Misha...

You're right, Damyanti - we can only do what we can! It's fun to learn, too :-)

I couldn't write any other way, Lauralynn.

I've tried, really. If it's a short piece, some times I can draft on the computer - but then I'll print it to edit! Just the way my eyes work, I guess.

For one thing, while writing in a notebook, I don't make spelling mistakes. But if I draft while typing, I have to go so fast that I make a typo on every other word, and then I'm so bogged down trying to fix the mistakes that I lose track of the story. With a pen, the story flows straight from my semi-conscious onto the paper.

Plus, I can make notes in the margins at the same speed - instead of scrolling to the end of the page or opening a new page or Scrivener corkboard or what have you. I just slide the pen across, scribble a note, and move on.

I use lots of square brackets and stars and underlining, too, to indicate required research, gaping holes, words that need to be changed later, and so on. If I tried typing that all in, it would really cut down on my speed.

The best part is, I can edit a lot of these things while typing up the story for the first time! And then when I print it for the next round of edits, it doesn't look half as bad as it might if I'd drafted it on the computer.

And so on :-)
Deniz Bevan said…
I love it too Milo!
Crystal Collier said…
My goodness, I think you could spend forever reading. I think the answer is to try and keep a balance. I've been reading 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea forever, but I will finish it one day. So my goal is to keep one classic on the side while reading what I want when I need to relax. That way I finish a classic at least every six months.

So you want the shortest story I've ever written? Try flash fiction--100 words. http://crystalcollier.blogspot.com/2011/03/winner-and-bought-of-flash-fiction.html

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