January 28, 2016

Six Tips for Creating Villains That Drive Better Stories

There’s nothing like a good villain. There’s nothing that drives a plot or builds great protagonists like a bad guy that we love to hate. Think of your favorite characters in any book or film, and more than likely, they have an equally awesome antagonist working against them. The heroes become better heroes because of great villains.

A writing book I enjoy is Bullies, Bastards, and Bitches: How to Write the Bad Guys of Fiction by Jessica Morrell. I like her take on bad guys because she stresses the importance of them being realistic and complex, while still instilling fear. I think you can have villains in many contexts that don’t invoke fear, but I love the idea of the bad guys instilling some sort of visceral reaction in readers. Think Amy Dunne from Gone Girl who is clearly a sociopath, but we kind of root for her because, duh, cheating husband. President Snow from Hunger Games who instills dread. Think Narnia’s White Witch who killed Christmas. Or Misery’s Annie Wilke’s whose fangirling turns creepily obsessive. Heck, even Miss Trunchbull who makes us laugh, feel sorry for her, and hate her because she targets Matilda. 

Morrell, says: “It cannot be said too often: Antagonists—and Villains, in particular—are complicated, three-dimensional, and robustly knowable people. After all, it is the process of learning about fascinating characters in terrible difficulties that draws readers in. Readers especially want to learn about what makes a bad ass tick” (197).

As I’m thinking through my own villain lately—a person who isn’t bad, just opposite of my MC—I thought I’d share a few thoughts on what makes a great antagonist that we’re dying to read more about.

First, I’m using bad guy, villain, and antagonist interchangeably, but that’s not always the case. Which brings me to point one:

     1. An antagonist doesn’t have to be evil—they’re just what’s standing between the protagonist attaining his/her goal.  Batman wants order; Joker wants chaos. The Martian’s Mark Watney wants to go home; Mars wants to be Mars and suck the life out of all things. The joker’s goals are opposite of Batman’s. Mars’ entire makeup is fundamentally opposed to what Watney, our hero, wants. Neither is inherently bad for the sake of being bad.

     2. Create a visceral reaction. Brandon Sanderson says to set up our bad guys early by doing something simple, like kicking a puppy. Nobody likes the guy who kicks the puppy.  Darth Vader's character debut is him entering the scene in a cloud of smoke, walking through a pile of dead bodies. Give your villain a scene that causes a physical or emotional response in readers, and build on her/him from there.

     3. Give them believable motives. Our villain needs a motive or goal, just like our main character. Professor Snape hated Harry because of his past with Harry’s parents. He was bullied. He felt wronged. Occasionally, we catch glimpses of his actions being justifiable. We feel for him and understand why he would hate Harry. He’s such a great character because we find ourselves wanting to give him the benefit of the doubt, even while hating him for how he treats our beloved protagonist.

4. Make them relatable. Villains are so much stronger when we understand why they’re doing what they’re doing, even if we can’t like them. One of my very favorites is Cersei Lannister from the Game of Thrones series. I love her because she’s kind of a horrible person, but she’s a good mother. She’s loyal and defends her kids at any cost. She’s also a woman who is smart and capable, but the men around her always put her in her place. She’s sold off for marriages. She’s ridiculed. No matter how hard she works to get ahead, it never quite works out for her. I can relate to her feelings, if not the way she acts on them.

     5. Villains can be internal or external. Sometimes the scariest stories are about fighting against our own inner demons. Think Rapunzel from Tangled and all the time she spends arguing with herself about whether she should or should not be obeying Mother Gothel. She continually has to fight against doubting herself and her choices, before she realizes who the real bad guy is. Often having an internal and external antagonist can make for a more layered story.

     6. Villains don’t have to be people. Think Mars in The Martian. Triss or Katniss against the establishment. Jaws, where the villains are sharks.  In Everest or The Perfect Storm, the antagonists are nature. Here’s a great post about different types of conflicts that don’t necessarily involve a person as the evil villain.

Multi-dimensional villains are just as important as any other aspect of our stories, otherwise all we have are flat, fairy-tale archetypes of black and white, good and evil. If villains lack depth, we take away the emotional impact they might have on readers. We make them caricatures instead of interesting and believable themes.

By creating a smart, believable, occasionally sympathetic antagonist, we create more compassion for our MC.  We force them to be a better “hero” in order to beat the forces against them. A great antagonist will up the game of our entire story.

Though there are many different types of antagonists, the good ones succeed because they create a physical or emotional response and we understand what drives them.

