Blogs: Writing

Ah, the lost art of letter writing. I still find myself checking my mail hoping that there will actually be a personal letter mixed in with the credit card applications. But alas, I can’t recall the last time I received a real letter. When I want to immerse myself in the beauty of letter-writing, I shall open up Shaun Usher’s, Letters of Note: An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving of A Wider Audience

Letters of Note bookjacket

Shaun Usher loves letters (and lists too. His second book, Lists of Note includes such wonders as Michelangelo's illustrated shopping list and Marilyn Monroe’s New Year’s resolutions written when she was 29-years-old. Unfortunately MCL doesn’t own a copy right now.).

But back to the pleasures of letters. Usher has collected 125 letters from far and wide and long ago to more recent times. Many of the letters are from well-known figures but some are from everyday folks. All of the letters have a short introduction to put them into historical context and a good share of them include a reproduction of the letter itself. The effort and creativity that went into these letters - a 13-year-old boy at a school for the blind wrote in Braille to President Eisenhower. The sadness - Virginia Woolf’s note to her husband before she committed suicide. Witty, funny, artistic ones. Beautiful, heartfelt, poignant letters. They’re all here.

If you’d like to peruse even more letters, take a look at Shaun Usher's website where he has posted a whopping 900 letters; they’re indexed in various ways so one could spend weeks reading all of them. Or take a look at some of these books that are chock full of letters. I, however, think I’ll go write a letter to a friend.

Zine creators, the Portland Zine Symposium is coming up in less than a month! If your world is ruled by an academic calendar, perhaps this may be a moment when you have just a bit more time to work on creative projects, like putting together the zine (or zines!) that you’ve been thinking up in recent months.

Or perhaps you are new to zines and have never made one. Zines are usually handmade paper booklets that anyone can create. Want to give it a try? Here are some directions for turning one piece of paper into a basic zine: a version to view online or a version to print. See below for more resources about making zines and books.

Whether zines are a new idea or an old friend for you, the library abounds with inspiration and resources for your creative project! Consider these:

Crap Hound 8 - Superstitions

The Central Library Picture File is an astounding resource: thousands upon thousands of magazine and book clippings, organized by subject. These can be checked out and photocopied or scanned (you can’t cut them up and paste them in your zine, though!). Do you need the perfect picture of a bluebird, or an ancient computer, or children’s clothes from the 1960s? Look no further! Ask about the Picture Files at the Art & Music reference desk on Central Library’s third floor.

Of course clip art can be found online, but clip art books are a real pleasure to browse and use. Many of these come with a CD containing image files that you can download to your computer for resizing, editing, etc. A real gem of a clip art resource is found in the series of books called Crap Hound - each volume is created around a theme or cluster of themes (Superstition; Church & State; Hands, Hearts, & Eyes are a few), and the images are laid out in the most appealing, artful way.

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, Part One by Annie MurphyThe library’s Zine Collection is a wonderful resource, full of examples of zines and minicomics made by zinesters and artists from near and far. Zines can be browsed online (use the subject heading Zines or search by author or title, or try our book lists), placed  on hold, and checked out just like other library materials. I recently read local zinester and artist Annie Murphy’s new zine I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, Part One: My Own Private Portland - about River Phoenix, Gus Van Sant and his film My Own Private Idaho, Portland in the eighties and nineties, and the experience of growing up during this time. It is beautiful and moving, illustrated in moody black & white ink wash, and handwritten in tidy cursive. I think you should give it a try.

How to Make Books by Esther K. SmithFor more technical information about making zines and books, you might enjoy browsing some of our books about bookbinding - I recently stumbled upon How to Make Books by Esther K. Smith, which has instructions and lovely illustrations for a range of homemade books, from instant zines and accordion books to more elaborate stitched books and Coptic binding.