In the words of the great L.M. Montgomery's Anne of the Island:

If I had to have villains at all, I'd give them a chance, Anne—I'd give them a chance. There are some terrible bad men in the world, I suppose, but you'd have to go a long piece to find them... most of us have got a little decency somewhere in us.

What are ways you create great villains? Can you think of any that stand out as favorites?

January 25, 2016

Motivation Monday: Maya Angelou


Source
 "You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated."

Maya Angelou was a writer, poet, and activist for both black and women's rights. Though known primarily for her writing, she also performed in theater and was nominated for an Emmy for her appearance in Roots.

Fun Facts about Maya Angelou:
  • As a civil rights activist, she worked with both Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on her 40th birthday.
  • Was friends with Oprah Winfrey. 
  • Never earned a college degree, but her work is a staple of colleges around the world.
  • Had an interesting writing ritual:

    She would wake early and check into a hotel. She would write on legal pads while lying on the bed, with only a bottle of sherry, a deck of cards, a thesaurus, and the Bible. She would leave in the afternoon and edit the pages that evening. 

    Angelou said she played solitaire in order to get to that place of enchantment where she could access her memories more effectively. (Maya Angelou: A Critical Companion by Mary Jane Lupton).
So What?
Maya Angelou's life epitomizes falling and getting back up. Her works are beautiful because they come from an understanding of both failures and successes. Most writers will never accomplish half what she did, but her reminder is a great one. We'll all be defeated at various points in the writing journey, but that doesn't mean the journey as a whole is a failure. Keep working. Keep hoping. Keep enjoying the successes that come.

January 21, 2016

Writing with Music for People Who Hate Writing with Music


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(click for source)
Here’s a secret that alienates people as quickly as if I’d told them I kick puppies: I’m not really a music person.

There. I said it. Of course there are songs that I love and that inspire specific emotions. Of course I have an iTunes library full of music I enjoy. But I’ve never had a band that I’m obsessed with. I’ve gone to, like, two concerts in my life. I don’t lay on my bed and feel the music and let it speak to me. Maybe I should do those things, but I blame it on growing up in a house where my dad only listened to talk radio and my mom’s cassette staples were The Carpenters and Neil Diamond (who I still love. Don’t judge me!). There wasn’t a ton of music exposure, and I never looked for it on my own.

For years I’ve heard different ideas about using music as a tool for writing. Because music isn’t the way my brain functions, I usually find it distracting and it pulls me out of focus and out of what I’m trying to create.

Recently, though, I’ve found four ideas that really resonate with me and have changed the way I use music as a creative tool, where it’s the opposite of distraction—it inspires my writing and my creativity in ways I'd never imagined.

1.     Music as a tool for creating MOOD.

This isn’t new or mind blowing, but in reading James Scott Bell’s Voice: The Secret Power of Great Writing he compares music to movie soundtracks for setting the mood and tone of your own writing. He says,

“One of the best ways to get that flow going is by listening to music. Specifically, music that is tied to the kind of mood you’re after in a particular scene.”

He mentions movie soundtracks that inspire him, depending on the type of writing he’s doing. It's genius, really. Besides, if you’re envisioning your own story as a movie, why not envision the type of score you want playing when you inevitably sell the movie rights?

2.     Music as a tool for creating VOICE.

This is also from Bell’s book, and it’s one I’ve never considered. Music can inspire that ever elusive voice we’re all striving to find. Bell argues that voice is a combination of the character you’re creating, the things you as an author bring to the table, and the words you put on the page. He says,

“Put together your own playlists. Set your heart in motion, and write. Voice will begin to happen naturally.”

We often hear about imitating our favorite authors, but why not also let our favorite musicians influence the characters we’re bringing to life and the ways we portray them?

3.     Music to block out distractions.

There are a lot of different ways people use music to block out distractions, from using songs with lyrics, songs without lyrics, to white noise and nature sounds.

Author Joanna Penn is a big advocate of playing rain and thunderstorms on repeat to block out distractions and help her get in the zone. I’ve tried this one, and I LOVE it. Maybe it's not specifically capital-M Music, but there’s something tranquil about thunderstorms that lets me relax and focus. It also trains my brain, as I'll mention in the final point.

4.     Get in the zone and increase productivity.

Like a Pavlovian experiment, music can condition your brain so that when it hears certain music, it automatically realizes it's time to write. It’s time to do this thing that’s often hard to start.

Tim Castleman’s The 2kH Formula advocates a music list to use ONLY during writing. That way, your mind gets used to it so it’s background noise and not a distraction, but it kicks your brain into gear and allows you to enter “the zone” more quickly.

My husband mentioned that in college, he’d create separate playlists for each class. He’d study to those playlists throughout the semester, and then when it was time to take an exam, he’d listen to it on his way. His mind would start pulling up the ideas he’d read/studied while listening to that same music for months. Who knew I was married to such a genius?

Of the millions of ideas about music influencing creativity, these are a few ways I’ve found that music helps me.

Ultimately, it makes sense that music would play a role in writing because songs are just stories in a different medium. They’re themes, tones, characters, and tempos, all combined to create an overall message or feeling.

What about you? What ways do you incorporate music into your writing routines?

January 18, 2016

Motivation Monday: Martin Luther King Jr.

Source
"Faith is taking the first step, even when you don't see the whole staircase."

Martin Luther King Jr. was a civil rights activist, who focused on nonviolent civil disobedience. He was also a Baptist minister, an academic, and a humanitarian.

Fun Facts about Martin Luther King Jr.:
  • Was named Michael King after his father, but when MLK Jr was about five, his father changed both of their names to Martin Luther in honor of the religious reformer. 
  • In high school, he became known for his public speaking abilities and joined the debate team.
  • Had a PhD in theology from Boston University.  
  • In April 1968, at 39 years old, King was assassinated by a sniper's bullet while standing on a balcony outside his hotel room, but his actions led to many changes in legislation, and he is still known as the greatest leader of the civil rights movement. 
So What?
This quote can apply to so many millions of things. Restricting it to writers, it can apply to writing the first pages of a book you're not sure about. Sending out a query, not knowning whether it will be rejected. Signing with an agent you hope won't let you down. Deciding to self-publish and put your work out in the world.

Every step of the process is a step of bravery, out into the unknown. A tiny step when you can't see whether there's even a staircase there at all. Do it anyway. Step outside of your comfort zone. Having the faith to take the first step is what turns normal people into great ones.

January 14, 2016

Finding Critique Partners and Engaging with the Writing Community

I've talked before about why I think collaborative writing and critique partners (CPs) are so important HERE, but I thought it might be helpful to talk about where I found my go-to critique people.

But first, Why You Need Good CPs: Demo #1
A comment from a chapter I wrote this week:

I FREAKING HATE YOU!! I LOVE THE VOICE ALREADY! HOW THE HECK DID YOU DO SO GOOD SO EARLY AND MY FIRST CHAPTERS STILL SUCK BIG FAT HAIRY BALLS!?!?!??! GIVE ME YOUR BRAIN! I WANT TO EAT IT!! (Okay, as rude/creepy as all of that may have been, I’m totally complimenting you here )

I mean, who doesn't need a person in their life saying they want to eat their brain?

That was Sabrina. We'll start with her and talk about good places to meet critique buddies.

1. Websites for Writers: Sabrina and I met on QueryTracker. Yes, the database where you track the queries you send to agents. She contacted me because we both had a full manuscript out with the same agent, requested at about the same time, and she wanted to know if I'd heard anything back. For some reason, she and I hit it off immediately. We started emailing, and then exchanging writing, and now we have a writing group that meets every week.

It was a totally random meeting, but it proves that you can find critique partners anywhere, espeically in places where writes gravitate. Some options to try:
http://absolutewrite.com/ forums
https://www.wattpad.com/
http://www.ladieswhocritique.com/
http://howaboutwecp.tumblr.com/

2. Writing Conferences: Calista left a comment on a blog I write for. I contacted her to thank her for the insightful comment, and we met up at a local writers conference a few weeks later. She happened to be an awesome writer, and she's now part of a group that I meet with every week. I've also met half a dozen other friends at conferences that I'm still in touch with regularly and swap work with from time to time. It's a great place to find motivated people with the same goals you have.

3. Writing Courses: I took a class from Brandon Sanderson several years ago, and there I met Steve. I didn't think Steve was the best writer at the time, but he was so brilliant with plotting, and he was super motivated--he had a goal to write 12 novels in 12 months. I'd never met anyone like him, so I stalked him until he agreed to let me be in his writing group. He has since sold a MG series to Disney, so latch onto people with promise!