Also: July has been designated International Zine Month, and July 21 in particular Zine Library Day. So come to the library and check out some zines! Make a zine!

toot your own hornSo you’ve written a book and found a publisher. Marvelous. Now, on to the next project, yes? Leave promotion of your work to publisher and publicist, right? Not so fast, my ink-spilling friend. The plasma of artistic creativity may course through your veins, but unless you’re some breed of celebrity, literary success these days depends on you taking a central role in the business side of writing. Many a well-written contemporary book has withered on the vine due to the author’s inability or unwillingness to take part in the task of marketing and self-promotion. Here are some ideas on how to approach this crucial component to your would-be livelihood (whether you’ve published yet or not.)

Networking/Marketing

Depending on the source, there are between 130,000 and 185,000 writers (or more!) in the United States and over 300,000 books published in this country each year. With so much out there, how do you get your voice heard? How do you stand out?

For networking, you might use HelpAReporter.com (HARO) to promote yourself as a news source or expert in your field (and therefore, in your book). Or you might take advantage of social media - here's an article about LinkedIn for writersDepending on your genre, you might find a local or national writer's associationThere's also the The National Association of Independent Writers and Editors, a one-stop shop for writers seeking assistance with support, marketing, professional development, and networking.

As for marketing: here are some thoughts on self-promotion from The Huffington Post, and a New York Times article on building one’s brandA site called YourWriterPlatform.com has a simple message: “Your platform makes all the difference in the success or failure of your book. The bigger your reach, the more books you are likely to sell.” A service called BookBub.com offers free and deeply discounted ebook deals as a tool to reach new readers.

Grants, Awards, & Fellowships

Maybe you’re in the enviable position of having a spouse or relative $upport your artistic vision. While such a benefactor is certainly possible, it’s unlikely some monied stranger will drop by your garrett some gray winter morn (or your spare bedroom any season of the year), plop a pile of money down on the boards of your rough-hewn writing table (or flimsy particle board desk) and tell you to “get it done.” It’s just as unexpected--and just as unlikely--you’ll be graced with one of those legendary $500,000 MacArthur Genius Grants. But never fear, there are sources of funding you may have a shot at:

Locally, there's the Oregon Literary Fellowships from Literary Arts, Individual Artist Fellowships from the Oregon Arts Commission, and various grants from the Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC).

Nationally, you might find grants through FundsforWriters.com or WritersandEditors.com. You might even try applying for a Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts!

Freelance Writing

Wait just a minute. Maybe you’re interested in earning an income as a writer, but not interested in writing books. Rather than make a name, you’d rather earn your way as a player in the world of freelance, finding gainful employment with newspapers, magazines, websites, blogs, and the like. But, how to find the support, how to network? Here are a few ideas.

Locally, there's Portland Copywriters, a group of Portland-area freelance copywriters who support each other in the creation, growth, and sustainability of one’s freelance business. Freelanced.com claims to be the largest social network site for freelancers and can help you find work in your neck of the woods. It has sliding scale membership fees. Of course, you can also find work through Craigslist: writing gigs and writing jobs are the categories to browse.

Nationally, you might find help from FreelanceWritersDen.com, the supportive place where freelance writers learn how to grow their income — fast, or FreelanceWriting.com, your source for Freelancing, Freelance Writing Jobs and Articles for Freelance WritersThe National Writers Union UAW Local 1981 is the only labor union that represents freelance writers, and the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) is the professional association of independent nonfiction writers.

You know, your library has scads of books that may come in handy. Try this booklist, which contains books on freelancing, marketing and promotion, legal matters, grants, and more.

- by Kass A.

When I had a college radio show, I often played spoken word pieces by William Burroughs.  His odd cadence and bizarre subject matter made the strangeness of 3 a.m. that much more strange.  I’d broadcast the pieces into the dark quiet of the night, ghostly fog in the evergreens and the occasional glowing possum eyes outside the studio window.  After the heady description of a heroin high or alien sex, I’d follow up with something loud, dissonant and experimental.  That’s what student loans are made of.