4. Networking: Greg, who I met at the same time as Steve, and I didn't stay in touch, but he and Steve did. I remember several conversations talking about Greg's genius writing, and Steve asked him to join us. Greg's great because he writes screenplays and graphic novels and gives a really interesting perspective. So if you know writers, even if you don't click with them, maybe they'll know someone you would click with. Because of a shared connection, Greg's now one of my favorite cps who always gives amazing feedback.

5. Smart Friends: Hannah. She's a friend from college, and her only CP qualifications are that she's really smart and she reads a ton. She's not in the business like my other CPs, but she's been irreplaceable in my writing life. She reads all my stuff and pretends to like it. She finds inconsistencies. She's whip smart about characters and their flaws. And most importantly, she'll text with me for hours about my ideas, and she's honest about what she does and doesn't think works. Everyone should have a Hannah in their life.  

6. Volunteer: Gwen. Just over a year ago I applied to volunteer with an online e-zine. It's been a fun experience in general, but the best part has been the people I've met. Gwen, in particular, has become a fantastic CP. As a published author she has a lot of insights into the business as well as writing craft, and it's been really enjoyable swapping books with her to read and critique. We also started writing a book together, which is a whole new level of fun. So if you can't think of other ways to connect, look for a chance to volunteer with writerly types: reading slush piles, editing, blogging, or whatever they'll let you do.

6. Social Media: I haven't tried this one, but I'm on several local writer groups on Facebook. People are always posting that they're trying to find readers to swap with. Same with Twitter. So if you need a CP, follow some writing groups, follow other writers, look for opportunities to give and ask for feedback. It seems like a great way to meet people.

These are just a few of the ways that I've connected with writer friends, but the opportunities are unlimited. It sometimes takes a while to find people with the same goals that you work well with, but they're out there, and once you find them, never let them go. Because having people who understand the journey and are willing to work with you along the way? There's absolutely nothing more rewarding.

(Here's a link that has some great suggestions as well)

How did you find your CPs? What ways have you found to engage with the writing community?

January 11, 2016

Motivation Monday: Calvin Coolidge

 Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. 
Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. 
Genius will not: unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. 
Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. 
Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. 

Calvin Coolidge was a U.S. president, not a writer, but his quote is a great one. As with every single president ever, some people liked him. Some didn't.

Fun Facts about Calvin Coolidge:

  • Before politics, he worked as a commercial lawyer.
  • He was quiet and withdrawn, earning the nickname "Silent Cal."
  • His 16 year old son, Calvin, died of blood poisoning from an infected blister.
  • I have a kid named Calvin! We lean more toward the Calvin and Hobbes type rather than the Coolidge variety, but I think it's a great name.
So What?
I love this quote. It means I can be a talentless hack, not very smart, unaccomplished as a literary genius, and I still have a chance at getting published some day, because I'll never give up! I can work with that.

January 7, 2016

Steal and Be Grateful: 8 Steps to Finding Fulfillment as a Creative Type

http://austinkleon.com/steal/Gratitude Diaries

I’ve started out the year reading two amazing books that have been eye-opening for me. One, Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist, I talk about HERE. The other is The Gratitude Diaries by Janice Kaplan.

As a religious person, the concept of gratitude comes up a lot in my life, but it usually feels heavy—like one more thing I’m failing at doing. But I love Kaplan’s book for two reasons.
1)   It’s an academic look at gratitude—it explores the physical, psychological, and social benefits of being grateful. That’s a take I haven’t seen before, and she includes countless studies and ideas and anecdotes that make me feel motivated and hopeful.
2)   Kaplan’s book, I think, means a lot more as a writer having read it in conjunction with Kleon’s book, because it shows me links I’d never considered between gratitude and being a successful creative person. 


Here are a few points in particular in which the books intersect for creative types:

1. Enjoy the Journey:
Kaplan: I’ve had a “good career on paper, but none of it made me stop and say—I’ve arrived! Success at work is all about moving forward. Reach one goal and there’s still another to achieve…relish the moment and don’t fret about the next step” (14).

Kleon: “Take time to mess around. Get lost. Wander. You never know where it’s going to lead you” (67).

At a book launch of author Ransom Riggs, he said, “take the opportunities that come.” I love the idea of being grateful for the wanderings and the side projects and the little unexpected events along the way. It’s those that make the career fulfilling—not the perceived finish line that may or may not turn out as we expect.

2. Don’t Compare Yourself:
Kaplan: “It’s easy to look at someone else and think how lucky they are and
how wonderful it would be to have their life and success. But what any of us
feel on the inside is rarely the same as what is perceived on the outside” (15).

Kleon: “You’re only going to be as good as the people you surround yourself
with” (102).

Everyone has an entirely different idea of what success means. It’s all about comparing ourselves to our own individual goals—nobody else’s successes or failures. Be grateful to have access to smart, successful people. Learn from them instead of envying or comparing yourself to them, and be grateful for each success in your own journey.

3. Take Care of Yourself:
Kaplan: “Gratitude keeps us well because it is an antidote to stress. When you
are grateful, all the signposts of stress, like anger, anxiety, and worry
diminish” (194).

Kleon: “It takes a lot of energy to be a creative. You don’t have that energy if
you waste it on other stuff” (119).

Being grateful allows us to feel better physically and emotionally, leaving more energy to focus our creative lives. I don’t know about you, but when I feel well, I work well—and the opposite is just as true.

4. Simplify:
Kaplan: “Gratitude helps you find meaning—and some version of contentment—in the chaos” (256).

Kleon: “Creativity isn’t just the things we choose to put in, it’s the things we choose to leave out” (140).

Editing, deciding what needs to be cut, is essential to writers. Killing our darlings. The same is true in our careers and personal lives. We all have to find the things that matter to us, to make hard choices about what we have time for and what we don’t. Simplifying my life is something I want to focus on this year.

5. Connect with Others:
Kaplan: “If we put good into the world, maybe, just maybe, it starts to be returned” (302).

Kleon: “You don’t have to live anywhere other than the place you are to start connecting with the world you want to be in” (90).

I’m terrible at social media, but I love writing groups and conferences and face-to-face interactions. Whatever type of community you love—it’s there. You just need to find it, and then give and get support from those you admire or those with similar goals. Kleon says it’s especially rewarding finding people NOT doing what you’re doing. Make friends. Be inspired. Nurture connections.

6. Fake it ‘til You Make It:
Kaplan: "Gratitude is long lasting and impervious to change or adversity. It requires an active emotional involvementyou can't be passively grateful, you actually have to stop and feel it, experience the emotion" (14).

Kleon: “You have to dress for the job you want, and you have to start doing the work you want to be doing” (30).

Nothing—not being a grateful person, not being a successful writer—is perfect or easy when starting. We have to work at it—and enjoy it—until it becomes part of who we are.

7. Focus on the Positive:
Kaplan: “No road led right to the top and some didn’t get there at all, but gratitude at least let you take the scenic route” (292).

Kleon: “Instead of keeping a rejection file, keep a praise file. Use it sparingly—don’t get lost in past glory—but keep it around for when you need the lift” (115).

There’s always SOMETHING to be grateful for. Even if it’s just that we have the ability to see or think or write in the first place. Remember the good moments, the praise, the highs when we’re feeling the inevitable lows.

I highly recommend both books because they go into depth and illustrate the topics better than I can. But if you don’t look at them, my ONE takeaway would be:

8. Keep a Logbook or Journal!
Kaplan: at the end of each day, write down ONE thing that you’re grateful for that day. Just one. “Knowing [you] had to write something down every night changes [your] perspective on the whole day” (20).

Kleon: “the small details will help you remember the big details” (129).

Kaplan says to make sure that you don’t qualify—no negatives. It’s okay, in this private space, to be a Pollyanna and only look at the good. And as we remember the small positives, it makes the overall picture look brighter.

I’m trying it. I know it’s not easy. Amidst rejection and no apparent success and the doldrums of writing words that nobody every reads, it’s hard not to be cynical. But, I love the idea of gratitude as Kaplan presents it, and I really believe that if I focus on the positives as a writer, I’ll see more progress and have more energy and optimism. At least it’s worth a try!

My challenge to you:
Get a notebook. Every day write one thing you’re grateful for and one thing you accomplished as a writer. That’s it. Easy peasy. It doesn’t have to be big or life changing, just tiny glimpses of the good in life and the baby steps you’re taking.

Mine from yesterday?
I’m so grateful that my kids make me laugh.
I’m grateful that today I could sneak away long enough to outline most of my next project.

That’s it. It took me two minutes, and I went to bed happier and more excited for what I would achieve the next day. Try it. You might be surprised that life as a creative person feels just a little bit brighter.

What about you? Do any of these ideas stand out as something you've tried or want to try? Have you ever tried keeping a writing log or a gratitude journal?