A black and white picture of William Burroughs.  In the backgroud is a hat on a hook and an exit sign.William Burroughs instigated the Beat Generation and embodied the movement’s proclivity for drugs.  His book Junky basically made drug use glamorous.  When he lived in New York, his house (The Bunker) was like a supermarket for narcotics.  Burroughs was incredibly prolific and kept writing and speaking until his death in 1997.  His work influenced Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Steely Dan, David Bowie, Kurt Cobain and more.  Punk and heavy metal owe him a debt.  He was open about sex and his own homosexuality in an age of repression.

For his 100th birthday, the BBC made a documentary about his work, life, and legacy.  For his 101st, This American Life rebroadcasted it.  It’s an unsentimental and fascinating hour of radio.  Take a listen.

 

Obsessive Consumption by Kate Bingaman-BurtWhat’s a zine? Generally, we think of zines as little, inexpensively produced, most often handmade print items. Is a zine a book? Well, it’s a kind of book - a self-published book that’s usually not distributed very widely, and tends toward  the ephemeral. Zines have often been made by people whose viewpoints or experiences may not have been well represented by traditional publishing. Many of them are personal. They can be mostly text, or mostly image, or anywhere in between. Anyone can make a zine! And the author of a zine is in charge of the whole process - the content, production, and distribution of the publication.

And sometimes, a person makes not just one zine, but many - zine after zine! And sometimes, the work that they’ve self-published in zine form takes new form as a book published by a publisher, whether small or large. Ok, now it’s still a zine, and also a book. 

Big Plans by Aron Nels Steinke

Here's an example: Dishwasher: One Man’s Quest to Wash Dishes in All Fifty States, once a zine and now a book-length memoir by Pete Jordan that has been described as “part adventure, part parody, and part miraculous journey of self-discovery.” Or Obsessive Consumption: What Did You Buy Today? by Portland artist Kate Bingaman-Burt, whose zine What Did You Buy Today? Daily Drawings of Purchases documents, well, everything she purchased. Plenty of graphic novels have their origins in zines, such as Henry & Glen Forever & Ever (the fictitious cartoon adventures of Henry Rollins and Glenn Danzig, available in a series of zines), and Big Plans by another local cartoonist, Aron Nels Steinke.

At the library, we have zines, and we also have books that began as zines:

Zines Become Books, Part 1

Zines Become Books, Part 2

We also have an event coming up at Central Library on February 7th at 2pm, featuring local authors who make zines, people who’ve made zines and also books, and folks who have worn all sorts of other hats in the process: small publishers, educators, community connectors. Please join us at Zinesters Talking: From Zines to Publishing!

 

Never put off till to-morrow what you can do day after to-morrow just as well.

- Mark Twain (though he satirically attributed it to Benjamin Franklin)

Close up of clock face showing 7 - 8 - 9.The Oxford English Dictionary defines procrastination as “the action or the habit of postponing or putting something off,” and the word itself is derived from Latin meaning “to put off for tomorrow.”* Most of us do give in to some level of procrastination; students and writers are especially predisposed (this blog author included). We all do our best to start our research early but when that does not happen the library is here to help.  

Here are the top go-to research tools and resources I recommend for authoritative research when time is truly of the essence. You can immediately use each of these resources with your library card, anywhere you have internet access.

Gale Virtual Reference Library (GVRL)

GVRL is my top recommended resource for immediate research on a variety of topics, including research in biography, business, culture, education, health information, history, religion, science and general reference. It is a collection of more than 1,400 e-books and databases from encyclopedias to biographies. Each article is available to read immediately online or can be downloaded as a PDF to be viewed as they appear in the print edition. Citations indicate the articles are from actual books or encyclopedias (digital and print) and include page numbers.  You can tell your professor or teacher, “Yes these are actual books!”   