January 5, 2016

Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon

 
I’ve mentioned before that some of my writing soapboxes are that all ideas are recycled and if you want to become like the greats, learn by copying and imitating them, so Kleon’s book has appealed to me since I first heard about it. Lucky for me, my awesome CP bought the book for me for Christmas and moved it way up on my to read pile!

Overall message, scope, or purpose of the book:
Steal Like an Artist focuses on ten ways that you can “steal” from successful artists in order to improve your own craft. The ideas aren’t particularly new, but I think that the presentation and many of the perspectives are.
Favorite take-aways:
I’m not going to list the ten steps—go read the book!—but I will point out a few of my favorite ideas.
·      Questions are often more important than answers – He talks a lot about surrounding yourself with your heroes, discovering everything you can about different processes, and always asking questions. MY FAVORITE quote in the whole book is about letting your curiosity rather than “research” dictate your direction. He says: “Google everything…You’ll either find the answer or you’ll come up with a better question” (19).  Brilliant. I wish I could go back and use that phrase in every freshman English class I ever taught about writing research papers.

·      Even if there are no new ideas, you make them new – I’ve often used the phrase “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” Well, he shot down that quote immediately. He made the idea even better. He says, “merely imitating your heroes is not flattering them. Transforming their work into something of your own is how you flatter them. Adding something to the world that only you can add” (41).

I love that the entire book is about recycling ideas and transforming them into something unique that only YOU can add. He doesn’t downplay the importance of individuality—he celebrates it as if each artist is a link in a very important chain.

·      Be boring – A lot of artists talk about travel and socializing and clinking whiskey glasses with the Hemingway wannabes of the world. While Kleon does mention the need to get out and travel and see new places and perspectives, he also focuses on the realities of life. Money. Health. Logging progress. Carrying a notebook. The nuts and bolts that allow you to actually succeed and stay sane while doing it. I appreciated this insight. It wasn’t depressing—it was a way of saying, here’s how to stay happy and grounded while pursuing the arts (in which many people are depressed).

Pros:
·      The book is SHORT – It’s a small book with not very much on each page—a few thoughts from Kleon, a quote or two, an artsy diagram—BUT it’s packed with insights. Like I said at the beginning, it wasn’t anything particularly new, but Kleon’s take, at least for me, was eye-opening and optimistic. He made me excited about creativity. He made me think about my own processes and what doesn’t work and why. He made me eager to read the book again—and because it’s so short, that isn’t hard to do!

·      Readability – The book flows well, and it’s interesting and insightful. I loved every second of reading it—both times. Kleon is smart and funny and seems like a guy you’d want to have lunch with.

·      Perspective – I love that this book blends the feel-good type writing books with a lot of practical application. I finished reading the book, thought about it for a few days, and then read it again. It gave me some great new insights about the creative process, and it left me feeling excited about my own goals again. Sometimes I finish reading a craft book and feel overwhelmed by all of the ways I’m failing. This one gives a lot of bite-sized goals that anyone can use to improve their creative life a little bit at a time.

Cons:
·      The book is SHORT – Yes, this is a pro and a con. I loved the brevity and fast pace, but there were a few ideas I wished he’d gone more in depth on or made connections better. One example is where he draws a diagram of lines. He starts the page talking about all ideas being a remix, then says “here’s a trick they teach you in art school…” Draws two lines, mentions the negative space as its own line, and then moves on to talk about genetics. Of course I can deduce that the negative space is your own work—the space combining the two lines—or other ideas, but since I’m reading his book, I wanted to know what HE meant by it. There were a few places I wished he’d gone into a little more detail with examples or explaining what he meant by examples that were there.

·      Quality – The second time I opened the book—after I’d had it less than a week—it fell apart. The binding popped and pages came out everywhere. I was sad. I love the content, so I’m sure I’ll keep it on my desk like a weird version of one of those calendar cubes where you pull off a page each day, but I wasn’t at all rough with it, and I wish it had lasted longer. Like, at least through the second read.

What it adds to the Writing Conversation:
Like I said, the idea of imitation isn’t new, but Kleon distills it and gives examples in ways that no other person has (that I’m aware of). He’s succinct, entertaining, informative, and I finished the book feeling like I had some great new tools to become a better creative type. It even made me brush off my old drawing tools to see if I have any residual talent in that area.

Buy, Borrow, or Pass: Buy it. Now. Just do it. It’s an inexpensive little book, and I guarantee at some point in your life, you’ve paid much more for far less.

I liked it so much that I ordered the companion workbook. I’ll let you know how that goes once I’ve had a chance to get into it.