Opposing Viewpoints in Context

Do you need access to primary resources? Are you writing a persuasive essay or on a debate team?  May I strongly recommend Opposing Viewpoints in Context? This invaluable research tool provides information and discussion about current topics in the news.  Importantly it includes arguments from different points of view. From police violence to drug abuse, or gun rights and gun control; Opposing Viewpoints is the place to go for all sides of an issue. The resources provided are overflowing: video and audio clips, magazine and newspaper articles, academic journals, images, and primary resources.  In addition, there are original persuasive pieces called “Viewpoint essays” that clearly lay out one side of an issue and provide a list of books and periodicals for further reading.

eLibrary    

The last resource to have at the ready when you are done procrastinating is eLibrary.  This is a perfect resource for getting an overview of a topic.  Having trouble deciding what to focus on? Right away eLibrary asks, “Starting a Research Paper? Find your Research Topic here” and then provides a link to a list of possible topics linked to a wide range of resources.   With one search you can find information in books, journals, and the media; in print, audio, or video. Like GVRL and Opposing Viewpoints, eLibrary also provides citations . You can email yourself any of the resources you find for later review.

Would you like more assistance?

Don’t hesitate to contact an information professional (that’s us!) and we can help you navigate these or any other of our many research tools and resources. For the most immediate assistance (who knows, your homework might be due tomorrow) come see us at any of our 19 library locations,  call Information services at 503.988.5234 anytime during Central Library’s business hours, or chat with a librarian 24 hours a day.  You can even text us! If you have a little bit more wiggle room on your deadline (i.e. not due tomorrow) you can also send us an email or request to book a librarian for one-on-one help with your research at any library location.  

No matter when or how you request it, we will be happy to help!

 

* - “Later,” by James Surowiecki. The New Yorker, 10/11/2010.

 

what you say matters

    We are deep in social media, of course. 74% of adults who use the internet use social media sites! It’s what we do now: how we maintain friendships, meet people, have conversations, begin relationships, learn about news, undertake social change, and market our services and products. There’s a lot (A LOT) that can be said about this, from whether or not it’s good for us to what Big Data from social media tells us about ourselves.

    So we do social media, and it results in a whole lot of writing. Research from last decade indicates that people are writing more than ever before. If we’re going to do a ton of writing in social media, we should do it well!

    That could mean a few different things:

    Hungry for more books on how (or why) to do social media? There’s something out there for the beginner, for the optimist, for the contrarian, or the pragmatist.

    Kids aren't born knowing how to use a keyboard.  But in today’s keyboard-centric world, kids need to learn to type. Luckily, there are some good free online typing programs aimed at students.

    The article  Ed Tech Ideas: Keyboarding Sites for Kids lists many links to other free typing games.

    Need more help? Contact a librarian

    There are a lot of writers out there. Portland alone seems to have one slouching in every coffee shop or slumped on a bar stool or monotoning into a microphone... have you ever been to Wordstock? Willamette Writers? With so much competition for publishers’ and readers’ attention, what’s a person to do who has a story to tell, and wants to share it with everyone?

    The writer’s life is by no means easy; first there’s the writing part - -how to write the story? Where to find the time? Should I subscribe to Poets & Writers magazine? What’s that word for….? Do I need Facebook to be a writer? But if I’m on Facebook promoting my writing, when will I ever find time to write?

    Then there’s publication - -get an agent? Focus on small presses? Self-publish?

    And then the boogie men that infect the hopes and confidence and resolve of any would-be (or accomplished!) author -- self doubt, loneliness, writer’s block, disappointment, poverty, envy, obscurity. Too many barbarians at the gate! It’s enough to make a person ask, ‘is it worth it?’

    Of course, it could always be worse... you could want to be a poet.

    Sometimes we take comfort in the idea we’re not the only ones suffering for -- or because of -- a dream. That is, if you’ve contemplated giving up on writing, you’re not alone.

    Should you give up? Here's some company:

    Or should you keep going?

    “But the writing life can be such a lonely, solitary existence! How can I connect with others who feel the way I do, and feel like I’m not alone?”

    And even if you “make it,” and get your book published, it doesn’t mean you’ll be any more famous than before you got your work out there -- at least not during your lifetime! Can you handle that?:

    Check out these well-regarded titles you probably never heard of:

    And these works it would be laughable to call obscure:

    Local or community resources, for support, writing groups, education, and even workspace:

    Or maybe you just need to nurture your craft by getting away from your daily life long enough to think, use your imagination, to write -- to breathe! and maybe a requisite chore or two:

     -- by Kass

    Leonid Pasternak, from WikipediaDo you need an MFA? You’re a writer. You write stories. You have a novel brewing. You’ve published some poems in small magazines. Or you’ve sold an essay. Maybe you’ve self-published a chapbook, zine, pamphlet, or little book. Or an e-book! Maybe you write and write, and would like to do these things.
     
    Artists, including writers, might choose to pursue an Master of Fine Arts (MFA!) degree in order to become a professional in their field. It usually takes two or three years, and in many cases involves a substantial amount of money, which often means major student loans. An MFA in creative writing usually centers around a writer’s workshop, where students receive feedback on their work, and provide feedback on the work of their colleagues, under the guidance of a professor who is a published author. MFA students have mentorship, community, an ear to the publishing world, and perhaps most importantly, dedicated time and space to write. Funding and an opportunity to gain teaching experience by working as a teaching assistant are also sometimes part of the deal, but not always. 
     
    Do you need an MFA to be a writer? Well, you already are one, right? Debate rages on (well, perhaps rages isn’t the most accurate term - simmers? drags?) about whether it’s worthwhile for aspiring writers to pursue an MFA. Plenty of writers don’t bother.  
     
    Novelist Chad Harbach wrote an essay examining the social and literary consequences of a writing world (fiction, in particular), in which writers inhabit one of two systems: the world of MFA programs or the world of NYC publishing. This is published along with essays by contributors examining features of life from both sides in MFA vs NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction.
     
    So, is an MFA right for you? If you think so, some guides to programs might be useful: the Associated Writing Programs (AWP) guide to programs, or the MFA Programs Database from Poets & Writers Magazine. In book form, there's also The Creative Writing MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Graduate Students.
     
    Perhaps an MFA program isn’t in the cards for you. Perhaps you might be be a better writer going under your own steam. Can’t you have mentorship, community and connections without the hefty price tag? Can’t you create your own reading lists and writing assignments, your own deadlines? Meet writer friends and share ideas and constructive criticism on your work? I’ll bet you can do these things. After all, you have the whole library at your fingertips!*
     
    Here’s a booklist for you: DIY Creative Writing MFA
     
    You might try working through an online Creative Writing course: there are quite a few free online courses offered by MIT OpenCourseWare! These cover different topics and genres, with courses about reading and writing poetry, reading and writing stories, writing the personal essay, genre writing, writing about race and border crossings… You can find these and other free (and for-fee) online courses on SlideRule.com. If you'd like some help finding a syllabus or other course materials that are a good fit for you and the work you'd like to do, please feel free to get in touch with us
     
    Especially if you want to do it yourself, local resources for writers are essential - they include classes, events, and writing groups. Here’s our post about some of them in the Portland area.  Also see our booklist of creative writing prompts and guides for ideas for creating your own assignments!
     
    Let's not forget that the whole point of an MFA program in Creative Writing is to do a huge amount of work in a focused, directed sort of way. MFA students read like crazy, from the masters to the innovators. They write like crazy, all the time, head down and pen moving (or, you know, keyboard clicking). They read one anothers' work and think intensely about how and why a great piece of writing works. They dig deep into the mysteries and ambiguities and theories of language and literature. Get to work! 
     
    *Sorry, shameless plug for library services. But seriously: everything you need to read is here, and plenty of resources for guidance about craft. We can help you borrow obscure poetry books via Interlibrary Loan, if necessary. We can connect you with suggestions for your reading list. We can even provide space for writing. If only we could help with the problem of time for writing.

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